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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1055

Mr FLETCHER (7:46 PM) —I rise to speak on the motion moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. On behalf of my electorate of Bradfield I strongly support the motion. Australia has suffered great loss this summer. Above all, we have suffered the loss of life. We mourn those who have been lost and think of their families, loved ones and friends. We think also of those who have been injured and are recuperating. We wish all of them a speedy and full recovery. We have seen enormous losses of homes, businesses, farms and personal possessions. People who have spent lifetimes working towards building their homes or businesses have found this effort washed away or burned to the ground in little more than an instant. This summer we have also seen the loss of public infrastructure—roads, railways, bridges and ports.

It has been both heartbreaking and inspiring to hear members of this House whose electorates have been directly affected talk of the experiences of those in their communities, to hear of the extent of the grief and loss and to hear the demonstrations of strength and courage. Perhaps the most serious of the natural disasters that afflicted Australia this summer was the floods in Queensland. Sadly, this was only one of many. We saw also the devastation of Cyclone Yasi and the impact of floods in Victoria. New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have also been affected, and recently Western Australia suffered from very serious bushfires.

Those Australians who have suffered loss in this summer of flood, cyclone and fire have to start again to rebuild their lives. In some cases they will be rebuilding their lives without loved ones. In many other cases they will be rebuilding their lives without the homes, businesses or treasured possessions that were previously part of those lives. Governments, too, need to start the task of rebuilding lost or damaged infrastructure. This rebuilding process requires determination, resilience and courage. These are traits, as many of my colleagues have already observed, that reside in the Australian spirit. I do not say—none of us say—they are unique to the Australian spirit, but they are certainly traits that reside very firmly in the Australian spirit. We live in a harsh and unforgiving country. In our recent history, success has required hard work, determination and the ability to deal with adversity and setback. Throughout our history we have seen that in times of crisis Australians pull together—be it in conflict or war or in the many natural disasters that our country has experienced.

Many Australians have been directly affected by the disasters of this summer. Equally, many Australians who live in areas distant from the events have not suffered in a direct sense. We live in a world of modern and instant communications. This brings great benefit, as we can see instantly what is happening. But there is also a risk of becoming numb to the tide of suffering and loss when we see it daily in our newspapers, on the nightly news or on the internet. My very strong impression is that it is the first effect that has prevailed in Australia this summer. It seems to me that Australia as a whole has been connected to and shared in the loss and suffering that those directly impacted have felt. The broadcast, print and online media have done a very important job in allowing all Australians to witness the events in many parts of the country and in triggering appropriate responses. We have seen an outpouring of emotion and support from individuals and communities all around the country. We have seen very generous donations of money, goods and effort from Australians to support relief efforts and we have seen a remarkable volunteering spirit demonstrated yet again in supporting those who have suffered a direct impact.

In my own electorate of Bradfield I have been proud to witness the contributions that have been made. We are geographically remote from the areas that have suffered this summer, but it is clear that those in my electorate feel deeply the suffering of their fellow Australians. More than that, they have wanted to do something, and have done something, to assist. Many individuals and groups in Bradfield have provided financial and other support. Let me provide just a few examples. The Lions Club of Hornsby held a range of events, including bucket appeals, a singalong by choristers from the Sydney Philharmonic and a sausage sizzle, and raised over $15,000. The Lions Club of Ku-ring-gai raised over $5,000. West Pymble Public School raised $9,500 in an ‘obstacle-a-thon’ in which students did laps of a giant inflatable obstacle course.

I want to mention particularly Mr Stephen Cha, who lives in Pymble in my electorate. Stephen is the assistant pastor at the Chatswood Open Door Church in the neighbouring electorate of North Sydney, which has a Korean congregation of around 600 people, many of whom live in Bradfield. Stephen organised seven of his congregation, from all over Sydney, to drive to Queensland in a van to help out. The church donated $5,000 to fund the trip. Stephen and his team ended up in the suburb of Goodna, which is on the edge of Ipswich, about 20 kilometres from Brisbane. Half of Goodna had been submerged by the floods. Stephen and his team spent four days cleaning out homes—cleaning gutters and windows, sweeping floors, removing nails from walls—in preparation for homes to be rebuilt. Stephen recounts that those impacted by the floods were devastated at their loss, but at the same time managed to be cheerful and grateful for the volunteer support. Stephen was struck by the fact that in the areas where he and his team were working volunteers had come from all parts of Australia—driving in, flying in, doing whatever they had to do to get there and help. What has been done by people from around Australia, including, I am proud to say, people from my own electorate, is an inspiration.

Let me also pay particular tribute to those who have had a direct responsibility to assist. The remarkable work of the various emergency services—the SES, police, fire, ambulance and defence personnel—has been truly impressive. It has been particularly impressive to see organisations from multiple states going into the state that is most afflicted in a particular instance. The work of many charities is remarkable. As a former executive in the telecommunications sector, let me particularly commend that industry for its work in rapidly restoring network where it had been damaged or destroyed. That is a challenge after every natural disaster, and you find across the industry people from all companies working very long hours, going the extra mile to get the network up and serving the people who need it as quickly as possible. I want to pay tribute in particular to our leaders for the way they have conducted themselves throughout the crises that Australia has faced. I include in that the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard; the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott; the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh; and leaders at many levels and in many other parts of Australia.

It is natural that we should focus our attention and support in the immediate aftermath of the disasters that have devastated many parts of Australia. The path to rebuilding lives, homes and businesses, however, is a long one. A key challenge will be when all the attention dies down. Support from across Australia will be needed well into the future. It is important that governments know this and act on this basis, as it is that all Australians continue to provide support until lives and communities are rebuilt. The parliament has an important role in facilitating a continuing focus on the rebuilding effort and maintaining support and momentum. Australia has suffered considerably over the last few months. I am confident that, as we respond to these challenges and rebuild, we will emerge better and stronger. Out of loss and destruction new life will emerge and communities will be rebuilt better than before. That is, I am sure, the hope and expectation of my constituents in the seat of Bradfield, and I am very happy to convey that hope and expectation to the parliament today.