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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 832

Mr IRONS (6:16 PM) —I rise this afternoon to commend and support this condolence motion. On behalf of my electorate, I wish to send the condolences of the people of Swan to the victims of the Victorian bushfire tragedy of 2009. The people of my electorate would want me to convey these sentiments, and I applaud and endorse the comments of all the previous members who have spoken. When the member for McMillan rose today in the parliament, I felt the passion and the hurt in his emotional speech. All of us in this place support his sentiments. This is a Victorian disaster that has national implications and will resonate around Australia. Since the events of Saturday, my office has been contacted by many people across the electorate. Some have offered to give blood and some have offered to donate money to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal. I appeal to them to make those commitments a reality. The people of Swan are remarkably generous and I am proud to represent them.

Many words have been spoken in this parliament about the sheer ferocity of the flames, the horrific heat, the startling speed of the fire and people’s inability to escape. This was an Australian Pompeii. We must recognise the horrific nature of this natural disaster, yet we must not dwell on it. We now must devote our full energy and focus on providing the support to those who need it, making safe the devastated areas and rebuilding country Victoria. I commend the government on the initial steps it has taken and would personally like to offer help in any way I possibly can.

I, like many Australians, have a personal connection to the Victorian region devastated by the bushfires. As a child, my earliest memories of going on holidays with my family were of Marysville. I was to visit Marysville on numerous occasions during my life in Victoria. The last time was in the nineties for a business conference in this idyllic setting. I am sorry to see this beautiful town destroyed and lives lost, and my heart goes out to the people of Marysville and those of all the other towns that have suffered from this tragedy.

Before moving to Western Australia in 1981, I lived in the Yarra Valley and Seville East—a more beautiful part of the world would be hard to find. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition mentioned the Yarra Valley Mountain District Football League, where I played football for four years from 1978 to 1981 with the Seville Football Club. On the field the football was played by uncompromising footballers, but off the field there was enormous community spirit and friendship amongst the rival towns. I am sure that spirit will not be broken and the people of these affected regions will combine to rebuild their homes, their towns and their lives like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.

I have an aunty in her 80s, Janet Murray, who lives in Yea, who is still at home waiting on advice to evacuate to the local recreation reserve. Her neighbours, in the spirit we expect in times like this, have offered to assist her to the centre when the call comes.

I have two sisters living in affected areas who are still both waiting for evacuation calls. I spoke to Helen only hours ago. Helen Ryan and her family live in Healesville, on the other side of the ridge of Chum Creek, where the fire swept through. As I spoke to her, she described to me the spot fires that she could see from the rear of her house. She is packed, ready to go with all her family memories and valuables that the family can carry, again waiting for the call to evacuate should the wind direction change or the intensity of the fires increase. Her sons insisted on taking their bikes and their kayak, a valuable tool in firefighting procedures. They are exhausted and have been taking turns in staying up to watch the progress of the fires at the rear of her property. They are on constant vigil to move at the earliest sign of danger and leave their family home to the whims of nature. My last words to her as we spoke this afternoon were, ‘Don’t be courageous,’ and, ‘Get out while you can.’ I wished her good luck. My other sister, Christine, was too busy to talk, as she was preparing to evacuate, and has said she will contact me as soon as possible. I wish her and all the other people in these affected areas good luck and that you stay safe and stay with us.

It is rare for a natural disaster to kill so many people in a developed country. There will in time be a need to analyse how this disaster was able to happen, how it started, how it was propagated and how so many people, young and old, were killed. Now is not that time. We must draw together our resolve and focus on supporting our fellow Australians in need. In the future, we will remember the destruction of the fire and the unfathomable loss of life. I hope we will learn from it. I also hope that we will never forget the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people and volunteers which saved lives.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am overawed but not surprised at the enormous efforts of the volunteers of the CFA and all the emergency services, who are contributing their time and risking their own safety to avoid further loss of life that would affect many communities. They are to be commended for their unselfish acts of bravery and commitment to their fellow Victorians. On behalf of the people of Swan, I offer my deepest condolences to the people of Victoria.