Australian Natural Disasters


Australian Natural Disasters


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Mr Clare (Blaxland) (Minister for Defence Materiel) (12:53 PM) —I too wish to add my sincere condolences to those who have had loved ones ripped from their arms by the terrible events of the last few weeks, to those who are still suffering and still recovering from the floods, the fires and the cyclone that have devastated so many parts of Australia this terrible summer. It is very clear that the worst of times bring out the best in us. We have seen evidence of that by the truckload over the last few weeks.

We have seen it from the men and women of the Defence Force on the ground and in the air, from those who have been maintaining our Black Hawks, our Chinooks, our Sea Kings, our C130s and C17s and our Bushmasters. We have seen it in the incredible work of all of the emergency services personnel, local counsellors and frontline healthcare workers, and people—and they have been mentioned previously in this debate—who volunteered their time to set up emergency facilities and feed people. We have seen it in the work of the people of Brisbane, people who have opened their arms—who have picked up brooms, shovels and mops—to help out total strangers whose homes have been damaged by the floods.

We are a good people in an unforgiving land. When bad things happen we are capable of doing some amazing things. We saw evidence of that not just in the streets of Brisbane or the streets of Rockhampton or Tully or elsewhere; we also saw it many miles away in the streets of my electorate, in the streets of Bankstown. We felt it through our television sets. We sat glued, night after night, in disbelief when we saw floodwaters rising through Rockhampton and then through the CBD of Brisbane. We were shocked at the sight of cars being washed through the streets of Toowoomba by raging floodwaters. I remember thinking, as I was going to bed on 2 February, the night before Cyclone Yasi came through Far North Queensland: ‘What will happen when I wake up? Will the people of Far North Queensland still be alive when I wake up tomorrow morning?’

Our response so many miles away has been one of incredible and overwhelming generosity. On 14 January, I went to my local train station, Bankstown train station, with some local SES volunteers to raise some money for the victims of the floods. I was hoping that between 6.30 and 8.00 we would raise around $500. I was stunned when we raised more than $3,000 in just those 2½ hours. So we decided, ‘That’s not good enough. Let’s keep going.’ We went to Bankstown Centro, our local shopping centre, and we had people throwing $50 notes at us. We had one man give us $500 cash. There were lots of people emptying their purses, giving us every coin they had in their purse. There were lots of mums and lots of grandmothers who would give a two-dollar coin or a five-dollar note to their grandchildren and ask them to come up to us and put that money in our tin. Others apologised that they did not have any money to give.

I think people were so generous in large part because they were so affected by what they had seen on television. Another reason they came up to us was that standing next to me were men and women in orange uniforms, the men and women of the SES. That is why they reacted in such a powerful way. It reminded me of the respect that the community has for the people of the SES.

I would like to use this opportunity to mention some of those men and women who helped me over the course of those three days: Michelle Niven, Denise Lynch, David Johnston, the incredible Jordan Ross, who got one donation for $500, Eileen O’Hea, Kathleen O’Hea, Stuart Miller, Carol Bassam and David Drake. Carol and David are not in Bankstown anymore.  They are up in Far North Queensland helping out with the clean-up after Cyclone Yasi. They will be joined by four others from Bankstown SES.

This is just one example of the generosity of spirit of the people of my community. There have been many others. Many organisations have put together fundraisers at short notice. It is not unique to Bankstown—I am sure many members have had the same experience in their own communities—but I want to pay tribute to them, to their generosity and to the time they have taken. The Lebanese Muslim Association raised $15,000; Bankstown City Council gave a cheque for $20,000; Bankstown Sports Club came forward with a cheque for $25,000 and $20,000 worth of furniture; Bunnings at Bankstown raised $3,900 through a sausage sizzle; Bankstown Lions Club, about $5,000; the United Muslim Women Association, $10,000; Bankstown RSL, $8,000; Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, $12,000; and Vietnam Sydney Radio, $45,000. I spent two hours on the radio urging people to donate. We got $10,000 in two hours. One little girl, who was eight years old, rang up to donate $50. I asked her why she was donating, and she said: ‘Well, it’s what I saw on television. I need to help people like me,’ and I thought that was really touching.

The Vietnamese-Australian Charity Organisation held an event called the Golden Heart charity dinner. They have done this before. The Golden Heart charity dinner was first held after the bushfires two years ago, and they raised $50,000 that night. This time, the call went out, the invitations went out, and 1,000 people responded to that invitation within three or four days. It was all sold out. They had 200 or 300 people that they could not fit in—people said they just wanted to stand at the back of the room. They raised $145,000 in one night. Let me use this opportunity to thank the man who organised that, Dr Vinh Binh Lieu, who subsequently was named the Bankstown Citizen of the Year.

I also thank the Chinese association of Western Sydney. They held a similar event and raised more than $120,000 in one night, including one donation from a gentleman named Henry Ngai, the owner of a company called ABC Tissues. His donation was $50,000. I went to a Chinese lunar new year event hosted by the Indo-China Chinese Association New South Wales last Saturday. It was a week after Cyclone Yasi had torn through Far North Queensland. I told them that that cyclone hit Far North Queensland about midnight on 2 February. That is an important date, because it is also New Year’s Eve for our Chinese and Vietnamese friends. It meant that we were moving from the Year of the Tiger to the Year of the Rabbit. The Year of the Tiger is supposed to be a ferocious year; the Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be one that is calmer. Certainly the Year of the Tiger has been a very ferocious year. I told them that I would like to think that that cyclone was not as deadly as we feared that it might have been because, just as it struck, we moved from the Year of the Tiger to the Year of the Rabbit. I do not know if that is true or not, but I hope it is and I hope that we have a calmer year after the ferocity of the last few months. That day they raised another $20,000.

There are many other organisations who I have not mentioned or whose work I am not aware of at the moment, but what I do know is that the people of Bankstown and the people of Cabramatta already have raised close to half a million dollars for their fellow Australians, and we are not a wealthy community. I am proud of the way Australians have responded in the worst of times over the last few weeks, this terrible summer, and I am proud of our community for the way that we have responded.

Debate (on motion by Mr Clare) adjourned.