ADJOURNMENT;Victorian Bushfires – 13 May 2009

Tonight I rise to speak about some of Tasmania’s contributions to helping Victorians recover from the devastating fires of Black Saturday and the weeks following. Only this week we heard that the coroner has confirmed the identities of the 173 people who tragically lost their lives, and my heartfelt sympathies go to those families involved. Unfortunately, extinguishing the flames of the fire did not extinguish the heartbreak and anguish felt by so many.

Right from the outset, Tasmanians have been overwhelmingly generous to their Victorian counterparts. Many fundraising events have been held throughout the state and I would like to mention a number of these events. In particular, I would like to mention a fundraiser I attended on 28 March at Geeveston in southern Tasmania. This event was organised by the Tasmanian Forest Festival to raise funds for the family of Harley and Errol Morgan from Marysville, who were victims of the fires in Victoria.

Geeveston is a small community about an hour south of Hobart. The town has long been known as the ‘Gateway to the south-west’ and is now also known as ‘Tasmania’s own forest town’. The Tasmanian Forest Festival began in 2004 as a way to celebrate the importance of the forestry industry and also to acknowledge the link between the industry and other industries such as tourism and art and crafts. Chainsaw sculptor Harley Morgan and his wife, Errol, had previously visited and participated in the festival, and it was for this reason that the community of Geeveston was so saddened by their deaths and felt the need to support the family.

The event raised $5,000 from ticket sales, auctions and raffles and was attended by about 60 people. The event included a delicious meal catered for by Kermandie Hills and music by OzzSound. Harley and Errol’s son Andrew sent a message of thanks which was read at the dinner, and in this letter he emphasised how much his parents loved coming to Tasmania and loved the local people, many of whom they had formed solid friendships with. Geeveston couple Eddie and Fiona Freeman are liaising with the Marysvile community to erect a sculpture in honour of Harley and Errol with the money raised for this purpose. Andrew was also able to report that, ironically, some of Harley’s sculptures had survived the Marysville firestorm. Andrew and the rest of the family are so appreciative of the support from the Geeveston community, and I believe they are finding some comfort in the fact that their loved ones were so highly regarded by their Tasmanian friends.

It was wonderful to see such a small community come together in support of others and to be so generous. A good night was had by all despite the tragic reason for the evening, and once again I would like to express my thanks to all those involved in the organisation and running of the evening. Special thanks to Kermandie Hills, the caterers; OzzSound for the music; and also to Christine Coad, Tammy Price and Karen Cordwell.

The town of Geeveston suffered as a result of Tasmania’s 1967 fires, which also occurred on 7 February. They claimed 62 lives and left 900 injured and 7,000 people homeless. It was partly this connection that made the Victorian fires all the more devastating for the Geeveston community, but it was also that great bond that I see time and time again between the individual personalities. Tasmania and Victoria will forever share a special but difficult connection as a result of the Black Tuesday and Black Saturday fires.

The Victorian fires also reminded Tasmanians of the fact that they, too, continue to face the dangers of bushfires with a larger percentage of the state’s population than there was in 1967 now living in risk areas—not that another reminder was needed following fires on Hobart’s eastern shore and the east coast in recent years. Tasmanians from all walks of life felt the need to help our Victorian neighbours. It was the natural thing to do and Tasmania has also experienced the generosity of other Australians on many occasions. Tasmanians have held many events as fundraisers and have also been generously giving in other ways.

I attended another great event on 26 April. It was a cricket match between a combined Snug and Margate team and the Marysville team from Victoria. Snug and Margate are two suburbs south of Hobart. I spent the first seven years of my life in Margate, so I have quite strong links to it. It was then a much smaller, nearly rural area. Now it is a fast-growing and popular suburb. In the 1967 fires in Hobart both the Margate and Snug cricket clubs were burnt to the ground, so when Marysville lost their club the Tasmanian players wanted to assist the local Victorian cricket team and give them a break from the difficult times they had been experiencing. The Marysville team played their first match three weeks after the fires. They told me that it was good to have something else to think about and that it helped them resume normalcy in their lives.

The cricket game was the culmination of a weekend of various activities in Hobart for the Victorians, including barbecues, dinners and a night on the town for those who wanted one—and I did not ask too many questions about that! The game ended with the presentation of a souvenir stump for the Marysville team. To pay for the weekend, Rob Richards, the Margate captain, organised a fundraiser and raised $12,100, way above expectations. The Tasmanian government matched the money raised, taking the total to $24,200. It was not only the cricket club that was lost in Marysville; all 12 of the Marysville team lost their homes and their belongings, and some also suffered the loss of loved ones. I think I can safely say the clubs have forged a long-term bond, and there is talk of the Tasmanian teams going to Marysville for a match in the future. I know the visitors really appreciated the whole weekend and my sincere thanks go to all those involved in organising it.

Yet another way Tasmanians have helped is by donating goods and clothing. The electorate offices of Labor senators and members, as well as those of state Labor parliamentarians, received many donations from members of the public who wanted to help in any way they could. The meeting room in my office was chock-full of donated items such as clothes, toys, toiletries and everyday household effects, which were boxed up and sent over. Even after the collection stopped, people were still coming into electorate offices wanting to donate. I would like to especially thank Heather Butler, one of the state members for Lyons, for organising this mammoth task.

Many Tasmanians have willingly gone to Victoria to help fight the fires and also to do what they can to help with the rebuilding process. Timber Communities Australia Tasmania has been very active in fundraising and also sending teams to Victoria to help with the firefighting and the rebuilding phase. Branches of TCA to head to Victoria included those of Bruny Island, Ranelagh, Hellyer and Meander. On 5 May I had the opportunity to farewell a group that was heading to Victoria to help with the repair and reconstruction work. It was a great opportunity for me to publicly acknowledge the role of Bruny Island volunteers in responding to calls for assistance by local Victorian communities.

Members of Timber Communities Australia from Bruny Island have embarked on their second visit to the Traralgon South district of Victoria, where they have formed volunteer fencing teams to commence work on replacing some 4,000 kilometres of fences destroyed by the fires—a mammoth task when you think about it. They have been joined in this project by Timber Communities Australia members from other Tasmanian communities. I acknowledge the Tasmanian members of Timber Communities Australia who have so generously given of their time and expertise to assist those who have suffered in the recent Victorian fires. On their trip the volunteers will also deliver a much needed basic household item, coathangers, responding to a request from Hazelwood Rotary Club in Victoria. The success of this appeal was visually apparent, with boxes and boxes of coathangers collected and loaded onto the back of the trucks.

Australia experiences bushfires every year, and thankfully most do not cause large-scale destruction or claim lives. However, as Black Saturday has proved once again, we cannot always get fires under control quickly, and there is also the issue of arson, which needs to be dealt with strongly. Our best plan is to do everything we possibly can to prevent fires starting in the first place. In order to do this we need to work together. Federal, state and local governments need to play their parts, and each householder has a responsibility to ensure that their home is cleared of fire hazards and that they have an action plan in case fire does strike.

At the national day of mourning on 22 February, the Prime Minister said that 7 February each year will see the Australian flag fly at half mast. This will be done in memory of the lives lost on that tragic day and of those lost in similar circumstances—a fitting tribute, especially given that many buildings that survived the fires flew flags as a show of strength and support. As the Prime Minister said in his address at the service, they were:

Flags of courage. Flags of compassion. Flags of resilience. Flags of hope.

Australians have once again joined together in a most difficult time to support those who are suffering, and Tasmania has done more than its fair share, despite being the smallest state. Tasmania will continue to offer support to Victoria as the recovery process continues. Victoria will need our assistance for a long time to come and I know that Tasmanians will rise to this challenge—they have proven that time and time again.