Bushfires: Victoria

Posted on 25. Feb, 2009 in Speeches

I am profoundly touched by the many speeches made by members on both sides of this house. They tell me that deep down we care deeply for our community, that we are human beings, Victorians and Australians first and that we are pained by what happened to the state and the communities we love and represent. It is terribly hard not to be moved by stories of so much loss of life, property and social infrastructure that has been built up over years. I know it will never be enough to say that I extend my sympathies to the families of the 210 Victorians who lost their lives on this tragic Black Saturday.

Over the past two days I have had to try to come to terms with what I would write for my contribution to this debate, but I could not make myself write. This is the defining period in the history of this state, and we have seen so much happen and so many defining acts of heroism, sacrifice, determination and resilience by the people of this state that saying thank you to all the unsung heroes who put their lives on the line is nowhere near enough. They are the true heroes. At this defining time I think it would be remiss not to mention the leadership that has been provided, especially by the Premier, and by leaders on both sides of the house.

It is at a time like this that we come to realise how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country. Internationally speaking, we can walk tall, because if you look at the national population in this country, you see that it is hardly 22 million, but in just two weeks the bushfire appeal has amassed $150 million. No country on this earth can match that.

It is almost Herculean — our Olympic achievement. So we should be very proud. I know there has been tragedy, but the response of our community and our country has been second to none, and we should be very proud of it.

I would like to mention some of the small efforts of the community I am very close to. The Chinese community particularly has rallied and has raised as many funds as possible. It remembers the calamity that befell China in last year’s Sichuan earthquake. I would like to particularly mention the Federation of Chinese Associations, which in a very short span of time organised a fundraising concert. The Chinese Masonic Society provided leadership by organising a dinner, the Chinese special events committee is organising a family day next week, and the Cambodian Chinese Friendship Association in Springvale has also organised a dinner.

I think it has been mentioned that radio stations 3ZZZ and SBS, through radiothons, have rallied support from the many ethnic communities. I would particularly like to pay tribute to the Vietnamese community, which has raised $600 000 — not a small feat. It is a special tribute to the Vietnamese community, since in 1983, many of its members having just settled in this country, it was at the forefront in providing assistance and understood the desperate needs arising from the Ash Wednesday fires. I express a very special thankyou to it.

We also need to express thanks for the extent of the response from the international community. Volunteers have come not only from interstate but all the way from America and Canada. Other members have mentioned the special role ABC radio has played day in, day out, in keeping the community informed of what is happening. Special thanks should go to them. I can never stop being amazed by the broadcasting of Jon Faine, who really engages the community in this process.

I have little more to say. I am very proud to be serving in this Parliament under the premiership of John Brumby, who is providing real leadership at this time — a defining period in Victoria’s history. I am very proud to be Australian and very proud to be Victorian because of the way we have responded, and I hope whatever the royal commission comes up with, it will be very useful and we never meet another Black Saturday again.
I have only one small request: I want to see my community, the Asian community, engaging more in firefighting at the front line itself. We probably need to find ways of recruiting and engaging members of the Asian community, because in their big hearts and in their way they want to be engaged. But there is a very big question mark over how we are going to engage the Asian community to provide firefighters, as other communities do.

I am yet to come to grips with what must have been in the minds of those who deliberately committed arson. Up to two days ago we were still hearing that some of the fires had been deliberately lit by people who really need to have their minds examined. We probably need a special effort like the campaigns against smoking and drink driving to perhaps get the message into those people’s minds. We should ask how we are going to stop them, because they should have no place in our community.

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