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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 43

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:25): I rise to support the sentiments of the Prime Minister concerning Australians affected this summer by fire and flood. Yesterday was the first day back for 447,000 Western Australian schoolchildren, but 58 students from Yarloop Primary School began this year in unfamiliar surroundings, in different schools, after bushfires destroyed 162 homes in their town. Tragically, two lives were also lost in this blaze. On Christmas Day, along Victoria's iconic Great Ocean Road, thick smoke filled the skies over Lorne and flames roared down almost to the water's edge at Wye River and Separation Creek. Families and volunteers alike left tables set with Christmas lunch either to flee the fires or to fight them. One hundred and sixteen homes, many handed down from generation to generation, would be destroyed.

The floods in the Territory and the Hunter also caused significant dislocation, and as we meet in this place fires are raging in the ancient temperate forests of Tasmania. These forests, which we can trace back to the supercontinent of Gondwana and the time of dinosaurs, are burning even now. Thankfully, at this stage no lives or properties are at risk.

These fires at all points of our continent were started by lightning strikes—random, fickle shafts of fate that set in motion loss of life, the destruction of homes, farms, fences and livestock, and the reduction of some of Australia's most beautiful forest to ash and cinder. In the case of all three fires, it could have been so much worse had it not been for the foresight, the dedication and the courage of our emergency services personnel—so many of them volunteers. But for them, far more homes and lives would have been lost.

On behalf of all of us and all Australians, I want to thank them for their bravery, their steely resolve and their service. I extend the condolences of the House to all those who are still mourning the loss, due to natural disasters this summer, of someone they loved. I offer our promise as a party to cooperate and assist wherever we can to cut the red tape and to speed the work of rebuilding—helping families, farmers and local businesses to get back on their feet.

Floods and bushfires are an eternal part of life on our dry continent. They are fierce and fearsome, but they are no match for the combined spirit of the Australian people. When floods and fires wreak their devastation Australians do not surrender to despair; we rebuild; we reach out. We get on with it and we comfort and care for one another. We do not just endure; we prevail—and we will do so again.