Natural disasters: Australia (03/03/2011)

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the motion on the natural disasters, including the terrible flooding which we have experienced around Australia and more particularly at home in Victoria. This has been a terrible time, a tough time, for us in Australia. It is a start to the year that in many instances we would sooner forget. No-one would have expected that we would have started the year this way.

Firstly we experienced the flooding in Queensland, where all of a sudden on 11 January we were hit really hard: the Brisbane River broke its banks and floods started to occur. We heard and read terrible stories, and we were all affected. Everyone had a story to tell of people they knew who were affected by these floods. As it continued over the weeks we soon found out that not only was it a terrible disaster that had affected our friends and neighbours in Queensland but also that these floods would hit us right here at home in Victoria.

Secondly what a terrible time it was for all of us as Victorians when we experienced the floods and read about and understood the terrible times that our fellow Victorians had faced on this occasion. The extreme weather conditions continued, and the volatility of the natural climate affected many people. It was a defining moment, a difficult and uncertain time, that kicked off this year. As we have looked at the flooding around the country, which has been followed by cyclones and even fires, it has been difficult for all.

We are often reminded of great people who have said interesting things, such as Dorothea Mackellar, who famously wrote ‘Her beauty and her terror’ in reference to aspects of Australia’s climate. This is certainly a time for reflection on the natural disasters that have occurred.

With thousands of lives in question, towns being devastated throughout the world and more importantly with disasters starting to hit us at home, we can be comforted by the fact that we have a great Australian spirit, which has meant that in times such as this people pull together. It makes me as an Australian feel very proud that at these difficult and sad times we can all come together, put in and help our mates. We have seen time and again people putting everything aside and doing what they do for their friends, colleagues and fellow Australians.

We have seen these natural disasters time and again. Their effects do not continue for a short time; they have long-term implications. Once the floods have gone, just as we saw during the Black Saturday natural disaster, peoples’ lives will be affected in the long term. People will continue to need counselling, as do people who are still being counselled about the Black Saturday fires. We need to be very mindful of this, because after the cameras have gone away and we have stopped talking in the house about the floods, people will still be affected. The floods will have a long-term effect, and people will need assistance and support. It is important for this house to recognise that and be right alongside our friends who have been through this natural disaster.

I would also like to bring home some of the effects of the flooding that happened only a few weeks ago in our own backyard. I was sitting down to a meal on a Friday when the rains hit the suburb of Caulfield, and many of my colleagues in the house experienced similar flooding. Who was to know the effect of that flooding would be so severe? I had two phone calls on that particular night. I went out to have a look at what was happening, only to find that the water in my neighboring streets was up to my knees. It is at these times that you have to stretch the job description and start to put in. It showed me that the people of Victoria often look for leadership from their parliamentarians and for them to do a little bit more than just be in this house and speak for them. That is why we have to get out, put in and show some leadership.

On that night I was out unplugging drains and helping to move cars to the side of the road. The car of one family in Caulfield was immobilized because of the floods.

We had to help an elderly lady who was suffering at the time by taking her to the hospital and moving the car to ensure that the family was safe. That really brought it home. We members of Parliament representing metropolitan Melbourne never thought we would have to experience such extreme events. We know our colleagues in rural and regional Victoria have to deal with this sort of thing every single day, but it really hits home when we have these sorts of events happening in our own backyard.

I want to draw to Parliament’s attention that 10 new members representing inner city seats went to rural and regional Victoria during the extreme flooding to visit the town of Cohuna and help out, understand what it was all about and do our best during that difficult time. It was very confronting for a member of Parliament representing a metropolitan Melbourne seat to see what our colleagues have to go through in rural and regional Victoria.

We got some initial counselling from Red Cross as to what we would experience, and then we went out to the front-line to serve food, provide counselling and help with sandbagging. It was absolutely horrific.

One of the people who will stick in my mind for a long time was a gentleman who sat next to me and reflected on all the things that he had to put up with: the fact that his crops were destroyed from locusts only recently, he had a lot of family issues and now he had to deal with flooding. This gentleman had to put up with one thing after another.

At that time we also had a visit from the Premier. Later I was talking to someone from the Red Cross who said he had never in his time seen — and he has had to deal with many natural disasters, including fires, as he has been in the job for a number of years — a Premier who was so committed and diligent in his desire to help the people as our Premier.

Interestingly enough, the Premier’s time lines when it came to visiting all these areas were always blown out. He never arrived on time. At first he would say, ‘Why can’t I be on time?’. The reason was that he sat down next to the people and talked to them one by one. He listened to their stories. That for me is a sign of a Premier with leadership skills, who cares. I feel proud to be part of this coalition team and to have a Premier who cares, understands and is for the people. He listens to the people and has their interests at heart.

Ms Duncan — Who are these people?

Mr SOUTHWICK — The people are the people of Victoria: our friends. I hear members of the opposition ridiculing during this important time when we are reaching out to the people of Victoria who have gone through hell and back.

It is shameful and disappointing that the opposition should use the time when we are reaching out to our fellow Victorians in need to try to make a political point. That is not what this is about. This is about people. This is about Victorians who only want what all of us want, a fair go. I feel proud that we as Victorians will put in, help out and do our best as proud Australians. My condolences go out to everybody who has been affected by the floods, fires and cyclones we have had in recent times.

Author: David Southwick MP

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