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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 104

Senator O’BRIEN (7:03 PM) —This afternoon senators united in expressions of condolence for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami tragedy. Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, noted how important it is for the national parliament to act as a united representative of the Australian people in times of great tragedy. Sadly, we have known more of those times over recent years than any of us would wish. On each occasion, we in the parliament have been reminded that the matters on which we agree are more significant than those on which we disagree.

Tonight I want to acknowledge the magnificent response of local governments to the tsunami tragedy. In doing so, I do not want to avoid acknowledgement of the response of local governments to the South Australian bushfires and indeed many other events where local expertise, local knowledge and the capacity to respond quickly to identified needs is required. This level of government does, of course, do much that goes unacknowledged. Only rarely does the national parliament extend to this sphere of government the acknowledgement it deserves.

I know that many members and senators have a good deal of regard for the work done by local governments in their electorates. As Labor’s spokesperson on local government matters I propose to highlight as regularly as I can the contribution that local government makes to the wellbeing of our nation. In relation to the tsunami tragedy, this sphere of government has acted quickly to lend assistance to devastated communities. Some of this activity has been coordinated by the peak local government representative body, the Australian Local Government Association, and its state and territory based member organisations.

One week after the disaster struck—early in the new year and bang in the middle of the holiday season—the ALGA President, Councillor Paul Bell, issued a statement about the local government response to the tsunami tragedy. He noted that Australian communities have always been quick to help those in crisis and pledged that local government would do all it could to assist in this time of need. Councillor Bell said ALGA would offer advice to Australian councils about how they could best support the effort to assist affected communities and would establish a web site to facilitate the provision of this advice.

I can report that the web site was established very quickly indeed, and the Australian Local Government Association has played a key role in assisting local government to maximise its contribution to the relief of devastated communities. I urge senators to visit the ALGA web site——and acquaint themselves with the local government contribution to the tsunami relief effort. On that site they will find an opportunity for councils and individuals to register offers of assistance. They will find details of the Adopt a Village program, which establishes direct beneficial links between Australian local government bodies and villages in tsunami-hit Sri Lanka. The ALGA tsunami relief web site also offers a small sample of the many activities being undertaken by local governments across Australia. I want to highlight some of those activities tonight.

Brisbane City Council has donated $100,000 to the Australian Red Cross tsunami relief appeal and established condolence registers at all council libraries, ward offices and city hall. Shoalhaven City Council has collected cash donations from residents and visitors for the Red Cross tsunami appeal. Manly Council has made community facilities available to a community initiative, Aid4Aceh, which has collected medical supplies for distribution to the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Whittlesea City Council has called a meeting of groups from Indian, Sri Lankan and other affected local communities and added resource material containing telephone hotline numbers and general information to the council’s web site. The City of Fremantle is lending a hand to its sister city, Seberang Perai in Penang, Malaysia, and has held a special fundraising function entitled, intriguingly, ‘the Brown Paper Bag Event’. The City of Melbourne has allocated $500,000 to the relief effort, offered the Melbourne Town Hall to community organisations and placed a condolence book in the town hall foyer.

The City of Sydney launched a New Year’s appeal for tsunami relief and pledged $50,000 to Oxfam to kick-start donations. I understand about $900,000 was collected at the city’s New Year’s Eve event. Mosman Municipal Council coordinated a day of fundraising on 9 January, saying that it was to ‘enable us to donate as a community and share our commitment to each other’. The City of Greater Dandenong has donated $10,000 to the Red Cross tsunami appeal and supported a tsunami interfaith gathering of prayer and reflection on 16 January in a local park.

Maroondah City Council has also donated $10,000 to the relief appeal and invited donations at its customer service centres. The City of Joondalup has approved the use of five environmental health officers to assist in the recovery effort. Port Phillip City Council has organised an interfaith community commemoration service and consulted with overseas aid groups to identify the best way that Port Phillip can offer long-term practical assistance to help rebuild devastated communities. Macedon Ranges Shire Council has organised a benefit concert and established a link with the local Sri Lankan community to assist rebuilding.

Whyalla City Council joined the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to conduct an appeal on Australia Day for both bushfire and tsunami victims. Mansfield Shire Council has donated funds to the Red Cross tsunami appeal and is acting as a collection agency for Red Cross donations. Council staff have also organised clothing donations to Sri Lanka. Kingston City Council has donated $10,000 and made customer service centres available as collection points for further donations. The council has also donated the use of the town hall for fundraising activities.

Adelaide City Council staff members have made payroll deductions to CARE Australia. Hobsons Bay City Council has held a concert benefit featuring local youth bands and established accounts with appeal funds for staff payroll deductions. A group of five Adelaide western suburb councils—Charles Sturt, Marion, West Torrens, Holdfast Bay and Port Adelaide-Enfield—have processed donations through their offices, and the mayors of each municipality have pledged $1,000 to the fundraising effort. Latrobe City Council has pledged a donation of $10,000 to the Australian Red Cross.

The City of Onkaparinga has committed itself to a 12-month response to the tsunami tragedy, donated $30,000 to the relief effort and received strong fundraising support from its staff social club. The rural City of Wangaratta formed a committee to oversee Wangaratta’s ‘10 Days of Giving’, which raised funds for the tsunami relief effort. Caloundra City Council has donated $50,000 to the APN tsunami relief appeal from its charity and benevolent management fund. Council staff members have also contributed to relief efforts through fundraising activities coordinated by their social club. Banyule City Council has donated $10,000 and made its community halls available for fundraising.

But I should say that councils in my home state of Tasmania have also made a tremendous contribution. My office is in the city of Launceston. They have made available facilities for fundraising and have conducted a special interfaith ceremony in commemoration of the victims. Waratah-Wynyard council has announced a $14,000 donation to an ALGA approved tsunami infrastructure benefit fund. This contribution represents about $1 for every member of the Waratah-Wynyard population.

Tasman council, together with the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, hosted a ‘Night of Lights’ concert on 28 January as a way of saying thank you for the support of the local community—similar to the support they got eight years ago—in giving help to others. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross collected donations during the evening. Glenorchy City Council has donated $20,000 to World Vision Australia to enable the council to sponsor five children from the affected tsunami region to an amount of approximately $500 per annum per child over eight years.

King Island council has established a King Island tsunami appeal, with an initial target of $10,000, kicked off by a donation from the council. Clarence City Council has allocated $10,000 for tsunami relief. Northern Midlands council has initiated a tsunami appeal and donated $2,000 to the fund. Hobart City Council has made a $50,000 donation towards the establishment of an orphanage in Aceh. The council has also made contact with the Australian Local Government Association to identify ways in which it can assist in the long-term recovery process. Sorell council is hosting a benefit on Sunday, 13 March, to raise more funds.

These are magnificent efforts, and they are just a small sample of the contribution that local governments around the country have made as part of the Australia wide response to the tsunami disaster. Tonight I acknowledge that contribution, one that proudly reflects the generosity of the communities that local government so effectively represents.