I plan to keep my condolence motion quite succinct today for a number of reasons. As Ms Shing mentioned, this is quite an emotional topic to be standing here doing a condolence motion on, particularly given that the fires had an enormous and devastating effect in my electorate of Northern Victoria, but I also realise and respect that there are other speakers who are waiting to do their condolence motions as well.
I would also like to acknowledge and reiterate the sentiments that have been expressed here today by everybody in the chamber. It has been lovely to stand here and listen to such eloquent condolences.
It is with great sadness that I stand here today to pay respect to those who lost their lives either whilst performing their duties to save others’ lives and properties or whilst protecting their own homes here in Victoria during what has been a shocking fire season throughout our state. Bushfires have a devastating effect on our land, communities and animals, with the ultimate devastation being the loss of lives.
To the families of David Moresi, Bill Slade, Mat Kavanagh, Mick Roberts and Fred Becker, I send my deepest condolences. I can only imagine that this must be an incredibly difficult and traumatic time for you all. My words here today will sadly not heal your pain, but I hope with love and support from family, friends and your community, you will be able to take comfort from those who surround you in your time of need.
This is a heartache that you never expect to happen when a loved one walks out the door and does not return and recovering from such a tragedy can be an extremely painful and lifelong journey.
To the families in New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT, I also wish to send my heartfelt condolences to their families who have lost loved ones and for the stress and devastation these fires have caused.
I would also like to acknowledge the serious impact these fires have on townships, communities and our wildlife, who have all suffered terribly in the past few months. It will take years before the recovery is completed, and my electorate of Northern Victoria has experienced a disaster which we hope will never be repeated.
I praise the courage and commitment of all firefighters, emergency services personnel and first responders in protecting our state and of those who have volunteered in any capacity. I express my sincere gratitude to all those assisting in the recovery as I know many of you must be completely exhausted.
Minister Symes mentioned Wangaratta—my hometown—and the incredible sharing of kindness that we saw. The gratitude that we have from the generosity of people who travelled up from Melbourne, who brought truckloads of food and prepared and cooked meals, who went up to support firefighters who they did not believe were being fed. They put on a concert. They have done so much in our time of need, and I would sincerely like to thank them.
We had another group of psychologists and counsellors who travelled up to the relief centre in Wangaratta, and they provided what was a child-safe space. That space was so important to the children who had been evacuated from their towns, who needed that normalising of their day, and it also provided an opportunity for parents to be able to have adult discussions with other adults, without discussing their needs and concerns in front of their children.
I also opened my office up, and the generosity of people within our community was incredible. I had no idea of what to expect, and I have to say I was extremely humbled. My staff and I delivered seven carloads and two truckloads up to FoodShare. We could not clean our office out quick enough. In the time we travelled those 45 minutes to Wodonga, unloaded and then travelled back, as soon as we got back my office would be completely full once again, so the generosity of people was absolutely astounding.
I would also like to take this moment to thank the councils in my electorate of north-east Victoria, as I know that they opened their doors and provided whatever form of support they could to all those within our communities.
I also give thanks to all who joined us from overseas. It is wonderful to see the reciprocation of support at this time, and your efforts to join us over this lengthy fire period are certainly greatly appreciated by all. Unfortunately, three of your comrades will sadly not return home, and for that I feel extremely saddened. Once again, I send my sincere, heartfelt sympathy to all the families affected by the loss of these five men. Rest in peace, gentlemen; you will certainly not be forgotten.
On a final note, I would also like to bring up something that concerns me greatly. To arsonists who have started some of these fires throughout Australia, it is an act of disgraceful behaviour, and I certainly hope that you will be caught and held accountable for the devastation and trauma that you have created in innocent peoples’ lives.