Page 457 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 10 February 2009

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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

MR SPEAKER (Mr Rattenbury) took the chair at 10 am, made a formal recognition that the Assembly was meeting on the lands of the traditional owners, and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Victorian bushfire disaster

Motion of condolence

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Minister for Transport, Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Minister for the Arts and Heritage): I move:

That this Assembly expresses its profound sorrow at the devastating loss of life and property in the bushfires in Victoria and offers its heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of the many victims of this tragedy.

Today we are forced to search for words unnatural enough and exclusive enough to convey the scale of the calamity that befell Victoria over the weekend. The regular words we use to describe shocking events are not equal to this one. By the most brutal of measures, human loss of life, the weekend fires in Victoria constitute the worst natural disaster in our national memory. As humans, that is how we inevitably do measure disaster—by their human cost. And, as we know, the human cost is not just a mortal cost tallied by lives lost, but a cost measured also by ongoing trauma, psychological hurt, grief and even, paradoxically, the guilt sometimes felt by those left standing. But while we might not be able to easily find words particular enough or unconventional enough to describe our reaction to Victoria’s horror, we can condole and we can offer our support.

While our thoughts are with the thousands of Victorians most directly affected by this catastrophe, we must also keep some small corner of our sympathy, some chink of our hearts, here at home, for those Canberrans whose wounds will have been reopened by the headlines and the television news of recent days. We should check on our neighbours, phone affected relatives and friends and be sensitive and ready with our empathy for those who may find themselves reliving the events of 2003.

We make our home on a continent that is not always kind, not always gentle. Most of the time, we congratulate ourselves that we have adapted our way of life to her moods and her demands or perhaps that we have adapted the land to our moods and our own demands. Events such as those of the weekend remind us how delicate is the balance we have struck: at the southern extreme of our mainland, there are fires of unimaginable intensity and destructiveness; at the northern extreme, a monsoon trough leaves towns isolated by floodwater.

Nowhere, perhaps, was the reminder of our delicate relationship with our homeland more starkly stated than in one small Victorian town where 15 per cent of the population died in the bushfires—loss on a scale that we associate with war, not peace. The experience of this town was replicated on a lesser scale in others—hundreds of families bereft, dozens of small communities verging on physical obliteration.

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