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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 523

Senator KROGER (4:38 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

On the second anniversary of Black Saturday, we must remember what a dark and tragic chapter it was in Victoria’s history. One hundred and seventy three men, women and children lost their lives during the most cruel and aggressive firestorm which raged across huge tracts of land, destroying communities and farms, leaving nothing but tragedy and heartbreak in its wake. To those families whose lives were changed forever and are struggling to this day to deal with the emotional and physical aftermath: we have not forgotten you. Many of the communities are still ghost towns. Driving through Kinglake and Marysville only last week I was struck by the fact that people are still living in temporary accommodation. Small businesses have not been rebuilt. In the centre of many of the towns there is no life—there are vacant blocks. We must remember that families are still struggling to make ends meet. While the former Brumby government had the support of the people, they were slow to drive the reconstruction effort. Regrettably, there are millions of dollars in the bushfire appeal account which are still unspent.

I applaud the measures that the Baillieu coalition government have taken in recognising the problems people are still facing and for taking immediate measures to address the concerns of many of those people. Only last week, the Victorian coalition announced a series of measures to support the longer term needs and those impacted by Black Saturday and the Gippsland fires, including a new fire recovery unit, to assist fire-affected individuals. I quote Premier Ted Baillieu:

In the lead-up to the second anniversary of Black Saturday, it is important to recognise that many fire-affected communities are still struggling with a range of issues.

                   …              …              …

The Fire Recovery Unit will provide a clear point of contact in government for fire-affected individuals, communities and councils and work closely with other agencies leading bushfire recovery projects.

And he said that importantly it will:

... also provide leadership in developing new opportunities in fire-affected communities.

It is those opportunities the families are seeking because they are looking at vacant blocks. Houses have not been reconstructed and small businesses have not been reconstructed. In many of these areas, which are tourist areas, they are finding it very difficult to put it all back together. They need greater support and some hope that the government is behind them in seeking new opportunities to rebuild their lives. They have also announced the Bushfire Community Support Program, which begins next month and will run for 16 months. It is a $2.7 million program which will provide a combination of individual support and engagement with local communities to support longer term recovery needs. It includes such things as a support help line, which is still so critically important, and bushfire community support workers to provide locally based assistance. They are seeking to fund local organisations in the Hume region to expand drug, alcohol, family violence and men’s counselling programs, improving access for those affected by the bushfires.

In conclusion I would like to assure those in Victoria who have been so dramatically affected by the devastation wrought upon them only two years ago that our thoughts and prayers are with them, that we are behind them and that we will do everything we can to help them get their lives back on track.