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Presentation of Photographic Awards: 'Emergency Management volunteers in action',\nNational Press Club, Canberra.



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August 2002

Presentation of Photographic Awards 'Emergency Management Volunteers in Action' National Press Club, 16 National Circuit, Barton, Canberra 12.15pm, Tuesday 27 August 2002

Introduction

The photographs surrounding us today tell an important story. It is a story about ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things in support of our communities.

These photographs show emergency management volunteers in training and working in dangerous and challenging situations. They show them near exhaustion, protecting communities from possible disasters, and working in cooperation and in a spirit of mateship.

They are images all Australians can relate to. These evocative pictures underline the importance of volunteers to our community.

They convey the role volunteers play in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies such as floods, fires, devastating high winds, drought and cyclones.

For volunteers, they serve as a stark reminder of the need to maintain their training in order to meet the challenges of emergency situations.

The entries in this competition remind us that we live in a country where conditions are harsh and often unforgiving. We must value and respect the selfless work of our volunteers. And we must remember that, without them, our communities would be at a much greater risk from the elements.

In my own home State of Western Australia, natural disasters such as cyclones and bushfires are a part of our lifestyle fabric. Every year volunteers willingly face the hard work and sacrifices that go with the business of saving lives and homes. This largely unsung effort is not confined to the one State - volunteers are the lifeblood of the nation, always willing to pitch in at times of need.

Origin of the Competition

I understand the original idea for this competition came from last year’s Summit on Volunteers. This Summit identified and recognised the work of our volunteers. It also recognised the need to promote community recognition of emergency management volunteers and to provide more incentives for people to contribute their valuable skills and time. There can be no doubt that the competition has succeeded in finding images that recognise the work and value of the hundreds of thousands of emergency management volunteers across the country.

Diversity of Entries

Looking through the summary of entries, it is very satisfying to see that a range of communities, agencies and media from across Australia are represented.

In the Volunteer Stream, entries from the State Emergency Services, Anglicare, Coastguard, St John Ambulance

and Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol units all reflected the spirit, camaraderie, sacrifice and professionalism of emergency volunteers.

The Country Fire Service in South Australia gave us images of devotion to training.

And the range of photographs from the Far North Queensland State Emergency Service show the professionalism of Torres Strait Island SES teams as they take part in a regional training drill competition.

In the Professional Stream for media and freelance photographers, entries range from the Gunnedah Publishing Company to the Melbourne Herald Sun, from the Port Lincoln Times to the Tweed Heads Daily News, from the Central Western Daily in Orange to the Adelaide Advertiser.

Individual entries were received from Noosa Waters in Queensland, Oberon in New South Wales, Lilydale in Victoria, Cook in the ACT, Gosnells in Western Australia, Adelaide, Wodonga in Victoria, Cairns in North Queensland, and Surry Hills in Sydney.

All of the entries were of a very high quality and the judging panel was faced with a very difficult job.

Importance of Volunteers

As Attorney-General, I share ministerial responsibility for the safety and security of Australians and their property. So I have a particular appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices made by emergency management volunteers. But this work is important not just to Government but to all Australians.

You only have to look at what occurred on September 11 last year to appreciate the important role that career and volunteer emergency management workers play in dealing with such major incidents.

The terrorist attacks on the United States were a wake-up call to the world. They made us appreciate that large-scale threats to our security and safety can come in many forms. These threats can include terrorist attacks and computer hacking. But they can also include natural and technological emergencies and disasters.

Protecting ourselves from this wide range of threats requires specific and effective responses. It requires the establishment of a safety culture throughout the community.

Australia has always had a strong history of community service. We have always lived with the threat of natural disasters and have benefited for many years from the work of experienced, professional and selfless volunteer emergency services personnel.

The Government recognises with gratitude the selfless work of Australia’s volunteers. And, through Emergency Management Australia, we will continue to help volunteers get the recognition and support they deserve.

Cost of Natural Disasters

To appreciate the scale and expense of natural disasters all you have to do is look at what they cost the community in both human and financial terms.

In the 14 months from January 2001 to the end of May this year, natural disasters cost $1.53 billion. 40 people have lost their lives. And a further 1400 have been injured. In total more than two million people were directly affected by the disasters.

The most striking thing about these figures - and the damage toll in particular - is that they could have been much larger. It is the quality of the response, the prevention and the preparation measures of our emergency management volunteers that has protected us from even greater catastrophe.

Conclusion

I applaud EMA and Australian emergency management volunteer organisations for coming up with the idea for this photographic competition. The competition not only recognises the people behind the cameras who have captured these unforgettable images, but most importantly, it recognises and promotes our volunteers.

I’m delighted to now present the Awards for the ‘Emergency Management Volunteers in Action’ photographic competition.