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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 427


Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (16:48): The 20th of January will be marked as a very tragic day for the people of Victoria and Melbourne. I, like many people, was shocked to see and hear of the terrible carnage that occurred in one of our most iconic locations in our iconic, great city. My family and I—my husband and my little boy, Ryan—were in Melbourne that day. We were juggling work and family commitments on the last week of school holidays. We had driven up to Melbourne to go and see a performance of Operation Ouch!, a great kids program that was on at the arts centre. We parked at the arts centre. We had had my father-in-law staying overnight, so we walked up to Flinders Street Station to see him onto the train back to his suburban house in Blackburn. As we stood and said farewell to him at the Flinders Street Station, Mark and I turned to each other and thought, 'What are we going to do for lunch?' We talked about going and walking up Swanston Street and heading to the mall. But we then thought, 'Well, we've got an hour and a half; perhaps we'd better head back the other way and head to the arts centre.' And that is what we did. Had we made the decision to go to Swanston Street, we would have been right at the site of where this terrible tragedy occurred right at that time.

And that is what happened for many families and many people: it was an accident, in the wrong place at the wrong time with someone who had decided to commit a terrible act. People just making ordinary decisions: whether they would walk down one side of the street or go on the other side; if they had not brought their lunch into work that day, whether they needed to whip out to go and buy lunch; coming into town and thinking about what they would do in their last week of school holidays, 'Let's head into Myers, let's head into DJs, into the Bourke Street Mall and do some shopping.' All of those are decisions that ordinary people make every single day. You expect you would be able to go and get your lunch during your lunch hour, go and visit the city, go into the Bourke Street Mall and be safe. And normally you are, except for these terrible, terrible circumstances that happened on this day.

I cannot imagine what the families of the people we have lost are going through, and my heart goes out to every single one of them. I cannot imagine the trauma that was inflicted on our city on that day. As we sat having lunch at the Arts Centre, my husband, as he is wont to do, was checking the Twitter account. He looked up and said, 'You know, there's something happening in the mall.' I said, 'What's going on?' He said, 'A car's driven down there.' 'What do you mean a car's driven down the mall? What's going on?' As we started to hear the reports coming through and the terror that gripped the city, it was a frightening experience to be part of. I can only imagine what it was like to be there.

As the shadow minister for health, I think it is particularly incumbent upon me to reflect on and to thank deeply the incredible health professionals who came to the fore in Melbourne. I will do that in a minute. I first want to reflect on the incredible bravery and courage of the many people in that mall that day, who would have been absolutely terrified. It is not normal to experience that level of fear when you go on your lunch break, to have to actually deal with something so frightening and so traumatic, and so to actually run into danger to help your fellow citizens—to comfort, to care—and to then go back to work the very next day and to have to revisit that site is an extraordinary thing, and I want to reflect on this and thank them.

But as I said, as shadow minister for health I particularly want to say thank you to our health workforce. You were extraordinary. I have talked to a number of emergency department workers, people who were around on that day, and I know many of them still carry with them today what happened on that day. We had an off-duty doctor named Michael who was on the scene and who assisted paramedics. We have heard about an orthopaedic surgeon who was on the scene and who provided support and comfort to victims, helping them until ambulances could get to the scene. There was the off-duty orthopaedic surgeon using brochures to strap someone's leg, while workers at a nearby pharmacy got equipment to people as well. We have heard stories of incredible, well-functioning emergency departments across our major city hospitals dealing with this crisis in such an incredibly professional way. There were 37 people hospitalised that afternoon. The injured were taken to five hospitals across our city—the Royal Children's Hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, St Vincent's Hospital, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, and the Alfred. Their emergency departments did us proud, every single one of them, and we thank them for that: the specialist doctors, the surgeons, the nurses, the theatre workers, the many who fought incredibly hard to save lives. Tragically, we lost six people—five Melburnians and an overseas visitor—but many, many lives were saved on that day, and we do recognise there are many people who are still injured and who are recovering from those injuries. We had more than 40 ambulances turn out, dispatched to the scene. Again, it was such a small space and a chaotic scene; they would have been facing incredibly difficult circumstances.

In the weeks afterwards we have had Red Cross workers remaining in the mall to give psychological support to members of the public. Again, it would have been impossible to actually deal with and help people on the day itself, because there were so many injured and so many people who needed assistance that many people would have left the scene—gone back to their offices and only when they got home that night would they have really started to process what had actually happened to them—and then had to go back onto the scene the next day to work.

Of course, every single emergency responder on the day—the paramedics, police officers and emergency service workers did an extraordinary job. Ambulance Victoria has put out a beautiful video, thanking members of the public. If people have not seen it, I really encourage them to have a look at it. I am pretty tough. I do not often cry a lot but I have to admit that it moved me to tears when I looked at it. We often hear stories of our ambulance workers working in pretty awful circumstances where sometimes they are not always looked after by members of the public, and here were some of our toughest ambos thanking the members of the public just for their incredible support on the day.

We also had, as I said, members of the public rushing to comfort people. These events show the worst of our community but they also give us the opportunity to see the best of our community, and I do not think you could have seen any braver group of people than were in the Bourke Street Mall on the twentieth. As I said at the start, it was an accident of fate as to who was there and why they were there at that particular time. It could have happened to anybody who was in the city making a decision on that day. I want to say to the families of the six people who died, 'You will always be in our hearts. We mourn with you. We thank the people who supported you and who hopefully will continue to support you in the many years ahead.'

This was a terrible tragedy that we will learn from but I also think has bravely shown some of the best of our nature—where we saw people running into danger to help their fellow Australians, sheltering them from the burning sun. It was an incredibly hot day that day. They were comforting and welcoming the many tourists who were in our region as well, making sure that they felt safe and that the fear subsided as quickly as it could. Again, I do particularly want to thank our incredible health workforce. That was an extraordinarily difficult day and remains so. One of the nurses I have spoken to said that normally when you are treating people in emergencies you do not know a lot about them—you do not know their family history; you do not know about their background—but what is happening in this circumstance is that their stories are being told in the newspapers so they are becoming much more than just a patient. They are becoming very real, and that, of course, leaves its own challenges and traumas for our nurses and our hospital staff. Again, in recognising the great work that they do we say, 'Thank you.' We pay tribute to them and we mourn with the Victorian community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Buchholz ): I thank the honourable member for that heartfelt contribution. It was an absolute tragedy.