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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 1085


Ms GRIERSON (6:35 PM) —I too rise to support this condolence motion and register the heartfelt sympathy and concern of both myself and the people of my electorate, Newcastle, for our fellow Australians, the good and innocent people of Victoria, so tragically affected by these devastating bushfires. To see a map of the fires in this relatively small state, by physical area, shows so well the terrible ‘arc of destruction’, as the Deputy Prime Minister described it, surrounding the outskirts of the city of Melbourne. But to those in the most affected areas, in the Yarra Valley and Gippsland, we say that we are truly sorry for your loss and suffering. Our thoughts are with you and we hope for the day that the fires are stilled and that you may feel healed in body and spirit, optimistic once more about your lives and nurtured by your again strong communities.

The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have pledged the government’s determination to assist the process of complete recovery and restitution. I take this opportunity to join with my colleagues from both sides of the House and state my personal commitment to positively influencing this process. I wish to register too my admiration for the members of parliament who represent the affected electorates. In their heartfelt speeches they have so eloquently painted the pictures and told the stories for us and for the Australian public of the overwhelming experiences and emotions endured by their constituents, our fellow men and women, at a time when these victims have other pressing demands and priorities. For sharing that with us, we thank them. It was not easy.

In this parliament and all around Australia we have been moved and tears of compassion have flowed. But we can only imagine the fear, the terror, the pain, the courage, the grief and the despair endured firsthand. Our regret is that so many Victorians do know firsthand, with the death toll now exceeding 180 and anticipated to grow.

To the victims and their loved ones, there are many people in my electorate of Newcastle who know a little of what you are going through. They are thinking of you now and they are remembering. We have had our own tragedies—the 1955 Maitland floods, the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, the 2005 Bali bombings and the June 2007 storms, events that all took innocent lives and wreaked havoc and destruction on many—and they hurt deeply. But compared to the devastation of the 2009 Victorian bushfires they recede in their significance.

Their relevance, though, is in sharing what we have learned from the human experience with the victims of this terrible tragedy. The one thing I know and wish to impress on everyone involved is how important it is to seek and receive help, particularly counselling services, now and in the future. Know also that there is no place for personal guilt or blame. Whatever you did, whatever you did not do, whatever you said, whatever you did not say, whatever you thought—do not feel guilty. You have been tested in a way few people will ever be tested. That you are still here to go on and do good things for yourself and for others must be a priority in guiding your thoughts and actions now.

If you have lost a loved one, you will feel a desolation, a cold and hard black hole in your heart that feels unfillable and all consuming. But your partners, your family members, your friends and your neighbours will feel the same. Just to go on will take all your emotion and energy, but do not turn away and lock everyone out—at least not for too long. Try to turn towards each other and let others in to gain comfort and strength.

Several colleagues in their condolence speeches have quoted Australian literature—poems, particularly—to inspire or draw analogies with these terrible events. Literature does that well, especially Australian literature in its raw honesty. I recall, as I did when this happened, Ruth Park’s autobiographies Fishing in the Styx and A Fence Around the Cuckoo. In one part she tells of her emotions on learning of the death of her partner, D’Arcy Niland. She describes being on a ferry in Sydney Harbour and looking down and not knowing where she was, where she was going, why she was on a ferry or indeed who she was.

Grief does engulf. It takes other humans to lessen the burden. If you lost only property and feel bereft, do not think your loss is not important; it is. Our possessions, the places we work, the places we gather to enjoy the company of others and our homes are part of who we are, of the lives we have lived and of the people we have loved. They matter and their loss matters. If you escaped loss, be glad. Do not be confused or guilty. There is no explanation. Reflect that Mother Nature is a force that predates our human experience. She is at times a marvel and at other times awesome in her power. Her seemingly capricious and cruel ways can never be fully translated or rationalised. It is part of our human existence and the mystery of human life. Try to accept.

Take special care of your older citizens. Their health will suffer. Their recovery will be harder. Watch your children. Although they are resilient and strong and may seem to be coping well, they frequently cannot express what they are feeling and their fears. It will be very hard for them with their schools and their teachers not being there to assist them in that process. So do pay special attention to your children.

To the volunteers, emergency service workers, medical teams, welfare workers and those ministering to the communities in Victoria: from our personal experience in Newcastle we know you are heroes. Thank you. To our ABC: we in Newcastle know how wonderful you have been in Victoria because we remember the voice of 1233 ABC Newcastle during our storms and floods. You gave hope and encouragement, provided vital information and linked people and services around the clock for days when basic services were lost and mobility was constrained. Thank you ABC Victoria.

To the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who came to us in Newcastle in our most recent time of need: thank you for your compassionate leadership in Australia’s greatest emergency. Thank you also for your incisive and analytical understanding of the processes needed to respond to this crisis. To our Deputy Prime Minister: your standing as a Victorian in the House of Representatives in parliament on Monday, whilst so many were experiencing such loss, and representing us all and Australia so well made us immensely proud. I thank you both.

I also thank a constituent of mine, who was a near victim of the 2005 Bali bombing, for his persistence in trying to get governments to understand what is needed to ease the burden for victims of extreme trauma, who require ongoing medical attention and who will relive the horror of their experience over and over. You have been heard and your advice will be given the proper consideration that it deserves. His advice was given more from concern for others than for himself, advice that may now be put into effect to ease the burden of so many Victorians.

Anglican Bishop Dr Brian Farran at a memorial service after the 2005 Bali bombings said:

Tragedy is never a private thing, especially in times like this, and in—

our community—

feelings of affection run particularly deep. The pain of this trauma will be felt throughout the—

area—

and for members of the community, the pain will continue for some time.

For the people of all those Victorian towns and villages we hope that in some way our caring will help you now and in the difficult times ahead.