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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1052

Mr SLIPPER (7:32 PM) —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker Murphy, and I am very pleased to see you, of course, competently handling the chair, as you always do.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Murphy)—Thank you.

Mr SLIPPER —The Deputy Speaker is, obviously, very correct in his response to my remark. I think that I would not have anyone argue with me when I say that Queenslanders and Australians more generally are resilient, determined and courageous. They are qualities that have been borne out again this year given the untoward tragedies throughout Queensland and the tragedies which have also occurred in other parts of Australia. In Queensland we had two major tragedies within a very short space of time. We had the flooding which swept through Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and other parts of South-East Queensland including the Lockyer Valley. And, of course, that flooding extended to other states of New South Wales, Victoria and parts of South Australia. Then we had the bushfires in Western Australia in which some 70 homes were lost.

As Australians we have a lot to be proud of. We have a parliament which does respect the will of the people. Every three years we have an election and, while we might sometimes quibble with the result, we cannot quibble with the process. Australians are able to endorse or reject the government of their choice and this is not a situation which occurs in every country in the world. We are also a resourceful people. We have, perhaps, an understandable distrust of authority, but most Australians, regardless of where they stand politically, are very good people, they feel keenly for their fellow Australians and they are more than happy to extend a helping hand when that helping hand is needed by those fellow Australians.

I have to say that all of us have listened, watched and participated in what has happened and also, of course, in the reconstruction efforts. The resilience and determination shown by so many people right across this vast continent make us all feel very humble. They might be human qualities, but they are also qualities that have captured the hearts and minds of everyone. There were, in many cases, people who lost everything and yet even some of those who lost all were prepared to help others. They turned aside from their own tragedy and were prepared to look at those people who were even worse off.

Australians do not give up; Australians will not be gutted. Australians who are dealt a major blow will bounce back. It is what we have always been about as a nation, and it has been vividly and clearly demonstrated in the light of the floods, the fire and Cyclone Yasi. I suppose we really are a continent that stretches across the Tasman, and the tragedy in Christchurch today shows that New Zealand is not immune from the forces of nature. The tragedy which has occurred there, while it may well be of a different nature from the tragedy experienced on mainland Australia, is still very much significant and every bit as great as what has occurred here in Australia.

My own parents, who are now in their 80s, live in Ipswich, which was very badly affected by floodwaters. My parents, fortunately, were not personally affected but they have many friends who were. Businesses were completely inundated, and many of those businesses will find it very difficult to survive. My friends, the members for Blair and Oxley, have outlined what has happened in that Ipswich area.

I was also incredibly moved by the contribution made by the honourable member for Wright when he spoke about what had happened in the Lockyer Valley. There have also been discussions in relation to Toowoomba in the speeches made by honourable members. I think most of us saw that YouTube video of the inland tsunami which engulfed so many cars and people in the main street of the city, which had been devastated by drought for more than a decade. I understand that people were not even able to wash their cars in Toowoomba because of the plight the city had experienced as a result of lack of water and the impact of drought.

Many people would ask, as I think all in this place would ask: how on earth could such a thing happen—a tsunami of the nature that we saw occurring in a place that had been engulfed by drought for more than a decade? I found that video of a car driving away from other cars which were being engulfed by the waves particularly interesting. It really brought home to me in a very clear, chilling and concise way the personal tragedy that was being experienced there, which of course represented the tragedy that was being experienced in other parts of the state of Queensland and the nation.

I want to commend all sides of politics for our determination as a community to help those people who have lost so much to rebuild. While the different sides of politics might have arguments with regard to a flood levy and whether it should be imposed not, no-one in the parliament actually opposes the principal that the government of Australia should play its part in helping the reconstruction. The argument is really over how it is going to be funded. Of course, I do not want to say that is a secondary argument, because it is an important argument; but what I think is really reassuring is that all of us believe that as a nation we have a role to play.

The story of the heroic teen in Toowoomba, Jordan Rice, and his self-sacrifice and love for his younger brother Blake has touched us all. He was prepared to give up his own life to save his younger brother. I have a staff member who grew up in Toowoomba. His parents and family members live there, but thankfully they were not harmed.

I have another staff member who lives in Brisbane. He had settled on the purchase of a home only to be told, seven days later, to expect seven metres of water to come right through his home. He was fortunate to suffer only minor damage to his home, but he spent a considerable amount of time heavily involved in the clean-up. He helped rid the streets of toxic mud, helped clean up damaged belongings and did all that he could to help the victims get back on their feet as soon as possible—to help them try to resume a normal life again. He has told me of close friends he has whose homes went completely under water, losing everything they owned and causing considerable structural damage.

Another of my staff was trapped for several days by floodwaters north of Gympie, but she was able to help a number of tourists and overseas visitors get back on the road as soon as the floodwaters subsided. These natural disasters have touched everyone. There are few people in Queensland who do not have family or friends who were impacted in a personal way by the flooding disaster or later by the cyclone disaster. At least 35 lives were lost in the floods and quite rightly those floods will be the subject of a wide-reaching commission of inquiry.

Following the floods, just when people thought that life was trying to return to normal, as indeed it was, our state was hit by Cyclone Yasi—a massive system that had a front stretching some 600 kilometres and which brought high winds of up to 300 kilometres per hour, heavy rain, storm surges and damage to a massive section of North Queensland. My former mother-in-law was in hospital in Townsville at the time the cyclone hit. Her husband was once the mayor of Townsville and had been a member of the state parliament and a member of the Queensland cabinet, but sadly he has passed on. My former mother-in-law is a resilient person, but she is in a very precarious state of health. So you can imagine what it was like for her, being in her hospital room, hearing the wind whistling around and, while she could not actually see anything, feeling the terror of what was being experienced. I think that, when we saw the video footage and the television coverage of the damage caused to North Queensland and Far North Queensland by the cyclone and more widely in Queensland by the floods, it really seemed unbelievable to us.

But, again, the resilience and determination of the people has provided a silver lining. Our state is accustomed to annual cyclones, but we have not, in recent times, experienced such devastation in such an ongoing way, in such a gross way and in such a diverse manner. The television images and newspaper photographs of the damage revealed a vivid and breathtaking picture of what has been a nightmare. It would be hard to even imagine something like this on such a massive scale, but it requires no imagination because it is so real. It still requires contemplation and reflection to try to absorb properly and to understand the immensity of these tragedies. Had we not seen it and, for many Queenslanders, experienced it, we may not have believed that such a chain of events was possible. To be hit with Cyclone Yasi just weeks after the floods and while some areas were still flooded is incomprehensible. Now, as a community, we have to deal with the consequences.

The damage bill from the floods is estimated to be around $5.6 billion. This was then backed up by the damage from Yasi, estimated at some $500 million. Anyone who saw those frightening satellite images of Yasi—and I suspect that just about all of us did—as it approached the Queensland coastline and who heard the sheer terror in the voices of radio interviewees preparing to face this monster are well aware of how incredible the weather system was. With that in mind, the extent of the damage is really no surprise. But then again, the will of the people to stand up to the worst of nature and do what is needed to rebuild is a heartening and uplifting fact.

The way in which Queenslanders have banded together with the assistance of their fellow Australians to tackle the clean-up and begin the rebuilding highlights the positive and good side of the community. This love of community is reflected so often in our society and I applaud all of those people who give so much to make sure that their fellow Australians are assisted in their time of desperate need.

As a Queenslander I feel sometimes that we should probably apologise because, while we focus on Queensland because of the hugeness of the tragedy in our state, we ought not forget that in other parts of our country, in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia—I look at the member for Fremantle opposite and at you, Mr Deputy Speaker Murphy—different tragedies of varying natures have occurred. Now, today, there has been a horrible earthquake across the Tasman.

As Australians, and as New Zealanders, we have a lot to be proud of. We face incredible adversity, as we have over the last few weeks, yet somehow we manage to come through. Somehow we manage to put aside our political differences to focus on what needs to be done. There might be differences on how what needs to be done should be paid for, but we do not disagree on our obligation to meet the need of those who have great requirements at this difficult time.

Every cloud has a silver lining. While these tragedies are not things you would wish on anybody, in adversity we often see the best coming out in people. The way in which Australians have responded and are responding to this great need is something that should make all of us feel truly humbled.