Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) – It doesn’t seem so long ago that many of us rose in this place to try to articulate the unspeakable loss that Victorians experienced during the Black Saturday bushfires.
And now, barely two years later, we find ourselves here again, reflecting on the devastation wrought by bushfire’s terrible twin floods.
I am relieved and grateful that the flooding we have experienced in Victoria over the past couple of weeks has not come close to the loss of life caused by the bushfires, nor did it reach the scale of sheer destruction and horror witnessed during Black Saturday.
However, for many Victorians, these floods have destroyed homes, crops, businesses and livelihoods, and they are now left with the task of re-building.
The Victorian floods claimed one young soul as their victim, seven-year-old Lachlan Collins who was swept away by flood waters in Shepparton. I think I speak for all Victorian Senators when I convey my heartfelt condolences to Lachlan’s family.
It is quite astonishing to think that at one point, almost one third of Victoria was affected by the floods. From the vibrant regional centres of Horsham, Swan Hill and Shepparton to the picturesque towns of Carisbrook, Charlton, Echuca and Kerang, nearly 2000 homes were flooded and a further 17,000 lost power.
Hundreds of Victorians had to evacuate and spend the night in emergency relief centres, then return to their flooded homes and properties.
I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must feel to return to the family home to find it inundated or destroyed.
Some Victorians were dealt a double blow, as not only was their home flooded, but their crops were destroyed or their business was inundated.
Thousands of hectares of crops were wiped out by the flood waters across Victoria, and hundreds of livestock were unable to escape the “inland sea” and perished.
And closer to Melbourne, the outer suburbs of Pakenham and Narre Warren were hit hard by flash flooding just this weekend, as were the inner suburbs of Elwood, South Yarra and Windsor.
Yet it always seems that it is crises like these that bring out the best in Australians.
Stories of resilience, of strength, of compassion, of bravery and of selflessness have accompanied the images we have seen of inundated towns and flooded cities.
We must thank those who have worked tirelessly and those who have put their own lives at risk to help others particularly those who work or volunteer for the emergency services, and those who serve in the Defence Forces who came to the aid of flood-affected communities.
And I should acknowledge the strong and compassionate leadership of Premier Baillieu and Deputy Premier and Police and emergency Services Minister, Peter Ryan.
We are all fortunate to live in a country where people band together in voluntary organisations like the SES to help others in their time of need.
These dedicated SES volunteers have responded to hundreds of emergency calls during the Victorian floods.
They have helped many people whose homes and businesses were affected by the floods to get back on their feet.
Yet for many flood victims, the hardest times are still ahead. The long road to recovery is yet to be fully trod.
Getting the home dried out, re-opening the business or trying to salvage what’s left of the crops are tasks that are still being faced.
In comparison to the complete devastation wrought by the Black Saturday bushfires, the Victorian floods have left the regions they ravaged with fewer outwardly visible scars.
Much of the water has now receded and many buildings are still relatively intact.
Yet homes that look unscathed from the outside can still be a sodden, muddy mess on the inside.
Businesses that look fine at first glance may have severe internal damage that could prevent them reopening for weeks or months.
Yet I am confident that the resilient spirit of Victorians will see those affected bounce back.
Many of the affected communities are already on the rebound, with schools and businesses re-opening as homes begin to dry out.
We must, as a community, band together to help each other recover and rebuild, even though the immediate threat has passed.
I am keenly aware that a speech like this cannot protect a home, business or farm from floods, bushfires or cyclones.
All we can do in this place is to acknowledge the magnitude of these events and commit ourselves to the recovery effort.