House debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Statements by Members

Australian Bushfires

10:42 am

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to take the opportunity to offer my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in this devastating season of bushfires. I want to do that on behalf of my community of Calwell as we grieve for the 33 lives lost; the more than 18 million hectares burnt; the 2,800 homes, filled with precious belongings and precious memories, destroyed; the thousands of buildings destroyed; and the staggering one billion native animals that have perished. My condolences in particular go to the families of those firefighters who lost their lives. As we all know, both professional and volunteer firefighters have been at the battlefront of these devastating fires. They are courageous Australians and indeed they are courageous friends from overseas who came to help. They put their lives at risk in order to save ours, and we owe them a great debt. As a life member of the United Firefighters Union, I want to acknowledge that and I want to acknowledge the work that firefighters do.

The fear and concern that already exist worldwide around the effects and consequences of climate change made the Australian bushfires the focus of international debate but also precipitated a global expression of support and solidarity. Whilst a debate rages about climate change and how we deal with its impact, millions of Australians and expats opened their hearts and their wallets, contributing staggering donations towards our relief fund and relief efforts. The generosity of Australians and our friends abroad needs to be acknowledged, because rebuilding in the aftermath will be a massive job and a financially challenging one. But our collective effort will see us through this, as it has done before.

Because we are a migrant country made up of diasporas from around the world, the devastation of these fires impacted in home countries where relatives and friends were in angst about the welfare of loved ones in Australia. But it also spurred Australians of migrant background, especially in the new and emerging communities, to reach out to their fellow Australians, desperately wanting to help.

In my own community, although they were far removed from the fires, my constituents moved quickly to lend a helping hand, and I want to acknowledge that in this chamber today. I represent a very large Sikh community, who joined with the Australian Sikh Support organisation. They rallied almost immediately and, as we've all come to know, became a visible feature of the relief effort across the devastated communities of New South Wales and Victoria. I want to thank my local Sikh community. Charity and service to others is integral to this community's sense of obligation and comfort to humanity.

We had more than 70 local volunteers collect packages of foods, materials and donations, and our Sikh gurdwara in Craigieburn supported the effort, providing storage and warehousing for these provisions. In particular, I want to thank Ravinder Kaur Gurjit Singh, Manpreet Singh Sapra, Apinder Singh, Yashpal Singh, Ravinder Singh, Yashpal Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Divjot Singh, Harman Singh and Rachpak Singh for driving the effort locally.