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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1389


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:02): by leave—I thank Senator Cormann for his words and for the opportunity for the opposition to speak also today about terrible events that are, sadly, too familiar in this country. Perhaps few weekends more graphically illustrate that famous descriptor of Dorothea Mackellar's, of our land being one of beauty and terror and flood and fire. At one end of the country, we saw Cyclone Marcus, which swept through Darwin and the Kimberley; at the other end, terrible fires destroyed homes, farms and businesses in Victoria and at Tathra on the New South Wales South Coast.

It is good that there have been no deaths, only minor injuries, which, given the scale of these disasters, is extremely fortunate but also a tribute to the extraordinary skill and bravery of our emergency services workers and volunteers. Many homes and businesses stand today only because of their dedication and sacrifice, and we once again stand in their debt—the many thousands of people who consistently give up their time and risk their lives to help their fellow Australians at these times.

The damage from Cyclone Marcus is mostly confined to power damage and trees down. However, sadly, in the bushfire areas, it is a different story. In Tathra, more than 70 homes and businesses have been destroyed by a fire that came so quickly and with such force that many of those who fled had no time to do anything other than escape with their lives. It's a beautiful town, beloved as a holiday destination, and the damage and loss will be felt by many who have fond memories of time spent at the famous Tathra pub, on the wharf or just relaxing at the beach.

A short time before question time, I spoke to Mike Kelly, the local member for Eden-Monaro, who asked me to express three points in this contribution. Obviously, one is that there are many properties destroyed and damaged, and the assessment is still underway. He asked me to particularly pass on the thanks of the community to the very brave helicopter pilots who continued to engage in water bombing of the fire, in extremely difficult circumstances, as it approached the town. Finally, being a good fundraiser, he wanted me to make sure everybody knows there is a donation fund and to ask if we could please all contribute.

No less devastating, of course, are the losses in the south-western part of Victoria near Warrnambool, where at least 18 homes and businesses have been destroyed, along with a huge number of livestock, which will take a terrible toll on the farmers concerned.

In the face of this sort of loss and shock, we offer our words of comfort and our expressions of solidarity, but, of course, more is always needed. Government and communities are stepping forward in providing financial and emotional support. I thank my colleagues in New South Wales and Victoria for their quick response with financial and material aid and their pledges to ensure that the towns, farms and communities are not forgotten when these fires are out. Federal Labor stands ready to assist this government and the community in whatever way we can.