SPEAKING ON A BILL | BUSHFIRES CONDOLENCE
Mr Melhem: I also rise to join previous speakers and offer my condolences to the 34 families who lost a loved one during this horrible fire season in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia and the five in Victoria: Mat Kavanagh, Mick Roberts, David Moresi, Fred Becker and in particular a person I had the opportunity to meet with in my previous life, in my previous job.
I refer to forest firefighter Bill Slade, who I met with some years ago in my regular visits and meetings with AWU members who are forest firefighters employed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Bill was a man who was very dedicated to his union. He was an active AWU member, he was a mentor to AWU members and forest firefighters and he has lost his life. He made the ultimate sacrifice just to keep us safe.
Fighting fires is a very difficult business, particularly for the forest firefighters because most of their work tends to be in the middle of the forest. You could be in a situation where the fire is already out, it is still weather—there is no wind and no rain—and suddenly a branch collapses or a tree falls on you, and that was the case, and you lose your life. That was the case two years ago: we had two forest firefighters lose their lives as a result of falling trees.
I just want to take this opportunity to pay my respects to these firefighters and again offer my condolences to their families and my appreciation of these people who made the ultimate sacrifice just to keep Victorians safe.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank all the emergency services, whether they were CFA volunteers or others. Again, they are people who actually give their own time to fight fires, not to defend just their properties and their neighbour’s property but everybody else’s, and they do it for nothing because that is what they do. If you live in the country, you just go out there and help your mates to defend your properties and lives.
My gratitude also goes to the police force, the paramedics, the SES and the Australian Defence Force, which has played a major role in evacuating families from various places. I think that is a reminder that probably something we should consider going into the future is that maybe there should be more of a role for the ADF to basically provide assistance. That was not the first time; we remember Black Saturday, when the ADF played a major role as well.
I said I would be brief. I just want to finish off by saying that fires will always be with us. Whether we like it or not, that is the country we live in. I just want people to reflect. Today is about paying tribute to the emergency services and offering condolences to the families of the lost ones. But let us not forget; let us not play politics; let us not criticise whether the response was adequate or not.
In my view we just have to reflect on Black Saturday. It was a much smaller fire yet 173 people lost their lives. We are lucky, we only lost five—five too many. Obviously we have learned that lesson. Victoria has learned its lesson.
Victoria’s emergency services and Premier Andrews and Minister Neville did a great job in making sure we were prepared and we minimised the damage. Yes, we can always do better, but I am actually proud of what this government and the emergency services personnel have done to make sure that we minimised the damage, and hopefully we will get on top of this and we will be much better equipped going forward for the next fire season, even though this fire season is not over yet. Hopefully the welcome rain might give us a better fighting chance, and we might be prepared for next time.
I will conclude by saying for the five Victorians who lost their lives defending us: rest in peace. We are grateful for their sacrifice, and our thoughts are with their families.