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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 433

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (17:26): On Friday, 20 January I was on one of the last days of my holiday. I was with my three-month-old and 1½-year-old daughters outside of Melbourne in the forest at Toolangi. It is an amazing place. As you walk through the forest and look up, you see some of the tallest flowering trees in the world, and you understand what it means to be alive and to connect with this amazing world around us. It is also a place that is out of range for mobile devices—certainly the part that we were walking in. We came back from Toolangi into the city, and the closer you get to the city the more you start to check in to find out what is happening in the world around you. At that point things were coming in in dribs and drabs, but what became crystal clear was that in the heart of my electorate, in the middle of Melbourne, there was a horrific act of violence that was unimaginable to many people and that also had everyone, as the previous member said, thinking, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' As the information started to come in over—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Proceedings suspended from 17:28 to 17:46

Mr BANDT: I was saying before the break that, on Friday, 20 January I was heading back into town with my three-month-old and my 1½-year-old in the back of the car together with my wife after having spent the day walking through the forest in Toolangi. Never do you feel more connected to your family and other people in the world around you and understand what it means to be alive than when you are doing that. As we came back to town we learnt, bit-by-bit, of the chaos and the enormous act of violence that was unfolding right in the middle of my electorate in Bourke Street. We did what I think pretty much everyone in Melbourne did at that stage in the evening, and that was put the pieces of information together as they came out and began to understand the true horror and enormity of what had happened.

I did what I think probably pretty much everyone in Melbourne did, and that is piece together the route that that car took on that day. You could not help but remember the last time that you were there. We have heard people, including in this chamber today, say that it was just an act of luck that saw them not standing there. As you see pictures of upturned prams and as you read of cries of mothers saying, 'Where is my baby? Have you seen my baby?' you remember that you can count the days since the last time you stood on one of those corners with your kids. You understand why this struck at Melbourne's heart. It was not just, 'It could have been me.' It was everyone acknowledging that it could have been any one of us.

The more that we learnt about the tragedy of that day the more we also learnt about Melbourne. A couple of days after I was on the corner of Bourke Street and Elizabeth Street, joining with many others standing in front of a sea of flowers, cards and stuffed toys. What was perhaps just as remarkable as the depth and breadth of the outpouring from Melburnians was that the people who were there to deliver their tributes were not just turning up, laying them and leaving; people were standing and reflecting. They were standing there, not necessarily to take photos on their phone but to pause in genuine honour and respect and to try to understand what had just happened and how we would deal with it. I do want to pay tribute to the services, particularly the volunteers from the Red Cross, who were there to support all of the people who had come along to pay their tributes.

Later that day I went to the service that was held in my electorate. They had the lord mayor speaking at it and paying appropriate tribute to the Premier, Daniel Andrews. The member for Higgins was there, the Leader of the Opposition was there and a number of members of parliament from Victoria were there too. There, we learnt more not just about the incident but also about Melbourne. One of the things that has stuck with me, and I think many other people in Melbourne, was a statement that was read out by Henry Dow, who was nearby when the car was running over people. He did what we would all like to think we would do—he ran towards what was happening rather than run away. At the service he read a post that he wrote on Facebook, and I would like to just read a part of it, because he spoke not about himself but about someone else. He said:

Administering first aid with me, under that skinny little tree, is a man named Lou: he is everything great and courageous you have seen, heard or read, rolled into one authentically humble bloke.

Having seen the car fly past, my legs carried me across the street almost on auto-pilot, swearing under my breath repeatedly as it sunk in what had just happened. Some basic Surf Life Saving training got me through the first stages of helping this poor woman: role her on her side, support her neck, we talked kindly and as calmly as we could to her.

Then the gunshots.

Holding her head, my hand was, for want of a better word, shaking. It was more like bouncing, moving several inches up and down as the fear and thoughts of what had happened, what could happen, raced through my head.

Lou grabbed my hand and firmly told me to keep it together, that I was ok and that we needed to keep strong for this woman.

In a level and loud voice, Lou barked orders at other pedestrians standing by, having not fled, but still too stunned to think or move.

He directed assistance to several of the victims laying on the pavement around us, all whilst keeping me calm and speaking lovingly to this woman: "I am Lou, you are going to be ok, we are looking after you".

It kept going through my head, "thank f**k I lucked out and have an emergency services veteran here with me". Surely Lou was Ambulance, Police or SAS. Lou was not.

Lou, in his white shirt and neat dark tie, was a taxi driver.

In our small story, of this much bigger tragedy, Lou took command and was a genuine hero.

Henry Dow, when he read those words out to the thousands of people gathered in Federation Square, had us hanging on every word. I think, in a world where the word 'hero' is used very often, a taxi driver who chooses to charge into the scene of an accident and stay there, while shots are being fired, to provide support to not only people who have been injured but also those who have come to help is a genuine hero.

We have learnt, over the last weeks, about more and more people like that. I want to pay tribute not only to them but also to the emergency services workers who were the first responders. I do not think anyone ever wants to attend a scene like that, and I know why: I have spoken to a number of other people who have said that those kind of scenes make you question whether you want to continue in the emergency services profession, and I can understand that. What I have also heard is that, that afternoon, the number of counsellors available to the emergency services personnel was exhausted—that is, so many members of the emergency services profession were reaching out for help that it took them a while to find enough people who could help. That is not a criticism; I think that is a very good thing. I think it is a very, very good thing that that is happening in Melbourne, and I want to pay tribute to all of those counsellors and all those people who stood by and supported.

I have seen many things happen in Melbourne that are talked about in terms of people coming together across the spectrum and uniting, but I have never seen something happen that so deliberately brings home that there is a common humanity and that, when a devastating act of violence occurs in the middle of a society, the answer is to come together, and it is the only answer.

I do want to pay tribute to the way in which relevant governments, especially the state government, have looked at how to deal with questions arising out of this. I do hope that in the coming months and years this never becomes something that is politicised but that, instead, we ask ourselves, 'What have we got to learn from this horrific act of violence and how do we prevent this coming together again?' But, most importantly, I hope that we remember that acts like this, especially if they ever happen again, will never divide us.