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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 724

Mr HAYES (9:35 PM) —It was just one year ago that I joined with my colleagues from all sides of the parliament in supporting a condolence motion in relation to the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. These fires will be eternally etched in our nation’s history, given that this was Australia’s worst natural disaster. It claimed a staggering 173 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 houses, left thousands homeless and crushed whole towns and communities.

On this first anniversary of this tragedy that shook a nation, I would like to place on record my thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Victorian bushfires, for their friends and families, and for their loss of life or their loss of loved ones. This is something that should always stay with us. They should know that they are not forgotten, and certainly their spirit is admirable. I am proud to be a member of this government, which has committed to doing whatever is possible to help rebuild lives and communities and doing so in a bipartisan matter. In particular, I would like to congratulate Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten for his hard work and dedication to these devastated communities. I also praise the efforts of my parliamentary colleagues, in particular the member for McEwen, who has been working very closely with the community in this difficult rebuilding phase.

During my speech last year I touched on my gratitude for all those people who contributed in many ways in situations that most of us will not experience or understand ourselves. I spoke about those who provide counselling services and financial services, and the many volunteers who gave so willingly of their time. I also take this opportunity to praise our wonderful emergency services personnel, including our ambos, firefighters and police who held all those in need. They were, at this time last year, fighting to contain the remaining fires, sifting through the rubble of houses looking for bodies, providing medical assistance for those who were injured, hunting down arsonists and undertaking the very grim task of formally identifying those who tragically perished.

I want to say to them that their tireless contributions are deeply valued by our community at large. I know, through my close association with police across this nation, that after being through devastating events such as the bushfires people just do not switch off. This stuff actually stays with you. The unprecedented nature of these fires, in particular, has meant that the welfare of many of the police in Victoria has required close monitoring. I have spoken several times about the difficult and dangerous nature of the role that police play in our community and the need to support our police, and once again I say that it is essential that we continue to protect those who unselfishly give of their time and efforts to protect our communities.

Let us not forget that the Victorian police, like many of the victims, are still reminded of the tragedy on a daily basis. Police are continuing to investigate the deliberately lit Black Saturday bushfires. I understand from reports in yesterday’s Age that the Victorian police have so far put in about 106,300 hours of investigative work into the bushfires. The task force investigators have already taken 4,000 statements from witnesses and are expected to take a further 500 to 1,000 statements over the coming 12 months.

Police have already, as we know, arrested two suspects in relation to two of the three bushfires that they believed were deliberately lit, and are chasing several leads into others, and they are confident that those responsible will be brought to justice. No matter how long it takes to bring the people responsible to justice, I know that the commitment and the ongoing work of the Victorian police is deeply appreciated by the community and by the nation and that they will stay in our thoughts for the efforts that they have undertaken on behalf of our community at large.