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- Start of Business
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (IDENTITY CRIMES AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA AMENDMENT (CRIMINAL JURISDICTION) BILL 2008
- DEFENCE LEGISLATION (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL 2008
- TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (CARTEL CONDUCT AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- Mr William Marshall OAM
- Franklin Electorate: Health Services
- HMAS Voyager and HMAS Melbourne Collision
- Page Electorate: Workplace Relations
- Hume Electorate: Telstra
- Victorian Bushfires
- Start of Business
- Fadden Electorate: School Leaders
- Charlton Electorate: Nation Building and Jobs Plan
- Barker Electorate: Millicent North Primary School
- Gallipoli Memorial
- Pearce Electorate: Food Labelling
- Blaxland Electorate: Primary Schools
Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises
- Dobell Electorate: Toukley and District Senior Citizens Club
- Gaza Strip
- Petition: Central Coast Radiotherapy Unit
- Pearce, Christopher, MP
- Shorten, Bill, MP
- Hunt, Gregory, MP
- Vamvakinou, Maria, MP
- Costello, Peter, MP
- O’Connor, Brendan, MP
- Johnson, Michael, MP
- Thomson, Kelvin, MP
- Moylan, Judi, MP
- Cheeseman, Darren, MP
- Irons, Steve, MP
- Melham, Daryl, MP
- Jensen, Dennis, MP
- Kelly, Mike, MP
- Wood, Jason, MP
- Dreyfus, Mark, MP
- Secker, Patrick, MP
- Marles, Richard, MP
- Gash, Joanna, MP
- Burke, Anna, MP
- Vale, Danna, MP
- Tanner, Lindsay, MP
- Byrne, Anthony, MP
- Procedural Text
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Ms BURKE (7:46 PM) —It has now been a few days since Australia as a nation faced one of its darkest days, the worst natural disaster we have ever encountered. And still the realities of what occurred seem surreal. I generally do not like talking on a condolence motion; I often feel I am treading on someone else’s grief. But I think we are all sharing in this tragedy and this horror and we need to put on record our sympathy and our thoughts and feelings.
The weekend’s fires were the result of the most severe weather conditions ever recorded and led to insurmountable losses with over 170 dead. I am assuming the toll has probably been reported as greater but I have not seen the news. Five hundred have been injured and almost a thousand homes destroyed, thousands left homeless, countless fields destroyed, businesses destroyed and animals and wildlife all gone. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions. Families and communities have been left shattered as entire towns have been virtually wiped off the map—towns we will rebuild. This has no doubt been the most tragic event to take place in my home state of Victoria and as such it will go down in history as one of our country’s darkest moments. It is not something we need to feel a glow about but in years to come we will also remember the heroism, the community bonding and the better moments and the better values of our society and our humanity from it.
On Black Saturday, as it is becoming known, over 400 fires burnt throughout the state, leaving a pattern of destruction and utter devastation in their wake. Horsham, Bendigo, Beechworth, West Gippsland, Kinglake, Kilmore, Marysville, St Andrews, Narbethong, Flowerdale, Churchill and numerous towns in between all felt the unrelenting wrath of Mother Nature at her most fierce. I think that was the thing that you really could not get your head around. You are sort of used to fires being in one area. The entire state of Victoria at the fringes was almost engulfed by flames, and we need to remember that those fires are still burning, and some of them are very serious still.
The harrowing firsthand accounts of those involved in the fires beggar belief. Reports of the sky raining fire and the speed at which flames swept through properties are terrifying. It is scarcely imaginable. Danielle Reeves, a Kinglake survivor, tells of her terrifying ordeal in one of today’s newspapers:
At one point it all went black. We could see fire closing in on all sides. Our last option was to go down to the back dam, chuck the kids on a raft and chuck blankets over us and try and hope that the fire would jump us.
There are numerous other personal accounts of miraculous survival and courage. However, it is the tragic deaths and loss that will forever resonate with 7 February 2009, a date that will be etched in our national memory for eternity.
I certainly remember where I was on Ash Wednesday in 1983. I shudder to think that it was my last year of school and that it is now 26 years ago, but I can remember being in the back playground at school thinking the world was coming to an end. In very-inner-city Melbourne, ash and dirt were raining down upon us from the devastating fires and the fields that were literally being whipped up from country Victoria and descending upon us. My mother, who was working in inner-city Melbourne in 1983, said that the mums from the high-rise flats in Fitzroy—many of whom were refugees from Vietnam—came screeching into the playground, whipping up their children, thinking that the world was at an end and that Australia was under attack, because at the high-rise all was dark and gloomy and nobody knew what was going on. She said, ‘By the end of the day we had about two children left on the playground.’ I can remember that vividly, and I think I will always remember last Saturday vividly.
It was a hellish day in Victoria. The heat and smoke were just horrendous. By some ludicrous stretch of fate, we were in town. My husband and my children were up to see a live production, and it was going to be a lovely day, except that it was incredibly hot. We left the theatre complaining of the heat, and then we turned on the radio. After about 10 minutes I turned off the radio because my children were becoming quite disturbed at what they were hearing. All that kept resonating with me was: ‘We’re feeling ill at listening to it; what is happening to those people who are experiencing it? What is happening to those mothers and fathers and their children who are actually in this maelstrom?’
I want to offer my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to those families and communities suffering as a result of this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all at this devastating time. You are not alone in this. This parliament and the entire country are behind you all, and we will continue to support you in the long and difficult task of rebuilding a normal life.
Earlier today I spoke to a constituent of mine. As I said then, I did not want to trample on their grief, but it shocked me that in my electorate, which is pretty suburban and quite far away from the fires, we now have a family that has no idea where their loving father is. He went down to see if he could help in Marysville, where they had a holiday home, where they had spent a great deal of their life and where they were very involved in the community. This individual is a charming character and a great member of our community. He has not been seen or heard from since Saturday. His family have no idea. They believe the worst has happened, but until they hear they are keeping on quietly praying and hoping.
It is the stark reality that everyone in Victoria will be impacted by this tragedy. A staff member of mine’s father was quite devastated on Saturday to find that his apprentice, who had been working with him for quite some time, had lost his life trying to get out of the Kinglake area. So all of us, in some way or other, have been impacted, and it will take a long time for our communities across Victoria to rebuild. The harsh reality of this disaster is that the death toll will continue to climb as more bodies are discovered by the emergency personnel on the ground. As the Prime Minister and the Victorian Premier have reminded us, we need to brace ourselves for more bad news.
In this troubled time of mourning and tragedy, there have been heroes continuing to fight fires on the ground across Victoria. The work of the CFA and emergency personnel at this time cannot be overstated, and I wish to record my thanks to them and also to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the countless community groups working on the ground through this tragedy. As the fire continues to threaten communities, we offer our enduring support to the emergency services working across the state. Many of these people are volunteers who typify the Australian spirit, selflessly helping and protecting others out of a sense of mateship and community. I want to offer my sincere thanks to those people providing a helping hand on the ground. All of you are heroes. Many have travelled from across the country and, indeed, from overseas to assist those left devastated and to fight the fires that continue to burn. The rebuilding of communities affected by this unparalleled tragedy will be an immense task. Of course, the government is providing emergency assistance and will continue to deliver further measures to assist those in need.
I particularly want to thank the ambulance officers on the ground. Yes, it is a bit selfish—being married to an ambo and knowing a lot of the ambulance officers who were out there on the day. Many of them felt a bit helpless because they could not get in and out of the fire area. They were all stationed there waiting to go but they could not drive their ambulances in to pick up the victims. A very good mate of my husband’s was there on the day. She was working with an ambo from Kinglake. While he was on duty his house burnt down. Luckily, his wife and children were fine, but he had to end his very long shift before he could find out how they were.
For the people dealing with fire victims it is incredibly traumatic. It is particularly traumatic for the victim, but for those dealing with them it is just overwhelming. My husband very rarely describes what goes on at work, but he will tell you that dealing with a burns victim is incredibly complicated and the smell is just unbelievable. Fire victims are in immense pain. They are at great risk from ongoing injuries. It is not just the burn; it is the internal organs, the airways, the ability to keep their fluids up and it is the infection risk. The people who were dealing with these patients on the ground at the time, before they could get them to the hospital to stabilise them, were under great stress. They came across some horrific scenes. So I want to thank all the ambos who were out there, who did an enormous amount of work and who are still doing an enormous amount of work.
A friend of Steve’s and good mate of ours said that it was really hard. In one case it took them two hours to get a victim out of a situation before they could even make a start out on the road to get the person to the Alfred. It was a very complicated job and they needed some extra help so they asked one of the cops to assist. Our friend said, ‘Cops are really good at assisting because they do what you tell them.’ She was very impressed, but at one stage they were a bit worried that the poor police officer assisting was going to be needing support next because, as I said, dealing with these individuals is pretty horrific.
I also want to thank Monash University for donating its Gippsland campus to the support effort. The Gippsland campus at Churchill was under immense threat itself, and the university has donated the area around it to the effort. Support vehicles are stationed there and people are using the accommodation and services at the campus. The community is chipping in. That is what Australia is terrific at doing. I commend everybody.
Support from the Australian community will be vitally important to the rebuilding process. We have already seen a tremendous outpouring of generosity from the community. I thank all those who have contributed to the cause and I urge the public to continue to open their hearts and to give generously. Now more than ever is the time when we need to pull together and offer a helping hand to those so adversely affected by this natural disaster—the worst of its kind in our history. As the Prime Minister mentioned earlier today, we must adopt a common resolve to help these communities to rebuild so that they can re-establish their lives. We must help these families and communities to dust themselves off so that they can get back on their feet. We all know that it will take time and that it will be difficult. The scars and injuries will not heal overnight. Indeed, this will take decades for people to get over. But we also know that Australians stand together when times are tough. We will do whatever it takes to see these communities through this atrocity and support them in their resolve in restoring their livelihoods.
In concluding, I want to call upon all Australians to consider donating blood—not this week but in the weeks to come. The burns victims will need ongoing blood and plasma supplies. So do not just give your blood today; give it into the future because it will be vitally needed in the weeks and months ahead. Some of the Bali bombing victims still require blood products to this day. I want to commend to the House all the fantastic words spoken by all the wonderful people in this place who genuinely do come here to try to make the world a better place.