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Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Page: 1023

Mr SIMPKINS (10:21 AM) —I rise today to add my voice to those who have spoken before me on the tragedy of the bushfires that have engulfed so many homes and lives across Victoria. On behalf of the people of Cowan, my fellow residents, I begin by thanking those who have fought and still fight the fires under those conditions—the people who are dedicated to the protection of life and property. A grateful nation salutes you for your efforts, your bravery and in some cases the great and personal sacrifices you have made. I also pay tribute to those ordinary citizens who gave their lives in defence of their families and the protection of those things that they valued. I acknowledge the bravery of those who risked injury to help others. In all cases, the CFA volunteers, the SES, the police, the health services, the volunteers in supporting capacities and the Australian people are united in support of the victims in terms of offering prayers, sympathy and financial support. The condolences of the people of Cowan and me go to the families who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and we hope for the best possible recovery of the injured.

For those of us who will only see the images of this great tragedy through a television screen, we will nevertheless forever remember it. Just as with the carnage inflicted on towns during the Ash Wednesday fires, we will remember the destruction of the towns, houses and lives in Victoria. While the memory and the hurt will always be greatest for those who are there now, all Australians will carry the sadness of this tragedy with them for all their days. Most of us will never see the menacing view of smoke in the distance as it approaches. Most of us will never smell the choking smoke and see the glow of hundreds of dangerous embers flying towards us, landing on us or the roofs of our houses. We will never feel the searing heat of the flames as they burn the high eucalyptus trees across the backyard of our bush properties. Most of us will never know the feeling of certainty that our homes and all our possessions will be destroyed by bushfire. Most of us will never know the feeling of certainty that our lives will end in such conditions. Most of us will never know the uncertainty about whether our family members or friends have survived and then have to come to terms with the fact that they have not. Most of us will never know any of these feelings but, sadly, these are the feelings that were experienced by those involved in Victoria and are still being endured now.

I and most of my fellow residents in Cowan live in suburban streets. The concept of facing a bushfire at our front door is incomprehensible, yet bush does come up to the houses of Cowan. I think that the residents of suburbs like Gnangara, Banksia Grove, Carramar, Tapping, Sinagra, Ashby, Ballajura and Landsdale, who can see great expanses of bushland literally across the road, can in some way appreciate the potential threat of a bushfire. That is one reason we feel so supportive of and concerned for our Victorian family. In all cases the people of Cowan are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandparents, and for that reason we can feel for families who have suffered such losses.

I said at the outset that I thank the CFA and everyone for their efforts so far and into the future until this emergency has passed. In Cowan we have two units of bushfire volunteers based at Wanneroo. Under the overall control of the chief bushfire control officer, Mike Teraci, there are more than 80 dedicated volunteers rostered for all times of day and night. These great citizens of our community fill the ranks of the Wanneroo Bush Fire Brigade and the Wanneroo Fire Support Brigade. These are two of the most active brigades in the north of Perth and, under the chief bushfire control officer, there are three deputy chief bushfire control officers, the captain fire control officer, four lieutenants, a brigade secretary, a treasurer, an equipment officer, a brigade training officer and the volunteer firefighters and the volunteer support members. Just like the Victorian volunteer firefighters, these men and women are ready to, have in the past and will in the future put their lives on the line for our communities. They have the respect of the people in Cowan and they have our thanks for their selfless dedication and commitment to preserving lives and property. I thank them and I also thank their families for their ongoing support.

The tragedy that has claimed so many lives in Victoria is not over. The risk that more people will die remains. The strength of this country in terms of the indomitable spirit of our people has been spoken about by other speakers, and it is a fact. I would like to add to that by saying that we have such a belief in the value of human life in this country that I am proud to say we will never find the loss of even a single life acceptable. The determination of this country to do better and take the steps necessary to reduce the chances of this ever happening again will be strong—and we must take the opportunity presented.

We stand together in support of those who fight this danger. We are a grateful nation—grateful to those who put their lives on the line in recent days, last night and early this morning and who will into the future. I hope that God watches over them and that providence will see them through these desperate days.