Page 1545 - Week 05 - Thursday, 7 April 2005

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Lifeline Canberra played an integral role in supporting the Canberra community in the wake of the January 2003 bushfire. At the time of this disaster, Lifeline Canberra galvanised its resources, its paid staff and volunteers to respond to the needs of the community. Lifeline eventually took over the ACT bushfire hotline to provide support and information to the Canberra community. On 18 January 2003, Lifeline was quickly and efficiently able to execute an emergency response to the situation at hand. By 4.00 pm that day, all staff had been placed on standby and over 250 volunteers had been contacted to see if they and their families were safe.

In the days following the disaster, Lifeline Canberra took calls on their crisis line at 350 per cent of their usual call rate. This peaked on 20 January 2003, Lifeline’s busiest day ever. Lifeline counsellors listened to people who feared for their lives and those of their families. There were people who had lost homes and their pets, and people who had feared losing their livelihoods. There were people who had no home to return to and others who were scared to leave their homes for fear they may burn down. I remember that feeling distinctly when my family was asked to evacuate our home.

In what was a time of uncertainty for so many people of Canberra, the counsellors at Lifeline offered the certainty of someone to speak to and someone who was willing to listen. Lifeline’s response to the bushfire went beyond its crisis line, as countless counsellors did outreach work in the suburbs most affected by the fires. Lifeline also produced a bushfire information kit, of which 500 were distributed through places where people went to seek information, including the recovery centre. Gambling counsellors were diverted from their work to provide face-to-face counselling and worked with telephone counsellors to provide follow-up support to community members who needed someone to talk to.

Lifeline counsellors even supported others involved in the emergency, providing a debriefing service to the staff of Canberra Connect, for instance. These services were provided in addition to the usual suite of support services provided to the Canberra community, as others have mentioned in this place today. In the period since the bushfire disaster, Lifeline has continued to provide an increased level of telephone counselling support. Calls to the crisis line have increased to a level of 75 per cent, greater than before the fires. At this stage this need shows no sign of abating to former levels.

We cannot underestimate the valuable role that Lifeline Canberra plays in Canberra’s front line response to times of crisis. As a result of the 2003 bushfire, Lifeline has improved its response plans and introduced emergency recovery teams. By establishing these units, Lifeline will be able to act even more quickly and effectively in the event of any future emergencies.

In the wake of the Asian tsunami disaster, Lifeline again made itself available to support the Canberra community, establishing a tsunami crisis counselling line. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide support and counselling for people affected by that disaster.

In a time of crisis, Lifeline Canberra is at the forefront of supporting our community. This important work assures residents of the ACT that someone will always be available

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