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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 824

Mr JOHNSON (5:32 PM) —I am pleased to speak on this motion and follow the words of my friend and colleague the member for Higgins and other members. Few words can truly describe what happened in Victoria over the weekend. Far more eloquent speakers than I have used words such as ‘catastrophic’, ‘disastrous’, ‘tragic’, ‘horrific’ and ‘hellish’, but I think that few words really do capture the hell on earth that has touched the landscape and the lives of so many people. But I want to try as much as I can, as is appropriate for a member of parliament, to extend my deepest sympathies and condolences and the prayers of the corner of Australia—the constituency of Ryan—that I represent in the Australian parliament. I think they would expect it of me, and on behalf of my own family I take this opportunity to speak formally in support of this motion in our national parliament.

Last year, the electorate of Ryan tasted the force of nature when a storm hit the suburb of The Gap. I certainly do not wish to make any comparison at all—there were no lives lost—but it was a small insight, I think, into the sheer power of Mother Nature. On every day of that week I took it upon myself to visit people and destroyed homes and to witness for myself the emotion of Ryan constituents who had suffered at the hands of the storm. So I think I can see in a very small way how nature works. I can only imagine, as one who has not been in harm’s way can only imagine, the sheer ferocity, intensity and brutality and the sheer hell of these fires.

Yesterday in the parliament when the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other colleagues made their very touching and moving remarks, I put my hands to my face and I confess I shed some tears. I shed some tears not because I myself have lost anyone, not because I have had property loss, not because I am a Victorian, but because I am a human being and I am a father. I can only imagine the sheer suffering of anyone who has lost a loved one, any parent who has lost a child or anyone who has lost a dear friend. I can only imagine the absolute suffering and internal pain that one would have endured.

In Queensland on too many occasions the nightly news tells us that a baby has drowned or a little toddler has lost their life because they have fallen into a dam on a property. My wife and I always give each other a cuddle and bring our little 2½-year-old into our embrace and cuddle him with all the humanity that I think parents can muster. We look at each other and say a small prayer for those parents that have lost a child that has drowned in Queensland in a pool or a dam. We do this on too many occasions because it happens on too many occasions. My point on the loss of a loved one in such circumstances is that, unless one has been through it in a very direct way, I suspect one can never totally understand the depth of pain, the depth of anguish, the depth of suffering that one would endure.

On behalf of the many people of Ryan and the many families of Ryan, I extend their deepest condolences, their deepest thoughts and sympathies. I know that the people of Ryan will say a quiet prayer and I know that in their minds and hearts they will feel, both as fellow Australians and as human beings, the same suffering that has overcome fellow Australians in the state of Victoria. I understand that the latest death count is some 173 people but, as has been said in the parliament and by colleagues from both sides and by all who are in a position to know, this figure will certainly rise.

On Australia Day, on 26 January, I had the great privilege of conferring citizenship on new Australians. I also had the privilege of making some remarks. I said to those new Australians that wherever they came from, whatever part of the world, they were now coming to mark a future in this country and that they were living in a country that was full of opportunity and full of great options for them and their families.

They also made the point, which I agreed with as a migrant myself, that they were living in a country of remarkable magnificence and beauty, that this was a great country, that there was no other like it and that they should never let anyone, Australian or not, tell them otherwise. I quoted the words of what I guess is our national poem, Dorothea Mackellar’s wonderful poem—very eloquent and very moving words. I asked them, especially those from countries that do not have English as their first language, to let their kids read that poem—because, knowing Asians and in particular having, as I do, a mother of a Chinese background, I know that they would not necessarily turn their mind to the profound and beautiful words of Dorothea Mackellar. But I made a particular and very specific point in talking to the audience, many of whom were from Vietnam, China or Taiwan, of encouraging them to direct their child’s education to the words of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem because it said so much about the greatness of Australia. Much to my surprise, many of those new Australians came up to me afterwards and said that they would definitely do that.

I guess the point I make is that—as many of my colleagues have said, in a far more articulate way, yesterday and today—for all our beauty and for all our magnificence, we are also a country that is vast and that has a landscape where the elements of nature, such as fire, flood, storm and, of course, drought, can come upon us. We, as human beings and mere mortals, do not know why forces of nature such as these can destroy homes, destroy property and, more profoundly, destroy lives. Those of faith will be comforted by their faiths. Those not of faith might ask the question: why would God, for all his compassion and love of humanity, take away innocent life? Why would the Lord, who sacrificed his own son for us, do that?

As I said earlier, I am a father of 2½ years experience, and there is a thought that always comes through my mind whenever I see tragedy or catastrophe that takes away life. I always come back to that terrible thought of how parents could endure that suffering, and I say a prayer to thank God that it was not my son. All of us would know of the story of the little girl who was thrown from the bridge in Melbourne and would ask ourselves: how could one human being, let alone a father, commit such a despicable and unspeakable act?

As I said, few words can describe the tragedy and the catastrophe of the bushfires in Victoria. I end my remarks by saying to those who might have committed acts of arson which have resulted in much pain, suffering and tragedy: how could you do that? This is surely the worst of human nature. We have seen an act of evil if that is the case, but I am also comforted by the other side of humanity, where we have seen, really, the acts of the angels at work through mere mortals.

We must never forget this tragedy, this loss, this hell on earth. We must become a better people for it at an individual level and at a community level. As governments and those with authority, we must be better for this. We must unite and, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, do whatever it takes to address and redress all the issues that surround such a catastrophe. Again, on behalf of the western suburbs of Brisbane, those Australians who live in the Ryan electorate, I extend my condolences.