HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Main Committee CONDOLENCES Victorian Bushfire by obh21220



        Main Committee


  Victorian Bushfire Victims

         Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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           Date Wednesday, 11 February 2009                         Source House
          Page 1077                                                   Proof No
     Questioner                                                 Responder
       Speaker Price, Roger, MP                                Question No.

Mr PRICE (Chifley) (5.50 pm)—It is a privilege to follow the honourable member for Kooyong, who quoted
from an extraordinary speech in the House by Russell Broadbent, the honourable member for McMillan. I want
to start where he left off, by saying I think we have had some outstanding contributions in the House, from my
own side by the member for Bendigo and the member for Ballarat and equally from the opposition side. Today
we heard from a very new member, who was elected in a by-election not so long ago and has surely been tested by
these events. In the House, he was demonstrably affected by what he has seen, but it was a very, very good speech.
In relation to the member for McMillan, I can say I have not heard anything like that in my time in this House.

   As the member for Kooyong said, I think that the people of Australia can be proud of our leaders. I am proud
of the Prime Minister and the time he spent down there. I am personally touched by the fact that he rang or sought
to ring members—opposition members as well as government members, but particularly opposition members,
who have been more affected in their electorates—to comfort them, to reassure them and to see what could be
done. Equally, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have conducted themselves
in a most admirable fashion and have spoken well in the House, as did the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime
Minister. I commend Mr Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition, and Julie Bishop.

   We really have not seen the like of this before. If you want to do the statistics, then unfortunately the bushfires in
Victoria, which are far from over, have taken more lives than both Black Friday and Ash Wednesday. Regrettably,
the toll is still mounting. We all know that the numbers that have been publicly disclosed are going to climb
much higher.

   I do not come from Victoria. I come from New South Wales. I come from Sydney, like Mr Nelson, the former
Leader of the Opposition. In a way, in Sydney we are always used to somewhere on the North Shore or somewhere
like Heathcote, in the southern suburbs, having a bushfire each year. And we are aware of floods. It is the nature
of things. It is almost as though, in a way, we are desensitised in our country to floods and bushfires. But this
is altogether of a different magnitude.

   Again, can I just say that, as a member of parliament, I am really proud of the parliament—proud of the
government, proud of the ministers and proud of the opposition, their leaders and the backbench, for all that they
are doing in terms of leadership, comfort and support. Both sides have said, ‘Whatever it takes, we’ll do it.’ The
Prime Minister has indicated his determination by saying that there will be no cap on the federal government
involvement. And that is not just a speech for today or tomorrow; it is really an assurance to those communities
that the Australian government and the Australian parliament—I say that to include the opposition—have a steely
determination that we will overcome. We will be there. As days and weeks go by, we will all be asking what
has been done and what is to be done. The task is not very easy. It is quite enormous. The expectations are very
high. But we will be there today and tomorrow.

  I want to commend, too, Minister Jenny Macklin, who has not had the opportunity to leave Victoria. She has
been there as our principal minister. Down there we have had the Prime Minister and the Minister for Human
Services, Senator Ludwig, and today we had Joel Fitzgibbon, the Minister for Defence. But Jenny Macklin is
on point duty as the main representative there in Victoria. We await her return, because I am sure that she will
have a lot to say.

   The Prime Minister mentioned Dorothea Mackellar and her very famous poem My Country. I am ashamed to
say that I thought it started with ‘I love a sunburnt country,’ but it does not. I thought I might quote a couple of
lines from the poem, starting from the second verse:

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

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Of drought and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror,

The wide brown land for me!

I will also quote the second last verse:

Core of my heart, my country!

Land of the rainbow gold,

For flood and fire and famine

She pays us back threefold.

Over the thirsty paddocks,

Watch, after many days,

The filmy veil of greenness

That thickens as we gaze…

I think the poem really describes the extremes of our country. In what other country would a government, a
parliament, need to confront serious floods in its north and bushfires of an unprecedented scale in its south?

   My electorate is a very poor one. We do not rate highly on lots of things. But the one thing I can tell this
House is that it is a very generous electorate. You will not find big donations. You will not find magnificent
donations. But what you will find are a lot of donations from people that battle very hard just to survive and
feel very deeply about what people in Victoria are going through. I can quote one statistic that might surprise
honourable members: the volunteers at the Mount Druitt Hospital raise more money than any other volunteers in
New South Wales. That, to me, speaks volumes about their dedication and, more importantly, their generosity.

   I want, like so many other members, to praise all those who have been and are involved in trying to battle on
in a war that is not yet won. They are the police, who have really got an awful job in trying to identify those
who are deceased and to tell us who the deceased are; the permanent firemen and the volunteer firemen; the Red
Cross; the ladies auxiliary; and all those people who give so generously of their time, their emotions and their
energy. I want to commend all those who have been involved. Really, I think the nation thanks you.

   In my own state of New South Wales we currently have bushfires. I cannot stand here and say to you that
there will not be a crisis in New South Wales. It could go belly up. But I do want to say that I am proud of the
people of New South Wales, who are, through their government—as are others in this great Federation of ours,
through their governments—contributing money and services. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service, New
South Wales Fire Brigades, New South Wales Police Force and the Ambulance Service of New South Wales
have all been involved in trying to assist our brothers and sisters in Victoria. Three hundred firefighters and 71
fire engines are already there. And I do not say this to say that only New South Wales is doing it—I know that
other states are—but rather to demonstrate, I suppose, how everyone is rallying to the cause.

   The New South Wales Minister for Emergency Services, Steve Whan, whose electorate is in Queanbeyan, has
advised that an extra 20 lightweight striker units may be able to assist in inaccessible terrain. A team of nine
police officers trained in disaster victim identification have been tasked with assisting their Victorian colleagues.
Five New South Wales ambulance service paramedics are on site, and another four are on standby to accompany
the New South Wales Fire Brigades’ urban search and rescue personnel who may be deployed. A New South
Wales burns specialist and two burns nurses are on standby, with beds at Concord Hospital also on standby. Two
critical incident support personnel from the Rural Fire Service are to provide counselling and to support New
South Wales firefighters on the ground. New South Wales has also offered 25 specialist urban search and rescue
personnel from the New South Wales Fire Brigades to assist with the search activities and damage assessment.
So, as I am talking here tonight, there are 25 fires actually burning in New South Wales, and it reflects the

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Australian can-do sort of nature that, notwithstanding these threats that are posed in New South Wales, we are
—and we are proud to be—assisting in Victoria.

   To all those who have lost loved ones in Victoria, I say: please accept our deepest sympathy. There is a time
to mourn, there is a time to grieve but there is also a time to rebuild and renew, and we sincerely hope that they
will be assisted in doing that by the expression of so much community grief.

   The last thing I want to speak on is the suggestion that some of these fires may have been deliberately lit. I
do not know which may have been and which may not have been, but I have great difficulty in understanding
how someone could get some satisfaction, pleasure or delight in being involved in such a catastrophe. It is a
particular sickness, I truly believe. But the fires have not all been deliberately lit. The peculiar conditions and
the ferocity of this fire are things we have not seen before—conditions that can melt metal, boil water and move
with such vicious and deadly speed.

   There will be lessons to be learnt from all this and we need to learn them. I repeat the sentiment of both
the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition: we have a determination in this place to collectively and
individually do all we can to see that, over time, these communities are returned to some form of normality—
that houses lost are replaced, that businesses destroyed are resurrected and that farms and farmers who have
suffered their losses are able to recover. I applaud the generosity of the people of Australia. I thank my state for
its involvement in assistance, but in particular I want to record how much I appreciate its generosity. I know
that people whose lives are really a daily struggle compared to those of so many, will find money to express
their sorrow and their solidarity with all those in Victoria. They will be making a real and conscious, if modest,
contribution to the rebuilding of those communities. I commend the condolence motion to the House.


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