Commemorations – 2009 Bushfires
6 February 2019
Mr Walsh : I rise to support the condolence motion moved by the Premier for the 2009 bushfires. As has already been said the 2009 bushfires are more than Black Saturday. There were fires before Black Saturday and obviously there were fires for a long time after Black Saturday even though tragically Black Saturday was when most of those lives were lost. It was an absolutely tragic loss of life and property on that day and in the days preceding and afterwards. Our hearts go out to all those who were affected through those fires. Standing in this place it is almost impossible to comprehend the tragedy that happened to people on those days and we need to make sure we do that justice by making sure that the recommendations that came out of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission are actually implemented to make sure the risk of this happening again in the future is reduced because unless you have actually lived through that I think you just cannot comprehend how tragic it is for those people no matter what we say. As has already been said tragically 173 people lost their lives on that day. They are people who had families who had friends and who were part of a community that will never ever be the same. We have heard from those survivors that have spoken since that the healing will take a lifetime. It will almost take generations for recovery in some areas. Four hundred and thirty thousand hectares were burnt 78 communities were affected and over 2000 homes were lost. I think the issue with homes is that if you are insured if you can afford to you can rebuild but you cannot recapture all the memorabilia. The photos and the things that you have kept about your whole life in those homes are gone and can never ever be replaced. A house can be rebuilt but a home cannot be recreated just overnight and those people lost everything through those particular times. Over 3500 buildings in total were lost. Thousands of emergency services workers both paid and volunteer worked through those fires and equally thousands and thousands of people were involved in the clean-up and the rebuild afterwards. I think we owe a thank you to all those people that got involved because not only were those immediately affected by the fires impacted but the people that went in afterwards would have life-scarring memories of those particular days and of what they did and that will live with them forever. As I think the other speakers have already said those sorts of tragedies bring out the best in people. I think we saw that with the generosity of those who went and helped and the generosity of those who donated financially-donated goods and did all the things that we have come to expect our Australian communities to do in these sorts of tragedies. We thank all those who do that. I think particularly Black Saturday is one of those days that will be cast in our history. We will all remember where we were and what we did on that day similar to Ash Wednesday similar to the Lara fires that were commemorated recently and no doubt similar to the 1939 fires. These sorts of events have impacts on us forever. We actually remember where we were and what we did. Like the Deputy Premier I can remember walking out that morning and the hot air catching in my throat. Having been a member of the CFA for a long time I thought that day ‘If a fire gets away this is going to be really really dangerous’. Tragically what we all feared actually happened through that particular time. I was fortunate enough to be on the parliamentary committee in this place that actually did the inquiry into the 2002 2003 and 2006 bushfires in the High Country and during that inquiry I visited quite a few of the communities that were affected by Black Saturday. I remember on that day thinking having been there having seen the lack of access I suppose in the event of a fire and having seen the vegetation in those areas you could comprehend actually what was going to happen. I think that is tragic and again that is one of the learnings. We need to make sure that into the future we do not let ideology get in the way of good vegetation clearance particularly around roadways. People do need to have access in and out of their properties so they can actually get away. But it is a constant reminder that fire is part of the Australian landscape and we need to manage that as best we can. Again as has already been said the royal commission was set up by Premier Brumby at that particular time with Justice Bernard Teague chairing and Jack Rush counsel assisting. They went through a very exhaustive process and brought back 67 recommendations out of that and they are gradually being implemented. I think we as a Parliament as legislators-as whoever is actually in government at any particular time-have a responsibility to continue the implementation of those recommendations over time. If you actually go back and read the 1939 Stretton royal commission report about those particular fires the recommendations in some ways are very similar. The difference is that Stretton actually had to hand write his report so it is only about 6 pages long compared to one that was actually generated on a computer and is obviously a lot longer than that. I think the nub of the issues in their recommendations is very similar and we have a responsibility to continue to do everything we can to make sure those recommendations are implemented. I like others attended the service on Monday at the Royal Exhibition Building and I was very pleased that Wurundjeri elder Dave Wandin presented there as part of the Firestick project. I have actually been on country with Uncle Dave a number of times in going through the Firestick project with him. I think the presentation on Monday night talking about the work that has been done with the Dixons Creek Primary School students is brilliant but I think if we stopped at that being the project we would actually be doing Uncle Dave and those that have been involved a disservice. The Firestick project from my knowledge of it and my learning with it is a new way of looking at how we manage fire in the landscape how we actually manage the landscape and how we go back and actually take some learnings from the traditional owners as to how they managed fire in the landscape for thousands of years before white man came here. I think there is a powerful message out of that particular project both for the students to understand fire and the healing for that particular community at Dixons Creek but also more importantly for us as legislators and governments how we actually manage fire into the future I think is something that we need to talk a lot more about because tragically I think there is some slippage around some of the recommendations from the royal commission. Over time people’s memories do fade. Not those who have been personally affected-I think those memories are with them forever-but as life moves on there is a risk that the royal commission recommendations will not be properly implemented in the full intent of Justice Teague and I think the Firestick program is a very good reminder of how we actually need to learn to manage fire in the landscape a lot better and reduce risks into the future. On behalf of myself and the National Party can I just express my most heartfelt thanks and remembrance to those that lost lives or lost people in their families to all those volunteers that were involved through these fires and to all those people that have been involved over the last decade working with those communities and working with those people to help rebuild but more importantly to actually help heal the wounds that will take a long time to heal.