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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 367

Ms KING (BallaratParliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing) (19:03): I commend those speakers who previously made their contribution to this motion. I know there are a number of speakers to follow. What we are hearing in this debate and what we are being reminded of is that every one of us comes from regions and communities across this country and it is certainly very distressing to hear about the experiences and just how widespread the experiences of disaster have been, this summer, in different towns. Many have experienced it not just once but twice or three times now in a very short succession.

Combating Australia's natural disasters is something that is obviously becoming of increasing interest and certainly one that we are, unfortunately, having to talk about far too often in this place. The nation that we live in is a pretty remarkable place. So many families around this country have been impacted by devastating floods over this holiday period and many across other states have been impacted by and are continuing to combat severe bushfires and severe bushfire risk. It is very upsetting to see people across all communities in a state of absolute despair as they struggle to cope with the impact of losing a home, having their belongings destroyed and having to start from scratch again.

During the member for Wright's contribution I was reflecting on the impact it also has on children, and children who are not necessarily directly affected as well. I have a four year old, and we often have the news on in our house. It just did not even occur to me about the floods in Queensland: he said, 'Are they near here; are we safe?' Suddenly I realised that he was thinking, 'Gosh, am I safe?' And in the same way—and I will talk a bit about this in a minute—I am a member of the fire brigade. I have a pager system which, unfortunately, has gone off fairly regularly this summer. He said, 'Is that a fire?' Suddenly I realised he was getting very anxious about what was happening. It is really important to remember that we talk even if we have not been directly affected—and I will talk a bit about my community in a minute—and that kids really have a very heightened awareness to what is actually happening across the country. It is important that we start to talk a little bit about that, about their safety and how they feel. I know Australian Emergency Management has some really great resources for kids. I would encourage people, particularly with primary school age kids, to have a look at that and to use it as a resource in their communities to talk about not only what has happened but also about how resilient they can be as communities, and as children about what they can do. That was an important reflection I wanted to make.

There is comfort for a lot of people to know that in local communities there has been such incredible support from across the country and also from within local communities. We are hearing amazing stories of people coming and getting stuck in and helping right across districts. Those of us who are not directly affected by fires and floods have watched the morning news and read the newspapers and struggled to truly comprehend the trauma to those who have been hardest hit.

On Australia Day, I often speak about the many inspiring stories we have in our own communities and across the country. There have been outstanding responses in all parts of the nation to the recent fires and to the floods in Queensland. In my own electorate I want to particularly thank our emergency services personnel, the members of the country fire authority and the DSE, and those services who worked alongside them, and continue to work alongside them this summer, the Victoria Police, VicRoads, the Red Cross and the local council staff, who have often had to come back from summer holidays to assist. They should be recognised for the significant support that they have given to local communities.

The volunteer work of many local residents should also not go unmentioned. Year after year volunteers turn out in droves to assist their neighbours when they are in a state of great need. In my community we have had a number of fires in Yandoit, Creswick, Balliang East, Blampied, Greendale and other communities as well. We have been incredibly fortunate, and there is a range of reasons why that is the case. Some of it has been about weather. It has also been about the lessons we have learnt from previous bushfire experiences; if you can get in and hit these things as hard as you can as fast as you can and stop them getting a run on, you have a better chance of actually containing them. It also obviously depends on the territory and where they start.

We have also been very fortunate about some very good decisions that have been made by both state and federal governments. Back in December when the fire season was just starting I went out to Ballarat airport—it is a very small airport—and inspected one of the nation's firefighting air cranes, the Gypsy Lady, which is one of the Sikorsky helicopters that we have. In Victoria that has been absolutely invaluable in getting fires in my region out incredibly quickly. I want to personally thank the crew of the Erickson sky crane who have been located, and continue to be located, in Ballarat. They come from all across the world and have left their families, often for long stretches of time—for up to three months at a time—to come and live in Australia. They have been absolutely integrated into our firefighting services. It has been a very important investment by both the Australian and state governments in providing financial support to get this equipment into regions, and to have it located in areas where it can be responding very, very quickly. Obviously we have Elvis at Essendon Airport, but having an air crane in my region has certainly meant we have been able to put out fires very quickly.

I want to talk a little bit about one of the fires in Carngham. Given the job that I do and as the mother of a four-year-old, I am not as active a firefighter as I would like to be or used to be, but I went out on one day to the community of Blampied to help with the blacking-out activities. For people who do not know, often fires leave behind stumps that continue to burn and when you have hot days if they are continuing to burn internally—and you may not even notice that they are there—they can be the source of a new spread of fire. It was amazing to see again the number of crews, people from all across the community who would normally be on summer holidays and with their kids, downing everything, with their families giving them the space to go out and do really vital work to try to prevent fire, often in environments that were not safe. I know that in Blampied the hill we were on was a bit steep. We do not do anything that is dangerous and we very much look after each other, but they can be pretty precarious circumstances that you find yourself in. It is amazing to watch that.

I also had the opportunity to go out with the Premier of Victoria to visit and have a look firsthand at the Carngham fires. Again, you just realise how devastating these fires are and how quick they are. I met with the Nunn family, who had a large farming property out there and had lost pretty much everything. Listening to their stories, we could see they were still very much in the shock phase but starting to move into recovery. We learned a bit about the impact on the community. It was a real privilege. I was very pleased to be able to talk about the extension of the national disaster relief and recovery arrangements out in that community and what that hopefully would mean for their rebuilding. The Nunn's property was directly impacted, and Julie and Kim really highlighted how much work is needed to be done in the immediate aftermath let alone required to get back on your feet. So I want to thank them for having a media pack, the Premier and all of us suddenly descend on them in a period of time when they were still having to deal with some very difficult issues. More strength to them.

My thoughts are certainly with the families of the seven people who died in Queensland. Again, I think that they are just incredible tragedies. The stories of survival are extraordinary, but we need to absolutely remember the lives that we lost. There are a number of things we have learned from this flood, but it still amazes me to hear stories about people crossing floodwaters. I just cannot understand, given how much we know about it, why people are continuing to put themselves and SES and rescue services at risk. I think the more we go out and talk about it and the more we learn from every experience hopefully the more lives that will be saved. I want to recognise that seven people have lost their lives and are not with us as a result of the floods.

We watched from Victoria very much with amazement at just how much water was up north. My thoughts also go out to the resident and firefighter who died in the Seaton fires and the Victorian volunteer firefighter who died in Tasmania. Members of my own brigade in my own region went over to Tasmania and, again, I think the community of firefighters are pretty amazing people. There was not a single day that they did not have more people who wanted to go and help in Tasmania. While continuing to fight fires in our own region as well as in other parts of the state, there were a lot of people who were very keen to go and help. I want to acknowledge that a Victorian firefighter died in Tasmania but also the extraordinary works that those CFA volunteers did in Tasmania.

Again, it is important for us as we talk about these disasters to learn as we go through each of those experiences. Obviously the national disaster and relief recovery arrangements work differently in each state and territory and in each circumstances, but I do not think this is going to be the last time we are going to be here talking about these issues, unfortunately. I wish it were, but I do not think it will be. It is very important that members hear some very strong-lived experiences of how people manage through these disasters and how the recovery and relief arrangements work or do not work in certain circumstances.

I think it is really important that we make sure we bring these stories here, that we make sure we talk to the relevant ministers about some of the real, on-the-ground issues that are happening and that we make policy adjustments as we go along. I want to again commend all the members from the many, many affected electorates, across this vast, vast, land, that have been affected by these national disasters. But I also want to send out a plea: it is February; it is incredibly hot in Victoria as we speak—it is hot here in Canberra, although I have not been outside yet and so I cannot verify that—and we are in a pretty precarious bushfire circumstance still in many of the states, so I want to put out an absolute plea that people stay safe, be careful, listen to their fire authorities and also that every one of our emergency service personnel continues to stay safe this summer.