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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1038

Mr FRYDENBERG (6:33 PM) —I rise here today to contribute to the condolence motion brought forward by the Prime Minister in response to the summer of natural disasters that has ravaged many parts of Australia. This summer has been one filled with tragedy across our great land. From the overwhelming floods and Cyclone Yasi in Queensland, which followed the slow mass of water that has devastated so many Victorian and New South Wales towns, many parts of Australia have been left reeling. Just a couple of weeks ago we also saw the people of Western Australia battle their own natural disaster, with a fast-moving bushfire destroying 72 homes on the outskirts of Perth. No part of Australia has been left immune.

As my colleague the member for Curtin has said in this House, recent events have reminded us of the prescient words in Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country, first published in 1908 and written when she was just 19:

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror—

The wide brown land for me!

And so it is that we love the combination of our unique and beautiful landscape and weather, but there is also a great deal of unpredictability and, at time, sorrow that flows from unforeseen events. The devastating floods that have ravaged our nation over the past few months are one such event. In early January the floods began to hit Queensland, quite literally sweeping some rural towns away in their deadly path. Communities were left devastated and heartbroken in scenes similar to those throughout Victoria following Black Saturday and they now face the daunting task of rebuilding.

The January floods in Queensland have claimed a total of 35 lives so far. There remain a further seven people missing. As the waters in Queensland rose, many people lost everything, including treasured family possessions that cannot be replaced. The impact on the communities of the Lockyer Valley and Toowoomba was particularly significant. The sight of this inland tsunami was beamed across the country and the world as we started to appreciate the scale of the unfolding tragedy.

But what we have seen through the entire crisis has been the true nature and grit of the Australian people. Thousands lined the streets offering their services for the massive clean-up operation, and busloads of volunteers came from afar to lend a hand. This was true Aussie mateship at work. We must not forget that even now, weeks later, many people are still involved in the clean-up operations. I commend the leadership shown by the Australian Defence Force, emergency service workers, police, fire brigade and ambulance workers in their tireless efforts to help the people affected. I also acknowledge the role of Brisbane City Council and the mayor, Campbell Newman, for their significant efforts.

I know many of my colleagues have done all that they can to help their constituents and I want to make specific mention of the leadership of the member for Wright, the member for Groom, the member for Forde, the member for Kennedy, the member for Herbert, the member for Leichhardt, the member for Longman and the member for Ryan in their electorates. I pay tribute to members on the other side of the House for their efforts too.

Just as Queenslanders began to regain their stride, they were told that the full force of Cyclone Yasi was heading their way. The courage showed by the people of Northern Queensland, in particular those in Tully and Cardwell, facing this ordeal was inspiring.

As the floods began to subside in Queensland and New South Wales, the people of Victoria started to experience the rising waters themselves. After 10 years of horrific and soul-destroying drought, our state began to experience heavy rainfall and flooding. The livelihood of many of our farmers and regional communities was threatened. The Victorian government, led by Premier Ted Baillieu and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, have dealt with the continuing crisis with compassion and urgency. Towns such as Creswick, Rochester, Skipton and Mildura felt the force of the rising waters, with some calling it a ‘mass inland sea’. Nearly 100 Victorian towns have been affected by the flooding, with a number of electorates facing widespread damage. More than 3,000 farmers have been hit, more than 4,000 kilometres of fence destroyed, over 120,000 tonnes of hay lost and over 8,000 tonnes of grain flooded. Damage is estimated in the billions of dollars.

I know many of my colleagues whose electorates were hit hard, including the member for Wannon, the member for Mallee, the member for Murray and the member for Flinders, have worked tirelessly with their communities to assist those affected. Whilst it was not on anywhere near the scale of the floods and storms experienced by so many Australians over the past few months, a torrent of rain lashed my own electorate of Kooyong, causing incidents of minor flash flooding in different areas. A number of traders and residents were affected, with shops having to close due to water damage. Trading associations like the Camberwell Traders Association, under the presidency of Henk Kelly-Kobes, and the Boroondara council, under Mayor Nicholas Tragas, have worked hard to assist those affected.

In conclusion, what we have seen over the past month is the Australian spirit being tested by the full force of Mother Nature. Through heavy rains, floods, fire and cyclones, the people of Australia have been tested. What we have seen as a result is a testament to the character of our great nation. When faced with disaster, people have rallied round their neighbours, not hesitating to get their hands dirty in the rescue and clean-up operations. As the Leader of the Opposition said in parliament this week, we have seen Australians at their best over the past few months as we all come together to assist in the important recovery task ahead.