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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2354


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (10:17): Simon Lewis, a lifesaver from St Kilda, has inspired not just my community but Australia—even many parts of the world—with his acts of bravery and compassion in the face of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Simon's been a friend for several years and I'm very proud of his work, both at home and abroad. Like the rest of the world, the sight of the body of the three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, washed up on the beach was a turning point for Simon. Not willing to sit by, he made a decision. He said:

I thought to myself: 'Well I know how to save people, I know how to rescue people. Why am I not at the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation, using my skills?'

The Australian community supported Simon through crowdfunding, which in 2016 allowed him to set up a rapid response jet ski team on the island of Lesbos in Greece. This Australian impact on the refugee crisis would lead to over 3,800 refugees having their lives saved with equipment funded by Simon's supporters. This inspiring work led to Mr Lewis becoming a finalist for Australian of the Year and Victorian Local Hero of 2017, and he was awarded an International Life Saving Federation Citation of Merit in 2016. During the last half of August 2017, Simon joined the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, based in Malta. He was contracted as the No. 1 lifeguard for three rotations until September 2017, and he's been elevated even further.

His remarkable achievements have seen him advance from local lifeguard to becoming the first Australian head of mission on the central migration route for the German NGO Mission Lifeline—a huge honour not just for Simon but for Australia. As head of mission Simon Lewis is responsible for the entire lifesaving operation, including all staff, refugees and stakeholders, on what was known as the deadliest migration route in the world. According to UNHCR figures an estimated 5,000 have died on that route. It is undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the world. Each time Simon returns to St Kilda, he tells us incredible stories, including of refugees giving birth on boats. He was forced to witness the death of 31 refugees, because his team would have been barred from participating and patrolling further. He has not been recognised by Surf Life Saving Australia or Life Saving Victoria, but he should be. It's worth noting that Simon Lewis was the first, and still only, Australian lifeguard to have worked both the central and western Europe migration routes for the refugees. There are differences of opinion in Australia about how we deal with the issue of refugees. It's a passionate and often heated debate. However, I think we can all agree that the humanitarian efforts of Simon Lewis are worthy of our support. I know he doesn't do it for awards or attention; he does it purely out of compassion. He takes a vast amount of his time away from his normal life in my electorate and is out there in the Mediterranean saving people's lives. What a great Australian.