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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 793

Mr FRYDENBERG (5:10 PM) —I rise to support this motion of commemoration. This week marks the second anniversary of the terrible natural disaster now forever known as the Black Saturday bushfires, an event more devastating than the tragedies of Ash Wednesday in 1983 and Black Friday in 1939.

Between 7 and 9 February 2009, under a combination of high temperatures, strong winds and tinder-dry forests, a series of devastating bushfires—more than 300 across the state—raged throughout Victoria, ravaging woodlands, tearing through towns and tragically taking 173 precious lives, including 23 children, and injuring more than 800 people, many suffering serious burns. The fires that started on that hot, 40-plus-degree day ended after consuming more than 2,000 properties and destroying 430,000 hectares. Hundreds of businesses were lost or damaged by the flames.

Every Victorian has been affected by the fires of Black Saturday. I remember the day vividly: the intoxicating heat hitting one like a wall. One can only imagine the intensity of the heat in the fire zone and its thunderous roar. And every Australian has been shocked by the devastation caused by fire, created either by intent or by accident and assisted by the natural environment. It is difficult to comprehend the horror of the situation which so many Victorians, so many Australians, found themselves facing while the fires raged. Unfortunately the ferocity of the fires on Black Saturday was of such a nature that the best laid plans were just not enough. The rage of the fire caught people off guard and people perished in homes that they were unable to defend from oncoming flames and in cars while they were trying to escape.

Over those terrible three days, locations such as Flowerdale, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Marysville, Narbethong and Strathewen were left unrecognisable. Around 78 Victorian townships were directly impacted in the consuming path forged by the fires. We will not forget the devastation caused to Bendigo, Buxton, Callignee, Churchill, Coleraine, Dixons Creek, Drouin West, Heathcote Junction, Horsham, Humevale, Koornalla, Longwarry, Mittons Bridge, Mudgegonga, Narre Warren, Reedy Creek, Smiths Gully, St Andrews, Steels Creek, Strath Creek, Taggerty, Toolangi, Upper Plenty, Wandong, Whittlesea and Yarra Glen. The story told by survivors tells of a fire they barely saw coming, of a fire they never knew had arrived. They tell of a fire that moved at lightning speed and of a fire that leapt forward and soared high. And they tell of family, friends, neighbours and whole communities lost. But they also tell a tale of survival.

I want to acknowledge the wonderful work of the SES and CFA volunteers, the police, the fire brigade and ambulance services, the Defence Force personnel, the Red Cross and thousands of other volunteers for their work in assisting those affected. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of the former member for McEwen, Fran Bailey, the current member for McEwen, Rob Mitchell, the member for Indi, the member for McMillan, the member for Casey and the member for Bendigo for the incredible work they did in assisting their local communities to rebuild. I also want to acknowledge our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and our then opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, for their efforts.

It is also heartening to hear of the progress made by the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority. Over 700 building permits have been issued, over 90 per cent of fences have been repaired and direct financial assistance has been provided to nearly 60,000 families and individuals. And it is heartening to hear of the new initiatives announced by the Baillieu government, including the new Fire Recovery Unit located within Regional Development Victoria and the new Bushfire Communities Support Program with a personal support helpline and other services for those in need. With over 300 families continuing to access counselling and other related assistance, the importance of these services cannot be overstated.

We must pay tribute to the strength of those who survived the fires of Black Saturday and continue to provide support to the very people and communities who lost so much, as they, now more than two years on, rebuild their lives and their homes and heal their souls. Their courage, the courage of all the communities affected by Black Saturday, continues to be a great inspiration to me and to all Australians. We have done and will continue to do all we can to assist them in their recovery. It is our duty.