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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1338

Ms CAMPBELL (11:52 AM) —Much has been said in this House about the tragedy which unfolded in Victoria earlier this month, and I rise to add my voice to the condolence motion. The sheer scale and horror of the tragedy are beyond comprehension for most of us and beyond words for all of us. To those who have lost loved ones—be they family, friends, neighbours or workmates—I offer my deepest condolences. The people of this great nation and, in particular, the people of Bass are with you.

To those who escaped the horror but lost their homes, farms, property and stock, we will help you rebuild. To those who are injured and, in some instances, fighting for their lives, you are in our collective prayers. I do not pretend to understand what it is like to be left with nothing but the clothes in which you are standing. All we can do is offer our support—practical and emotional—and that is what we are doing.

When the Deputy Prime Minister addressed the House as the scale of the destruction was becoming known and understood, she said:

Just as the strength of our communities ensured many survived these very devastating events, it will be that strength and that resilience of the Australian community that will help our fellow citizens rebuild.

I have witnessed firsthand how true that is. Though separated by Bass Strait, Tasmania is one with Victoria. The community of Northern Tasmania has opened its collective heart, home and wallet to those Victorians left devastated by these blazes—which, it should be remembered, continue to burn. Lin Thorp and Heather Butler, from the Tasmanian government, swung into action, and parliamentarians from both sides of the political sphere opened their offices and offered their staff to assist in any way possible. What followed overwhelmed and humbled me. My office, just one of many political offices in Launceston, was in the end overflowing with donations. My staff tell me of receiving phone call after phone call from people pledging what they could and apologising that they could not give more. Car after car pulled up out the front and unloaded. Children gave toys for those children who were left with nothing. One little girl somewhat reluctantly let go of a large pink gorilla. I only wish I could be there to see the expression on the face of the child who receives it.

There is something truly wonderful about being an Australian. We are a diverse people and there is really no such thing as a typical Australian. Having said that, the generosity and the response to the bushfire crisis truly is typically Australian. We are a people who, when the chips are down, pull together. Our capacity to embrace our neighbours, workmates, friends, family and complete strangers is what makes this the great nation that it is.

The people of Northern Tasmania gave more than simply clothes and household items. Radio station LA FM launched an appeal for cash donations. Six hours after it began, almost $100,000 had been raised. Such is the generosity of northern Tasmanians. That figure is now close to $135,000. It is testimony to the sheer passion of Mel Hope, Greg Allan and Lee Dixon. My office was contacted by local builder Ross Clark. Rather than just donating, which his wife had already done, Mr Clark wanted to help rebuild. He had the capacity to pull together plumbers, electricians and fellow builders and head north to help with the initial relief effort. That level of commitment to our fellow Australians is absolutely outstanding.

So great was the response to the plea for clothes and household items that, as I said, my office was full to overflowing. My staff rang local removals and shipping companies, asking for boxes to be donated so that the assembled army of volunteers could sort through the piles of donations and box and label them. Not one of them said no—Ridgeway, Watkins, Grace and Atkins all came through with storage boxes. Not one of those who were contacted hesitated. Each and every one asked what more they could do. This is such typically Australian behaviour. To each of those companies I say thank you.

The ladies at Noni B pulled together brand-new clothes and offered storage space. I thank them also. Neil Pitt’s Menswear brought around brand-new clothes. Next door to my office is Cleo Bagland, from which we received boxes and jumpers—such generosity. A woman named Karen and her two sons were visiting from Victoria. They called into my office and worked tirelessly all day sorting and packing donations. So too did Michele Savill and Judy Spear, two lovely ladies from the West Tamar Council, volunteer their time to pack and sort. Gordon Pope worked all day and was back early this morning to continue the effort. Leigh Stevenson, Lance Coral and Greg Cooper worked and worked and worked. To each of them I say thank you.

This is the kind of response that this unparalleled disaster has brought out in communities across Northern Tasmania and throughout the country. There is a cliche for which I make no apologies: I am proud to be an Australian. I am proud to stand in this place representing Australians who have dug deep over the last few days. Yes, there have been tears shed—many of them my own. My staff have leaned on each other for support when there was nothing else to do except stand in bewilderment, shake their heads and ask over and over again: ‘How?’

To the men and women of Victoria, we stand with you. From Bass in Tasmania, to the far reaches of this great country, we are with you. I echo the Prime Minister’s sentiments: we will stay with you as long as it takes. To the Tasmanian firefighters who did not hesitate to make the flight north, thank you and godspeed. Forestry Tasmania and the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania have offered support and the expertise of contractors. I say thank you to them also. The Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett, announced yesterday that the Tasmanian government would be providing up to $1 million to the Victorian Bushfire Recovery Fund. The state government will contribute $250,000 in the first instance and then match dollar for dollar, up to $1 million, the cash contributions made to the Lions, Apex and Rotary clubs. My Tasmanian parliamentary colleagues and I have collected and will make a contribution. It is the very least we can do. I thank Senator Carol Brown and Dick Adams, whose offices have coordinated the appeal.

Let us not forget what has prompted this overwhelming response. The Prime Minister described it as ‘mass murder’. There is no other description for what has occurred here. As a nation, I think we accept that we live in a magnificent country but one which, nonetheless, is prone to all the extremes nature has to offer. What we cannot and should not accept is that someone would deliberately inflict this kind of suffering on communities. We ask our firefighters to protect us and they do, often risking their own lives. There are no words strong enough to condemn those who have done this. To the men and women who will for the weeks and months ahead sift through the remains of people’s lives and what have now become crime scenes, I offer my thanks. Your task is unenviable yet necessary.

There have been tales of heroism emerging from the horror which continues to unfold across Victoria, and there will surely be more examples of the strength of the human spirit. As a nation, we must embrace and celebrate them. They provide support and encouragement when it is most needed. We may waver and question how much more as a nation we can take. In those dark moments we must rally, we must lean on our friends and our family, and we must be sure in the knowledge that we will go on. As a nation, we will emerge stronger and more unified from this. We will learn and apply that knowledge when once again we are confronted with nature’s fury.

I join those from both sides of the House in condemning the actions of those who are responsible for this tragedy and in praising the ongoing efforts of those who continue to battle the blazes. I commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the Committee.