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February 11, 2015

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (09:45): I appreciate the opportunity to reflect today on the anniversaries of major fire events that have occurred in my electorate of Gippsland during my time as a member of parliament. Last Saturday was the 6th anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and Monday was the 1st anniversary of the Hernes Oak-Hazelwood Mine fire of 2014. Both of these events had a devastating effect on the local communities in different ways, particularly around the Latrobe Valley region.

The Black Saturday bushfires impacted on large parts of Victoria, claiming the lives of 173 people. It was the worst bushfire event in our nation’s history. I would like to again express my condolences to the people who lost loved ones and property in those fires and to let them know we have not forgotten them. Of those 173 souls lost in the Black Saturday fires, 11 of the victims died in the Churchill fire complex in my electorate of Gippsland. A total of 35 people were injured and 145 homes were destroyed. Without any exaggeration, it was a devastating event for my community. The fire impacted heavily on people living in towns in the Latrobe Valley region but it also spread right across Gippsland to places like Yarram and Woodside.

Our community resilience was sorely tested on the days following the fire event, and Gippsland and La Trobe Valley certainly passed that test. At the time, we all pledged not to forgot the people who were affected by that bushfire event. I am proud and pleased to say that my community has not forgotten. On Saturday, the Latrobe City Council officially opened a new reflection space in Traralgon’s Victory Park. This space honours the 11 lives lost from that fire event. It complements other memorials established in towns such as Boolarra, Yinnar, Hazelwood and Jeeralang, Callignee, Traralgon South and Koornalla. I look forward to visiting the new memorial the next time I am in Traralgon, and I commend the Latrobe City Council for implementing this new space at the request of local residents.

As I mentioned, this week is also the first anniversary of the Hernes Oak and Hazelwood Mine Fire, which took hold on 9 February 2014. Thankfully, this blaze did not directly claim lives like the Black Saturday fires did, but it did cause extraordinary angst and health concerns to people living in Morwell and surrounding towns. The fire was the result of a series of small fires that caused embers to spot into the mine. The Hazelwood Mine fire inquiry found it was most likely a smaller fire near Hernes Oak that caused the mine fire and spotting from a nearby fire at Driffield may have also been a factor in that event. Both of these fires were deemed to be suspicious and are being investigated by police. I would urge people to remain vigilant throughout the summer months about any suspicious activity. We have escaped a major fire season at this stage in Gippsland, but there are still risks ahead.

As I said, I take this opportunity to express my thoughts to all the people of Gippsland who have been directly impacted by these bushfires in recent times. I would also like to congratulate and thank the volunteer and professional firefighters who do such an amazing job on behalf of our community.

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