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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 787

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (4:25 PM) —It is a pleasure to rise and join with other members on this motion that was moved to take note of the statement made by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in the main House on 9 February. It is a motion to commemorate the second anniversary of those tragic bushfires. It is a time to remember. It is a time to reflect. It is also a time to look forward now with the benefit of two years behind us.

At the outset, I pay tribute to the minister for her words in the main chamber and to the shadow minister, the member for Menzies. I think both members encapsulated what occurred on that tragic day and what occurred in the hours and days afterwards and has occurred since. As I said, it is natural for us to remember and reflect. All of us—particularly Victorian members like you, Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou; the member for McEwen, who is here; the member for Kooyong; and the member for Wannon, who has just joined us—remember that day—the heatwave, the weather and the wind. All of us had that fear that something terrible could happen, but I think all of us hoped and prayed that the day would just pass as the previous couple of days of the heatwave had.

When the news that fires had broken out was heard on the radio and on our televisions, we as Melburnians instinctively thought the worst. When we thought the worst, we thought of Ash Wednesday, which was our previous reference point for the worst. I think intuitively none of us thought it could be worse than that because that was the boundary psychologically. As I have said before in the House, I remember opening the curtains of our house, which is just on the edge of the Yarra Valley near Lilydale, on that afternoon and seeing the mushroom clouds down the Melba Highway, which must have been at Kinglake and then approaching Yarra Glen. Of course all Melburnians know the Dandenong Ranges and the Yarra Valley. Pretty much wherever you are in suburban Melbourne you can see them. What unfolded over the next hours and the next days was truly tragic, and I think the minister and the shadow minister captured that.

In remembering Black Saturday, we think of the families who lost loved ones. We remember the 173 who died, those who were injured and all the families who were affected. We think of the communities affected. Wherever those communities are, we Melburnians know them even if we do not live in them. We have been there on school camps as kids and on family outings. That it as true of Kinglake as it is of Marysville and the other towns. We also reflect, as I said, on the incredible efforts of our emergency services personnel and the incredible efforts of members of the community.

To speak of those events two years on brings back memories of the many efforts at so many levels. We are right to feel sympathy for the heartbreak and heartache of those who we know are suffering so much at this time and simultaneously to feel pride in the community spirit and in those who helped so much. I say that because it has become fashionable at times for commentators to say that we have lost our sense of community spirit in the last 40 or 50 years. While that might be true at a superficial level, instinctively we suspected that was not the case and we know it is not the case from what we have seen.

I cannot possibly mention everyone, but I do want to mention a couple of people. One of them is Lex de Man from the CFA—and I know the member for McEwen will have heard of Lex. A loyal senior officer for many years, he retired recently.

Mr Mitchell —I met him on Sunday.

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —The member for McEwen says he met him on Sunday. I wanted to mention him. As I said, it is difficult to single out people, but I do want to mention Peter Montgomery from Yarra Glen as an example of some of the great work that was done. He instigated the Adopt a Container Project, which within a year saw 170 shipping containers provided to affected families to store their belongings and give a sense of belonging as they rebuilt. He was rightly chosen as the Shire of Yarra Ranges Citizen of the Year last year. That project is still going and still expanding.

Of course, I want to mention the previous member for McEwen—and I know the current member will support this—Fran Bailey, who worked so tirelessly in those tragic days, weeks and months after the fires. The minister rightly mentioned Fran in her speech in the House. I also want to make mention of the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd. At that time of tragedy, he performed in an exemplary way. He was in constant contact with Fran Bailey, and his efforts and his dedication to every aspect where he could possibly make a difference were well known to those closely involved. I want to pay tribute to the former Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, who similarly spent every waking minute making sure that whatever needed to be done was done.

I said it is a time to remember and a time to reflect. I also said it is a time to look forward. In doing so, it is a time also for some candour because, two years on, we can make a lot more sense of the tragedy. We know we will never stop bushfires, but in our hearts we want to know that we can always do better. Two years on, the words of the former member for McEwen, in her final speech to this House, bear repeating. She called for a program of sustained fuel reduction, a state-of-the-art early-warning system, safe shelters and better use of early fire detection technology. I want to see the new state government of Victoria working as hard as they can to make a real difference and, where we can, to leapfrog forward in those areas, particularly on early fire protection technology.

Another former member of this place, the former Labor member and Hawke government minister Barry Cohen, has written passionately about the possibilities of some of the new early fire detection technologies. He has written in the Australian about the FireWatch technology, which can precisely detect the existence of smoke and its location before a bushfire has taken hold, enabling emergency services to deploy the resources to extinguish the fires. This technology consists of a camera unit with a sensor that can scan an area of 400 square kilometres and rotate automatically through 360 degrees every six minutes 24/7. It can detect the difference between smoke, cloud and mist. With recently added night vision, it can provide precise details of fires around the clock. This technology is being used in Germany. It was developed by the German aerospace industry and NASA as part of the Mars Pathfinder mission.

There were some trials of this technology with funding from the federal government, but that appears to be somewhat caught in bureaucracy. But today is not the day to go through that in detail. Today is the day for me to say on behalf of those in the Yarra Valley that we want to see that technology thoroughly trialled and we want to see the best possible technology in use. The next time this sort of fire tragedy happens—and it might be the difference of time between Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday, but it could be next year—we want to know that when our emergency services confront it they will have better technology and better preparation and that we have done more because we have learnt more, so that we can make a difference on the ground for those communities affected.