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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12328

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:15): I'd also like to acknowledge the member for Indi for moving this motion, because this is the last chance that we'll get to debate it before the anniversary, with parliament resuming that week in February. I want to acknowledge the other speakers who've spoken on this motion, in particular the member for McEwen, whose electorate was one of the worst-affected on Black Saturday. Those personal stories, those people, those constituents, are real. Whilst in Bendigo we did lose a life on Black Saturday, there has always been a sense around Bendigo of, even though we lost homes and stock, how lucky we were that there weren't more who were killed on the day. It is largely due to the amazing effort of our CFA, SES and fire services—the professionals and volunteers—and of the community rallying together, but it was also due to some luck. It is quite alarming to reflect every fire season, 'Were we lucky this year?' In a country of our size, in a country of our wit and capability, it can come down to luck on these terrible days, these bushfire-risk days.

Like all Victorians, this date is the date you always remember. I remember where I was on Black Saturday. I was still working for United Voice and was doing the early shift. There was a shift change at Crown Casino. It's climate controlled there. I walked out at seven o'clock in the morning after the shift change and I can remember going, 'Geez, it's hot.' That was at seven o'clock in the morning. It was like five o'clock on those really hot days that you get in a normal summer, and here it was at seven o'clock and you felt like you'd just walked into an oven. There was an eeriness about that morning that there was going to be trouble, because it was just too hot that day. Like everyone, I saw it roll out. I didn't leave the city that day, because we didn't know whether it was safe to get home or how to get home. The stories started to unfold about adult children who were away from home, working in the city, and mums saying, 'Don't come home,' and that being the last conversation that they had.

That trauma that those individuals have, that those families and communities have, can never be forgotten. That is for two reasons. One, they learn to live with that, and it's hard. We need to be there to support them. Two, we don't want any others to have to risk that in the future. The member for McEwen is right, and the leader of the opposition mentioned this last week. Post Black Saturday, in Victoria, there was a lot that went on in the way of debriefing, planning and modelling. A lot of it actually occurred in my electorate at the Australian Emergency Management Institute, which was in Mount Macedon. It will be in the member for McEwen's electorate at this election. That institute was where the best in our country came together to reflect and say what we could do better. It's where they came up with the simulation on how to better manage bushfires, and that is what we are seeing played out now in Queensland—people getting out, the intense water bombing and having preparedness and resilience within communities. It's unfortunate that this government shut down the Australian Emergency Management Institute. It was one of the casualties of their 2014 budget. We lost the ability to properly plan, as a nation, that we'd had previously because the government shut the institute down. They saw a price that they couldn't refuse. Former Attorney-General Brandis saw the price tag and said: 'Great! Let's offload this.' They saw the word 'institute' and thought it was an educational facility. Sure, it did have education—it offered a diploma in emergency management—but it also brought people together to do the planning and come up with best practice so that in our country we would never again face a Black Saturday. We may face the conditions but not the loss of lives and property.

I also want to remember the leaders at that time: John Brumby, the former Premier, whose parents almost lost their home on that day in Bendigo; and Bill Shorten, the then Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction. We should never forget that day.