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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12326

Mr ROB MITCHELL (McEwen) (12:05): I think back to what happened about 10 years ago in February, which was probably the worst day in most people's lives. I remember standing in the backyard at my place at lunchtime, and my wife was excited because the washing was dry in 10 minutes because the wind was blowing so hard. Later that day, 1,000 CFA and other firefighters fought the fires. There were 173 deaths and more to follow. Something that I think gets overlooked a lot of the time is the deaths that have occurred since the fire and that continue to occur today. Thirty-five children died and 16 became orphans in one terrible afternoon.

I think back to people like Bill Coppinger; Trish and Alan Heywood; David and Amanda Cordell; Helen Kenny, who is four foot tall but has a heart the size of the MCG; Anne Leadbeater; Jim Usher and Mac Gudgeon, for the book they wrote, Footsteps in the Ash; Jane Heywood, the principal of Strathewen Primary School, and probably one of the greatest people you'll ever get to meet in your life; Laura and Cameron Caine; Kathy Stewart; and Sue Egan. I could rattle off names for hours of people that have done amazing things in our communities.

But the key thing keeps coming back: this was not something that happened and finished; this is something that happened and continues to grow. From day one, people had a whole range of issues, a whole range of views and a whole range of ways they wanted to move forward. I think of Steve at the Flowerdale pub, who kept putting on parma, after parma, after parma to help the volunteers during that time. I think about the number of people who suffered mental health issues and continue to do so today. I think about the children, who at the time may have been six and 10 years old and are now young adults and still live with the trauma and have issues today. I know of one girl, who is probably 19 now, who still gets up every day and cleans the windows of her house, making sure that those windows are clear to see the fire coming. These types of things happen every single day, and we need to ensure that we're there for our communities. They are not asking for handouts; they just want the help that's needed. Many people moved on straightaway, some people moved away later, some people stayed and some people have barely been able to lift a foot since those days. The support needs to be ongoing for our communities.

I was glad to take Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, up to Kinglake a couple of weeks ago to announce some funding there. The funding for the streetscape was important, but also important was the time to sit down with people in a closed forum and talk about what's going on. That sort of thing is important. There needs to be support for people with mental health issues and support for the community. Since Black Saturday, people have worked every day and haven't had a rest. They haven't had the opportunity to take their family away. We all may move away and move on to different things, but each and every day that you drive up that hill to Kinglake or you go through Strathewen or you look across at the back of my place in Whittlesea to the mountains all you can see is scars. These are physical scars on a landscape, but you can't see the scars that the people carry.

I think about people I know who perished that day, particularly old Reg Evans, a crusty old bloke from St Andrews—one of the greatest Labor people I have ever met—who decided to nick back because he wanted to save something. I think about Elaine Postlethwaite from Marysville, who had a fight with her husband—he stayed and she left. There are many stories like that. We need to make sure that our communities are given the help and the support that they need to continue. We have learnt from this. We know that, through what we went through, other communities across the nation in disasters have benefited. I know from the floods in Brisbane, within the first hour of these things happening, I was getting phone calls from people from Kinglake and from Whittlesea saying, 'We want to help.' Kevin and Rhonda Butler from BlazeAid started a group to go along and fix up farmers' fencing. It's a full-time career for them now. Wherever there is a natural disaster, you will find BlazeAid there helping to restore fences. So, No. 1, please don't forget our communities; they still need our help, and we have a long way to go.