HON. WAYNE SWAN MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
"Motion Of Condolences: Natural Disaster"
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2011
***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
Mr Speaker, there are many stories of tragedy, heroism and community spirit which come from the floods of recent weeks and of course the cyclones in North Queensland and Far North Queensland. And we've heard from the Prime Minister today and the Leader of the Opposition many of those stories. We have seen the pictures, we have heard the voices on television, we have read about it in the newspapers and we have read about it online. And I am sure there are many Australians who are watching today who are part of these stories. And of course, this devastation has not been limited to Queensland. We have seen it in New South Wales and we've seen it in Victoria and, of course most recently, in Western Australia. Mother Nature has indeed been cruel over this summer. As somebody who has lived in Queensland all of my life, I have felt particularly deeply the damage that I have seen, not just in the south-east corner of the state but right across the state.
But what has been so inspiring about these events in my home state has been the response of the rest of Australia. And Queenslanders very much appreciate the extent to which Australians came to their aid-appreciate the extent to which our fellow Australians responded to their immediate need. People who simply jumped in a car and drove from Sydney, or drove from Melbourne or the Central Coast of New South Wales to end up in a town they had probably never been to before, to occupy a house with somebody they did not know. This response right across the country has been truly inspiring.
And it is also the case that many in this House have also been deeply involved in that effort. Many have been up at all hours of the night checking the weather reports, making phone calls, talking to the SES, trying to organise further support for their communities. This has truly been a whole-of-community effort, because the horror that has unfolded has simply been extraordinary.
I myself have seen the devastation at Grantham. I have been along the corridor right through the south-west that goes up to Toowoomba. I've seen first-hand the devastation the morning after that Cyclone Yasi hit along with Premier Bligh and of course Major General Slater. And of course despite the cyclone having moved on something like 12 hours earlier the weather was still so savage you could not fly a helicopter through it. It defeated the military; such was the savagery of the weather conditions that followed that cyclone in North Queensland.
And one defining image for me will be the image of the local church in Cardwell, where only the floor was left unmoved. The pews were still there and hymn books were scattered around but nothing else was left. A local woman told me it was the loudest noise she could remember-like one continuous freight train that kept coming and coming and coming. But Queenslanders, like all Australians, are resilient. Another local pointed out to me when I was in the main street of Cardwell that the ‘Barra Burger' sign had been spared although the take-away food shop had been completely removed. The irony of that image!
And of course I remember vividly being choppered into Tully. It was simply extraordinary. You would have sworn that you were looking at a rainforest that had been napalmed with bombs. Or you were then looking at a landscape where all of the trees had simply been stripped. And it looked like it had suffered a very savage bushfire. And of course to see the devastation of the crops-the sugar cane and the bananas. So Mr Speaker, the challenge we now face as Members of Parliament is how do we do justice to the sacrifices of all of those that have been touched by these disasters. How do we do justice to the outpouring of community spirit that remains long after the winds have died down and the waters have receded?
Now what we have seen-as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said today-is a great coming together of our communities. I have never in my life seen the community spirit that has surfaced across this country and then manifested itself, in the volunteer effort in particular that has gone on in our local communities. I remember vividly going to in my electorate in Zillmere on day 2 of what was going on in south-east Queensland, to go around a corner to find 200 to 300 volunteers filling sandbags in an area that simply had not been flood affected. The mobilisation of people was absolutely extraordinary. The mobilisation of people going to communities such as Goodna, to stay there, to camp out, and to cook food for weeks on end for local communities that had lost all of their houses. They simply had nowhere to go.
But the business community chipped in as well. This sort of extraordinary effort that was going on across communities was unprecedented. And of course the degree of corporate donations as well as business-in-kind support has also been important. But was has been particularly impressive has been the donations to the Premier's appeal fund – also very, very important. All of this has indicated to us that we do have that Australian spirit of mateship alive and well in all of our communities.
And of course as the Prime Minister mentioned and so did the Leader of the Opposition, we had the story of Jordan Rice, the 13-year-old from Toowoomba. He told his rescuers to save his little brother first. And of course we know the story, but just think about that for a moment. A young man saying to his rescuers, ‘Saving my little brother first. Save my little brother first.' I think Jordan's family must have taught him something very, very special in his short life. And what that was is that life is not just about grabbing something for yourself; it is about courage, it's about selflessness, it's about looking after family and looking after community. Of course, we cannot bring Jordan back, much as we wish we could, but what we can do is look to that example-the values and the character that was on display by that young man.
Thousands of Queenslanders and Victorians are cleaning up. Now of course that cleanup now goes on in Western Australia as well. Our armed forces are very much involved in this endeavour. And of course we should never forget the vital role that they are playing and will continue to play for some time to come. But of course governments have a vital role to play as well-a vital role particularly in investing in community infrastructure. That is going to be very important, not just in the next few months of course in the next few years.
Mr Speaker, we know the human cost of natural disasters-we know that it is incalculable and that it can never be made good-but we can do is make good on investing in our communities to make sure the very essence of what makes those communities tick over is replaced so that those communities can become fully functioning again. Of course this will involve a very big call on our economy. And the call on the Budget will be large. And of course we have announced our initial estimates and, of course, we have come up with a plan to fund the rebuilding of affected regions. That has rightly attracted much community debate. We can debate that plan, including the levy, but we will do that later this week in a robust way-but we all remain committed to making that investment to ensure that these communities get what they are entitled to and indeed deserve.
So today is a day to recognise and pay tribute to the courage of the thousands of people who in our community put themselves forward to help their neighbours. As the waters rose and debris flew, our immediate instinct was the right one. It spoke of who we are and the sort of country we have created. We stuck together. We joined our efforts. We thought first of our children, their younger brothers and sisters, then our neighbours, our towns and our cities. And of course this is no more evident than in the work of our SES, the Army and of course our police force, who have all been terribly important in the response in Queensland. All showing bravery and self-sacrifice, particularly the helicopter pilots the Prime Minister was talking about before, and there are many, many more.
And of course what was also so special about the response was that a new generation joined in using social networking to save others and organise their response. Younger Australians, many of whom had never volunteered before, stepped up to play a major role, and I think we should acknowledge that today. Because the result has been an example of common purpose from all generations and it shows the way forward for our country.
So Mr Speaker, we have seen in the past few weeks our country rise to the challenges presented by the devastation of flood and cyclone. We have heard heartbreaking stories of heroism and self-sacrifice and we have seen the best in people. And of course it was demonstrated best, I guess, by this stunning fact: a state running out of gumboots simply because too many people wanted to help. So the stories of generosity have resonated not just locally, but globally, showing the rest of the world the values and virtues that we as Australians hold, and as we continue through this difficult period of rebuilding a state, of mourning the loss and counting the huge cost of lost possessions and livelihoods, let us continue to live up to the values of all of those who have made such sacrifices during this period. And most of all, let us harness all that is best about Australians. All of that makes us stronger together so that when the wind dies down and the waters recede, our commitment to each other never dies down and never recedes.