Page 908 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 24 February 2009

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Finally, it is important that we recognise, and pay tribute to, the over 500 families who have stayed at home and have worried and supported and waited for the safe return of their loved ones. It gives me great pride as Minister for Police and Emergency Services to see the esteem in which the ACT task forces have been held by their Victorian counterparts. I have received those comments directly from my counterpart in Victoria, who has taken the time to ring me and to thank me on behalf of the Victorian government for the work of our ACT task forces and other personnel. The Premier of Victoria, Mr Brumby, has also indicated his thanks and his support for our help to his state at this time.

I know the Chief Minister wants to speak further, and I will leave it to him to speak on issues surrounding the support provided by the broader ACT community in donating financial assistance and essential goods. But I think it is important that we record today the Assembly’s thanks and admiration to all of those Canberrans who have served in Victoria in recent weeks not only for their work there but for the work they and their colleagues do every day in our own community. I commend the motion to members.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (5.05): It is a pleasure to stand and agree with the minister’s motion. Canberra’s efforts as a community have been outstanding and the impact of those efforts in the fire zones have been very important to the security of a great number of Victorian towns.

The area in Victoria that we were initially tasked to was the Beechworth region. One side of the fire was about 20 kilometres wide and the other side was about 10 kilometres wide. So we are talking about a fire that has consumed 200 square kilometres of bush. A lot of it is country that is as inaccessible as the worst parts of the Brindabellas. It was great that, at the end of many shifts, the volunteers were thanked by the CFA and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment for their efforts. In some cases projected burns were not allowed to proceed because the conditions were so poor and there were enormous delays. The crews would have to sit there and wait to get onto the fireground, and that was frustrating.

I want to praise the efforts of the senior officers who commanded the ACT task force. They have control over the lives of all the volunteers on the fire fronts, and that is an enormous responsibility. I will not name the individuals, but they know who they are. Their efforts to coordinate the volunteers and ensure their safety were tremendous. Often only one vehicle would go up until it was ascertained that it was safe for the rest of the volunteers to arrive. If there was a problem, people were pulled back from the line. Safety was the ultimate consideration. The groups that went south were incredibly well led and it is to the credit of the offices and their training that they were able to do that.

It is very important that we understand what was going on. A lot of the work was done at night in country that we, as volunteers, had no knowledge of A lot of it involved back-burns and bringing down of very big timber. Some of the trees down there are two metres wide at the base. One particular tree caused us some grief. We had two bulldozers, a D8 and a D6, which are some of the biggest pieces of

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