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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1034

Mr CIOBO (6:15 PM) —The summer of 2010-11 has been a time of great trial, tribulation and, regrettably, tragedy. Across the length and breadth of this nation we have seen weather take its toll upon the Australian people. In particular, we have seen the flooding that took place in Brisbane and throughout much of Queensland, including the Grantham Valley and Toowoomba as well as up the eastern seaboard of the Queensland coast. To compound these matters, we saw the impact of Cyclone Yasi and the battering that small coastal communities in Tully, Port Hinchinbrook and those areas all endured as a direct consequence of that cyclone. We also had the fires that took place in Western Australia, which cost so many homes. In addition to that, the flooding rains that moved down through Central Australia also saw massive and rapid flooding occur throughout, in particular, the north-west regions of Victoria.

On every measure, this past summer has seen Australia live up to its most unfortunate and fiercest reputation as a continent of extremes. That is why I rise today to add my voice to this condolence motion for the tens of Australians who regrettably lost their lives as a consequence of the natural disasters over the summer. In addition to the tragic loss of life—and there have been some absolute tragedies—there was also significant property damage and there will be the emotional hardship that goes with the tragedies that have unfolded over the last several months.

As with any of these tragedies, there are very real, personal experiences people have that sheet home to all of us as members of parliament what we should be doing about the way in which these types of events touch people sometimes in a way that is just so horrific. Like with any great tragedy though, this has also been a time when we have seen people rise up. We have seen communities, through the tumult and darkness of these times, come together. We have seen the reignition of those bonds that exist in communities that too often we think are gone but in reality remain strong. We have seen the re-emergence of the neighbour and the re-emergence of the volunteer come to the fore as people have leant on each other and been each other’s shoulders.

I am mindful in particular though of some of the tremendous lengths that our volunteers have gone to as a consequence of these tragedies. One story that particularly affected me just for its sheer horror was the unfortunate circumstance in the Grantham Valley and, in addition to that, what took place and transpired in Toowoomba with the flash flooding and the rescuer who tried valiantly to help rescue children from a trapped vehicle. Unfortunately, in those tragic circumstances, one small child in the rushing torrent of water escaped the grasp of her rescuer and was lost.

Words can never heal the wounds that that family feels. I have no doubt that for the rescuer involved the knowledge, feeling and guilt on his shoulders will take perhaps his entire lifetime to forgive himself for. It is unfortunate. These things are never predicted and they are the very ugly side of these natural disasters.

At a time when as a nation we need to reflect and to heal, we need to recognise that through the tragedy we find an inner strength and that our responses to these types of events help to mark us as a nation and as individuals with the character and the inner strength to keep moving forward. I think if we as a parliament can draw inspiration from the personal challenges that people have had within themselves, and more broadly the challenges that communities have faced and have collectively worked to overcome, then I know that this parliament can truly do the great work that is required of it to help the people and the communities to recover.

On a personal level, I had family members who were indirectly affected by some of the natural disasters. We had many friends in Brisbane and extended family members who were close to being flooded and lived in anguish at their homes being potentially in harm’s way. In one particular case we had cousins in Oxley who had water lapping at their bottom doorstep. They had taken the hours involved to move furniture up to a higher level, hoping and praying that they would not be affected. In this particular instance they were spared, although we know that there were thousands of others who were not spared.

As a kid who was born and bred in north Queensland, I spoke to my parents about the preparations they had made to ensure that they were ready when at that stage it was predicted that Cyclone Yasi would still be a category five cyclone as it moved across the Atherton Tablelands. My parents-in-law in Townsville also lived with the anguish that this cyclone could greatly affect them. Living only a matter of metres from the ocean front, and with the predicted storm surges in excess of seven metres, there was great stress placed on all of those communities.

Through all of this I know one thing: whether it is speaking with family members, with friends or with people who were previously strangers, you understand that Australians are resolute about our willingness to fight against the natural environment, to recognise the majesty of these events that also happen and to recognise that we must always be mindful that mother nature reigns supreme in these types of events.

Now is the time for the government and the opposition to work constructively together to ensure that we respond to the demands that are out there in the community, to work in a manner that will ensure that the community can get back on its feet and to make sure that we are there to be that shoulder for people to lean on when they need to as they go about the months and, in some instances, years of work to recover and get back on their feet—so much of which they have lost.

On behalf of the electors I am privileged to serve, our condolences go to those who lost immediate family members and your loved ones. To the volunteers, the police, the army, the fire brigade, the ambulance, the medical doctors and nurses, and all the auxiliary staff who worked in many instances around the clock to help with the relief effort and to help those who were struggling through this time of tumult, we say a very sincere and heartfelt thank you. Without the volunteers who did what they did, and without the support coming from so many regions, there is no doubt that we as a nation would have been poorer.

I am mindful as well of the volunteers from my own community of Moncrieff. Remarkably, we were largely unaffected on the Gold Coast. We were not flooded. We did not suffer the consequences of the cyclone. In every respect we were blessed to have endured this summer without any major problems. Yet, as a community, we rallied to the call for help that people were wanting. I have to say that initiatives were taken by local Rotary groups, by Lions clubs and by community volunteers. They helped put together food baskets and donations of fridges. They spent a weekend, organised by the Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper, cleaning up Goodna. They literally bussed hundreds of volunteers from the Gold Coast to help with the cleanup.

Through the ugliness of the natural disasters it has been these shining examples of pure humanity and concern that we as Australians have for each other that really re-ignites within the heart the belief that when times are tough we will be there for each other. That, more than anything, is the greatest inspiration that flows from these times of tumult. With that, I confirm my condolences to those who suffered so much.