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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1337

Ms OWENS (11:48 AM) —I join with my colleagues in sharing the grief of the many Australians who have lost family, neighbours and loved ones in this tragedy, which has unfolded over the last week in Victoria. I, like all of us, watched with shock and horror as the events unfolded and as the number of deaths rose. I remember waking on Sunday morning to hear of 15 dead. It seemed that, between the news broadcasts, the numbers rose very quickly. While we look now at an official death toll of 181, we know that those numbers will rise in coming weeks and perhaps even months.

Australia is, as we all know, an extraordinary country. While perhaps our newer Australians do not fully recognise our connection to the land in the way that our Indigenous Australians do, the land is very much in us. I, like many of us, love our land. I love its ruggedness. I love our sun ravaged landscape. I love the eucalypt forest—the smell of it and the look of it. I love those jagged trees. They are an incredibly beautiful aspect of the landscape and they are now part of the Australian psyche. But it seems that, every 40 years or so, mother nature reminds us just how small we are on the face of this land—which of course is tens of thousands of years old—and reminds us that, no matter how we aim to tame this land, we never really will. This land—the size of it, the age of it and the power of it—will at times overwhelm us, as it has done in the preceding week. That does not make it any less painful; perhaps it makes it more so. As we seek to live in and enjoy the wonders of this land, we should remember it can be taken from us at any time.

As we count the rising costs, there are many who are already pointing the finger. I deliberately do not want to do that today. In fact, I deliberately wanted to say that it is not the time for that. It is not the time for looking at who got it right and who got it wrong. It is well and truly a time for us to pull together and work in the interests of those who have so much to recover. There is so much repairing to be done in those fractured communities.

I, like all my colleagues, encourage all Australians not to forget quickly how much work we have to do. At the moment we are all pulling together. Extraordinary donations are being made. There is a queue to give blood at the Red Cross. Australia is very good at pulling together at times like this. The need for blood will go on for several months because burns victims require substantial amounts of blood. So the need for us to support victims and keep this tragedy in our minds will go on for several months. In four weeks time, eight weeks time and 12 weeks time we must reflect on how well Australia has responded in the short term, and I encourage us all to continue that response in the long term. I commend the motion to the House.