CONDOLENCES: Australian Bushfires

5 February, 2020

There was clearly a lot of passion in the member for Gilmore's address. I think that all members who are fire-affected members have been touched by this tragedy and tragedies that have gone before.

Not one word spoken in here today will assuage or ameliorate the pain of those who have been directly impacted by these fires and previous fires. What it brings home to all of us who have memories is that there are people out there affected by previous bushfires whose memories are being torn back to the tragedy that they faced all those years ago—or, perhaps in my case, in February and March last year with the Bunyip North bushfire. These people are really hurting today. Their trauma is deep. It is extremely hard for them to handle. We cannot even try to identify their pain, their trauma and their shock ourselves because we didn't stand in their shoes, we haven't stood in their boots and we haven't been there in their thongs—if that's all they've got left. The Slade family lost an integral, very popular local man in Bill. He was connected to everybody in Wonthaggi and surrounds. He was hit by a falling tree that wasn't burning.

In Victoria there are 1,500 firefighters working today, just out of Parkes, backed by 1,600 staff, and there are 18,000 kilometres of fire edge. Of course, communities are feeling under threat. Only a few days ago there were houses lost here, for heaven's sake. We are in the middle of the same fight, the same war. We're living it today, each and every one of us. I honour those who have spoken before me, each of you, so well and with compassion. But we cannot enter into the devastation that has taken place in these fires and previous fires in the Blue Mountains, in the south of New South Wales and in Gippsland especially, and the devastation, of course, across our businesses that is coming home to roost for every one of us here. That's without Attenborough saying Australia is on fire. Well, parts of Gippsland are not. We're still open for business, as has been said.

My pain is for the people really doing it hard today. I can hear you. I want you to know this parliament can hear you in your devastation. There was a gentleman here I met in the Prime Minister's office who was part of the upper Beaconsfield tragedy I was part of for Ash Wednesday. He was left with his pyjamas, he was telling me, begging for some money to get some food to have something to eat that night. It brings back the memory for everybody of what has gone before. I know there are people out there, who, every time the fires flare, are reliving their tragedy, the loss of their family, and we hear what you're saying. Right across this nation, this great southern land, we hear what you're saying and we're identifying with you.

I was at Bairnsdale the other day for Macca Donnelly's funeral. Craig didn't die of the fires; he died of bowel cancer. Craig ran 10 kilometres a day, even in his 60s. He was fit as a fiddle, tough as nails and had a great sense of humour—I won't go there; it has been done badly once today. He was a fireman in his youth. All the kids in our community had to be in the fire brigade; that was automatic, as it is today. Craig was a firey. His dad was a firey before him and a PoW. Craig had one message for the hundreds gathered there in Bairnsdale. He said, 'When the bowel test comes, take it.' If that one message gets out to the community then that's really important because he shouldn't have died.

Outside the funeral parlour was a great big sign. It didn't say 'save yourself'. It didn't say 'be careful'. It said, 'Fires and storms—tune into the ABC'. I knew exactly what they were on about because the ABC was the only way our fire controllers could get messages out when there was no communication, because people still have battery transistor radios and they can get the messages. When it came to telecommunications, we were found wanting. When it came to our planning authorities and rules, we were found wanting. When it came to state and local government regulations, we were found wanting. When it came to fire management, we were found wanting. We were found wanting. We've allowed these things to happen. We have resourced our firemen.

By the way, I don't think they want to be called heroes. They'd like their professional training and volunteerism recognised, yes, but they don't see themselves as heroes; they see themselves as very good at what they do. They've saved hundreds and hundreds of houses. But faced with that onslaught, you can't save everything and you are going to have losses. For the Victorian members, we're just coming into our most difficult time now. All the country members—sorry, I'm not separating country members of parliament from those city members who do understand—are coming into our worst period now.

The Bunyip fire started with two simple lightning strikes—all over, rover, straight through—and smashed that community to pieces. I won't speak for a long time today because I'm actually identifying a bit with what has gone before. I've got to say this to you: we've been through this before. At Nowa Nowa, where the fire stick had been used, there was protection. When are we going to learn?

In this Fire Wise magazine, I read Fireman Sam over the back. It says it all. Deputy Speaker, I'd like permission to table his article.

Mr BROADBENT:  Thank you. I table Fireman Sam's article.

When you talk about habitat and we talk about how people respond to this, I want to say just this, and I won't say any more: when human loses their habitat—and on the ABC we heard that lady say, 'And my husband has lost all his working dogs,' and then burst into tears. That was years and years and years of breeding to enable him to run the property. These are the sorts of grief and loss that we are dealing with today and will take years. I heard what the Prime Minister said when he said recovery takes time and we're here for the long haul. Well, I say to the people of the Bunyip North fire, we're here with you for the long haul too, even though your fire was in February. I will make sure that you get every benefit that every other person on the firegrounds today is getting. We have to treat every Australian that has been impacted by these fires equally. There are going to be businesses devastated by this fire that are going to have the nearly impossible task of rebuilding themselves and putting themselves back in play. This has affected the whole of my electorate and the whole of everybody else's electorates. Everybody is impacted. They need to know that we as parliamentarians as one are with them and understand them. We can't be in their shoes, as I said, but we can do our very, very best.

Sadly, the hands of time may not be enough for a lot of people's pain, but that's the only hope that we have. I know this: with the blood of the victims, the ash of the forest and the sweat of those facing the foe, when drowned in our tears will bring forth new life. Until that day comes, until the sun rises over the southern hills of the Great Dividing Range to a clear, smokeless sky, we've got work to do. We've got men, women and little children to care for. We have communities to rebuild and fires to suppress. But most of all we have a lot of grieving to do, and we will do that together, arm in arm, hand in hand, teardrop by heartbreaking teardrop.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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