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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1019

Mr CHEESEMAN (4:45 PM) —I take this opportunity to rise to my feet today to speak on this condolence motion on the huge tragedy that has befallen Australia, particularly affecting those in Queensland and northern Victoria—my own home state. I can recall addressing a community group some two years ago in the wake of the Victorian bushfires. At that community meeting many of us were reflecting that that was probably one of the greatest natural disasters that this country has suffered and that it would be unlikely that in our lifetime we would see a natural disaster in Australia anywhere near as big as that. Then arrived the summer of 2010 and the truly horrifying circumstances which led to so much devastation in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

I was visiting family and friends in a small country Victorian town called Kerang during that period when the rains were falling on central Victoria. Some two weeks later those floods arrived in Kerang—a massive body of water inundating not only Kerang but many other communities right throughout northern Victoria. I can also recall, through that period of time, watching the devastating floods in communities across Queensland. I was absolutely horrified, and I am sure so many other Australians were.

It is truly a remarkable Australian trait that in times of absolute tragedy the very best of the Australian spirit is demonstrated. That is certainly what we have seen this summer. There were so many acts of bravery and generosity shown by so many Australians helping those people caught up in those very devastating circumstances. That very much demonstrates to me the strong bonds of friendship and loyalty and volunteerism that exist within Australia.

The footage that was so widely shown throughout the nation was truly tragic. We hear stories time and again of so many people who lost their lives in the prime of their lives. I know that my community in Corangamite very much has extended a warm hand of friendship to so many other parts of Australia. I would like to recognise the efforts of so many volunteers from my community who have gone to northern Victoria to help, through the SES. It truly is a remarkable Australian thing to do.

The Gillard government—and, I am sure, the whole parliament—is keen to work with a spirit of cooperation to rebuild northern Victoria and Queensland and to do it in a way that recognises the tremendous pain and suffering that those communities have gone through. We certainly know in Victoria, after the fires of a few years ago, that the healing process does take a long time, and I am sure that will be the case here. I particularly wish to extend the hand of friendship to all of those families who have lost loved ones. It was truly a remarkable natural event and I know so much pain has been caused to so many people.

I am committed, as a Victorian, to helping to rebuild the communities of northern Victoria and Queensland. I would like to take the time to acknowledge all of those who have lost loved ones and who have lost property. I acknowledge those volunteers who have gone out of their way to help in what has been an absolutely remarkable natural event that it is hard to describe with words. I put on the record my thanks to those from my community who have demonstrated a real Australian spirit of help.