Federal MPs united over Vic bushfires

Federal MPs united over Vic bushfires

9 February 2009

published by news.smh.com.au

Australia — Federal politicians arriving at Parliament House have put aside their differences to express sympathy and support for those caught up in the Victorian bushfires.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said petty politics should be put aside as recovery efforts are ramped up.

“We here in this parliament will be reflecting on behalf of the nation, as the week goes, on the horror for the people who have had to endure this tragedy,” he told reporters.

“The sheer suffering and cruelty that this inferno has brought to hundreds if not thousands of fellow Australians.”

Senator Brown said he joined 21 million other Australians “in putting an arm around those people who have survived this fire”.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said there was only one issue to be discussed on Monday.

“That’s to offer our condolences and prayers to the victims of the bushfire,” he told reporters.

The Queensland senator said federal parliament should be doing everything it can to help those suffering.

“We’re all thinking of them and whatever we can do to help, we should put aside partisan politics and make sure we do that.

“That’s the number one priority this week.”

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said Australia’s leadership should be focused on the “national tragedy” in Victoria.

“On a day like today the hurly-burly of politics seems trivial, even petty,” the South Australian senator said.

“It’s clear the commonwealth government’s doing everything it can… and appropriately has support across the board.”

Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen described the fires as a dreadful tragedy.

“I know what fires can be like, but this is just extremely hard to comprehend because the amount of devastation and the amount of loss is absolutely terrible,” he said.

He urged residents of his home state, Western Australia, to take note of what happened in Victoria, saying they should take sensible precautions against predicted high temperatures later this week.

Queensland Liberal MP Stuart Robert said the deepest sympathies went out to all in Victoria who had suffered at the weekend.

“I would certainly encourage all Australians to do what they can,” he said.

“Whether it is to make a donation to the bushfire appeal, to give blood or simply to pray for those who are still fighting the fires and those who are surviving it.”

Victorian Labor MP Darren Cheeseman said the loss of life was devastating for Victoria.

His own electorate of Corangamite, near Geelong, was very dry and he was monitoring conditions.

“I am very concerned about the consequences of fire within my electorate but also across the rest of country Victoria,” he said.

Fellow Victorian Labor MP Kelvin Thomson said he recently visited friends at Kinglake, an area hit hard by the fires.

“It has been a terrible time for people in that region. They have gathered together,” he said.

There were remarkable stories of heroism and courage in the face of “this unspeakable nightmare”.

“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of people who have lost their lives and to people who are seriously injured.”

He praised volunteer firefighters for their efforts.

Senior Liberal Eric Abetz said federal parliament would have to get on with the business of the nation.

“But we’ll be doing it in the background of what’s occurred in Victoria,” Senator Abetz said.

“I don’t want to talk politics today.

“Most Australians’ minds are fixed on the events in Victoria and I think keeping political comments to a minimum would be the appropriate way to proceed.”

Family First leader Steve Fielding has friends living in Marysville who he had been unable to contact until Monday morning.

“They’re okay thank goodness, but their house and everybody else’s house is gone,” the Victorian senator said.

“This is horrific. I’ve got a brother that lives around the Kinglake area, thank goodness he’s okay.”

Senator Fielding said his heart went out to all those affected.

“That’s where our first concern should be today.

“Federal parliament should be doing all it possibly can to help these people in this time of need.”

Meanwhile, outspoken federal Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey has blamed both major political parties for Victoria’s bushfire tragedy, saying the weekend wildfires were preventable.

Mr Tuckey, a former federal forestry minister, said policies that locked up forests created excessive fuel loads.

Wildfires, like those in Victoria at the weekend, had generally occurred every 25 years, he said.

But forests now had nearly 10 times the number of trees to the hectare than they did previously.

He blamed the situation on both major parties “who go running around putting in more reserves to get green preferences”.

“Governments who choose to lock up these forests and… treat them with benign contempt, well others pay the penalty,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Tuckey expected to be branded insensitive for raising the issue.

“I am heartbroken at what’s happened because it was preventable,” he said.

The choice was either to have forests managed by industry or as reserves, Mr Tuckey said.

“But in both cases the reduction of fuel load is a daily requirement and it is not always necessary to do it with burning.”

Mr Tuckey said firefighters needed better access to fight fires.

“When you had a forests products industry… we used to have roads and we used to have bulldozers.”

That machinery was traditionally used to help put out a fire the day it started, he said.

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