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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1320


Mr ZAPPIA (10:28 AM) —I too associate myself with this condolence motion. Let me say from the outset, I have listened to so many of the speakers in respect to this motion and there is not much that can be said that has not already been said, but I certainly associate myself with the remarks of each and every one of the members of the House who have spoken on the matter.

In years to come stories will be told, books will be written and perhaps even films will be made about the horrors and the heroism of the bushfires that are still burning in Victoria. Saturday 7 February 2009 will become entrenched in the Australian story. By all accounts and from listening to members of this place who spoke with personal knowledge, the bushfires which raged mercilessly through Victoria, taking with them so many lives, were simply unimaginable—but they were real. No one could have been prepared for such a tragedy because never before have the weather conditions associated with those fires been the same.

Coming from a state that is prone to devastating bushfires, South Australia, I can empathise with the people of Victoria. However, given the magnitude of the Victorian fires, I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like. On Saturday as I watched the television footage of what was unfolding, my heart sank. Saturday was also an extremely hot day in Adelaide. I would step outside just to see and feel the hot northerly wind blowing through Adelaide to try and get an understanding of what it must have been like in Victoria at that time with the bushfires raging.

My thoughts immediately went back to the Bali bombings and New York on September 11, 2001—an inferno, no escape and so many innocent lives lost. I try to imagine what it must have been like for the victims, for the survivors and for the families and friends of both. The thoughts are unthinkable. These are or were fellow Australians and more than 180 of them are now deceased. These are 180 fellow Australians who had families, who had dreams, who had lives to live and who were contributing to the social prosperity of their local communities and to that of our nation—who lost their lives in such a horrific way. Bushfires are not new to Australia. Our country has a long history of them, but never before have they been of the kind that occurred on this occasion. Sadly, the complete picture is yet to be revealed and the death toll is expected to rise.

Other members have expressed their gratitude to the rescue workers, one and all, and to all the organisations and to each and every individual who in their own ways participated in the rescue operations and to the subsequent support services. I add my gratitude to all of those people. I also now especially acknowledge the forensic police officers, the defence personnel and the firefighters who have the traumatic job of recovering bodies, identifying them, reconstructing the death scene and notifying family members. It must be a gut-wrenching task.

We can rebuild the homes, the farms and the buildings that were lost on Saturday, but we cannot rebuild the lives that were lost. Nor can we ever fully restore the lives of the family members and friends of those who died. At times like this, that phrase ‘if only’ will be asked over and over again by those who survived the ordeal and by the families and friends of those who did not. But nothing will change what has come to pass. Our thoughts must now turn to those who need our help and to whom help can be provided. I have every faith that all Australians will respond to that call, as so many have already done.

As a South Australian I support and was heartened by the immediate South Australian government response of a $1 million donation to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund and to the deployment to Victoria last Sunday of 70 South Australian Country Fire Service volunteers and staff. On Sunday evening at Adelaide airport I briefly spoke with South Australian Country Fire Service chief Euan Fergusson; the logistics officer, Arthur Tindall, who I have known for many years; and the South Australian Minister for Emergency Services, Michael Wright, who were there overseeing the departure of the South Australians. It was good to see them there. It restores your faith in human behaviour. We always spar with Victoria on a whole range of other matters, but you know when the chips are down that is when your true character emerges and that is when you really see what people are made of. I can assure all Victorians that at times like this the people of South Australia are with them 100 per cent.

As with any human tragedy—and I was pleased to hear the member for Fadden quote a biblical passage in respect of this very point—there is a time for grieving and there is a time for rebuilding. Right now communities in Victoria are grieving and the people of Australia grieve with them, as we also grieve for the people of North Queensland who have been through their own nightmare in the form of floods. I know I speak on behalf of all of my South Australian colleagues in this place and I believe I speak on behalf of all South Australians in expressing to the people who survived this ordeal, to the relatives and friends of those who did not and to the communities who lost their mates our profound sorrow for what you have been through in your suffering and in what you will live through in the days, months and years ahead. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.