Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Hansard 2009-02-24 Bushfires: Victoria

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On 24 February 2009, the Treasurer Mr John Lenders MLC for Southern Metropolitan Region moved the following motion:
"That this house:
(1) extends its condolences and deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed in the recent bushfires;
(2) grieves for those who suffered injury and who lost their homes, property and personal possessions;
(3) praises the work of firefighters and emergency services personnel from Victoria, other parts of Australia and overseas for their courage and sacrifice in fighting the fires and protecting our community;
(4) expresses its deep gratitude to the many volunteers and community members who have supported friends, neighbours and communities at this time of great need;
(5) sincerely thanks the people of Australia for their incredible generosity and support to the affected communities, particularly through the bushfire appeal fund; and
(6) pledges to work with communities and all levels of government to rebuild fire-affected communities at the earliest opportunity
Mr Kavanagh's comments in Parliament on Hansard are below:

Title: Bushfires: Victoria
Activity: Condolences
Date: 24 February 2009
Page: 897


Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- On behalf of the Democratic Labor Party and the people of Western Victoria Region, I rise to support the sentiments expressed by other members on this condolence motion today.

Recently there have been quite significant fires in western Victoria, including those at Daylesford yesterday and today; however, our primary focus is naturally on the fires of Black Saturday, due to their sheer scale.

Victoria has suffered a terrible loss from this natural disaster, on a scale previously unknown in Australian history. We have lost vast tracts of forest and millions of animals. We have lost businesses, 2000 houses and entire towns. Most tragically, hundreds of our fellow Australians have died, many in horrific circumstances, and others have been seriously injured. Today we should particularly consider two categories of people: firstly, the victims of these tragedies, and secondly, the many people who have helped, particularly emergency service workers.

It is one of the great frustrations of life that we cannot help the dead, but we can all do things to honour those who perished and perhaps give meaning to their deaths. It is often said that we do not know what we have got until it is gone, and it is a true claim. My experience is that the death of another person brings with it a sudden realisation of the great value of that person. It is often only when we know that they are gone forever that we see the uniqueness of that person and how irreplaceable he or she was and how the world is poorer for his or her loss.

We have lost hundreds of our fellow countrymen and women. It seems to me that if we could take from their loss a profound understanding that each person is unique and irreplaceable and from that a determination to try, in spite of all our flaws, to be kinder, more generous and more patient with others, even strangers, that that would be doing genuine honour and paying appropriate tribute to the hundreds of Victorians who have lost their lives.

We have obligations not only to the dead but also to the living. This is a time of mourning, so blame and recrimination is inappropriate, but we must do all that we can to prevent such disasters happening again. We need to learn from this disaster, minimise the chance of fires happening again and mitigate the loss and impact if they do occur.

The loss of homes, personal property, cars and businesses is devastating, but at least those things are replaceable. A range of charities, organisations and agencies and the commonwealth and state governments have been active and generous in helping victims in this respect. I applaud the Treasurer's recent announcement of providing land tax and stamp duty relief to those who have lost property.

The Australian people have reacted generously in all kinds of ways to help their fellow Australians.

The amount of money that has been raised to help victims is unprecedented. From all parts of Australia around $150 million has already been raised and an ocean of household and personal goods has been given. Mr Lenders mentioned that donations of blood have surged as Australians have rushed to give this precious part of themselves to burns victims. These responses from millions of individuals around Australia warrant not only gratitude for but pride in our fellow Australians.

A vast range of individuals who are not members of agencies or organisations have made contributions -- often heroic contributions -- to fighting bushfires or providing relief to victims. They cannot all be mentioned here, but, like Mr Jennings, I would like to refer specifically to a couple of them.

Mr Peter Thorneycroft, who was still recovering from serious injury himself on Black Saturday, stood on the roof of Kinglake's National Park Hotel.

With the inferno raging around him, flames on all sides, houses in the immediate vicinity bursting into flames and almost engulfed in smoke, Mr Thorneycroft poured water from buckets onto spot fires as they broke out in the hotel beneath him. Mr Thornycroft's heroism probably saved the lives of 20 people sheltering in the hotel beneath his feet.

Mr Ranald Webster was badly hurt in the Ash Wednesday fires of a quarter of a century ago. Photographs show that after those fires he was very badly scarred. Now, thankfully, his face shows few

Page 898

signs of burns or scarring. He is 87 years old, but he has been visiting victims of this fire in hospital to show them that there is hope, by demonstrating that many injuries can heal and that their scars may not be terrible.

In the context of efforts made by individuals, like Ms Pennicuik I would like to recognise the Premier and to acknowledge how he has been supported and assisted by the Treasurer and other ministers. In my opinion the Premier has done as well as any leader could have done in giving comfort and support to the survivors of this tragedy.

Cynicism about politicians, as we all know, is rife throughout the community, but I am absolutely sure there is not one of us in this entire Parliament who would not be genuinely and profoundly moved by coming face to face with any of the victims of this tragedy, particularly those who are burns victims.

Doctors and nurses have gone beyond the terms of any contract of employment in treating the injured. It is apparent to any observer that medical staff are doing everything they possibly can for victims and that they are giving not only their professional expertise but loving care, compassion and dedication. This was epitomised for me by the photographs of a burns victim who was bandaged from head to toe, with only his eyes visible -- I say 'his', but it could have been a woman -- and he or she was being cared for with obvious tenderness, compassion and love by a nurse.

All the medical personnel, including ambulance drivers and other ambulance personnel, who were involved in the treatment of burns deserve thanks and admiration not only from the victims and their families but from every one of us.

Similarly many police officers went beyond the call of duty in rescuing people during the fires and protecting communities in their aftermath. Many police officers from New South Wales have volunteered and are volunteering to come to Victoria to assist recovery efforts and to relieve Victorian police officers; also, forensic experts have come voluntarily from the Northern Territory. I thank all police involved, and I thank the governments of New South Wales and the Northern Territory for facilitating this assistance.

Of course our firefighters, particularly the volunteers, are true heroes of this disaster. A recent letter to a Melbourne newspaper editor said it very well. It was written by an American immigrant. He wrote that the volunteers of the Country Fire Authority made him proud to be an Australian. Many of us, whether born locally or overseas, would wholeheartedly share his sentiments.

We often admire stars of the screen, sporting arena or stage for their great accomplishments, but the volunteer firefighters and State Emergency Service workers are our genuine heroes. Without financial reward, they train over extended periods to develop firefighting skills. In the most difficult and dangerous conditions, they give their all in their struggle to protect lives and property. Their sacrifice, dedication and courage are an inspiration to, and an icon of, our nation.

Two particular groups of firefighters warrant special mention. First are those who have volunteered from other states and territories to come to battle the fires in Victoria. They have come from Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland. From every part of our island continent, people have volunteered to come to Victoria to give their skill, their strength, their courage, their expertise and their extraordinary effort.

Every single one of them knew that they were volunteering for dirty, dangerous, gruelling and exhausting work, battling infernos. Unfortunately, as recognised by Mr Jennings, one of these volunteers, Mr David Balfour of the Australian Capital Territory, has been killed helping us. We honour his memory and express our deepest sympathies to his wife and three children.

Even from beyond Australia volunteers have come to help fight Victoria's fires. From across the Tasman Sea and from across the Pacific Ocean -- from New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America -- heroes have come to Victoria to help us in our hour of need. We should never forget them and always be thankful for their heroic contributions.

I am sure that I represent the vast majority of people in this state when I offer condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in these fires.

May we find some solace and comfort in the generosity, the efforts and in many cases the heroism of those who have helped. To all those who fought the bushfires or helped its victims, I offer sincerest praise, deepest admiration and gratitude from the bottom of my heart.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Ph: 03 5222 1503
Fax: 03 5222 8677


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