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 I also rise with a great deal of pride this evening to reflect on the magnificent people of Gippsland and say thank you to them for their resilience during these very difficult times. These have been troubling times, Mr Speaker, as you well know, and it’s easy to become a bit despondent, a bit dejected, even frustrated, as we go through months of lockdown and other challenges. Disaster fatigue is a very real threat in our communities, and it’s so important that we continue to work together and support each other during these difficult days. In Gippsland, we have experienced a succession of disasters. There has been the drought, the Black Summer bushfires, coronavirus and its impact on our community, and then the storms and floods. You’d well remember those storm, Mr Speaker. I’ve never seen so many trees come down, causing so much damage across such a broad area of Victoria. Our challenge in this place, as leaders in our own communities, is to make sure we don’t ever fall into the trap of talking ourselves down as a nation and as a community. We can be extremely proud of ourselves as Australians and what we’ve been able to achieve in the last 20 months. We need to provide optimism and hope for our communities to make sure that they are capable of bouncing back as the opportunities present themselves.

We have so much to be thankful for in this country, and I have so much to be thankful for in my own community of Gippsland, seeing the ways the first responders have rallied. Whether it’s the police, the ambulances, the fire services, the SES, or the Australian Defence Force during the Black Summer bushfires, I want to thank them. I want to thank the medical workers—the doctors and nurses on the front line, the receptionists and all the allied health workers—who’ve managed to keep doing their work during the pandemic, making sure that critical services are being supplied to our community. Then there are people like the transport operators, the truck drivers, the frontline retail workers and the people working on farms, making sure that products still get to market. They’ve been incredibly resilient and have stuck together, and I thank my community for that.

Finally, tonight I want to reflect a little bit on the students as they approach their year 12 exams. This generation of students has been tested in incredible ways, when you think about it. The last two years of schooling in Victoria have seen an enormous number of days lost due to lockdown and students learning from home. Their resilience has been tested incredibly. I say to those student: think about the oldest person you’ve ever met. They’re probably about 100. Those people were born at the time of the last pandemic, the Spanish flu. They grew up during the Great Depression, when money was short. There was food rationing. It was a very difficult time in Australia. Then they served in World War II. Many of them lost their mates. Those who survived—some injured, some carrying the scars for life—returned to Australia and created this incredible nation that we enjoy today. In many ways they are regarded as the greatest generation of Australians. The young people today, studying and preparing for their exams, have been tested, but there is no reason for them to have anything other than hope, optimism and confidence that they too can be a great generation of Australians. So I say to them: never give up. Take some heart from the previous generations. Recognise the enormous opportunities that are there for you in the future. Think about what you can become rather than what you’ve lost in these last couple of years.

It is with enormous pride that I stand here tonight. I’m incredibly thankful to the people of Gippsland for the opportunity to represent them here during these really difficult times. As I said in my opening comments, we have every reason to be confident going forward, as the lockdowns start to ease. As we just heard from the member for Lalor, the vaccination rates are increasing right across Victoria. We’re going to start to enjoy some freedoms that we may almost have forgotten about in recent months.

So I say to people: as those freedoms come onstream, try to support your local business community. Try to support the hospitality sector, which has been through a tough time. Try to take a break, if you can, in your own state or your own local region and support those local jobs. By putting those local businesses first in these times, you’ll make sure there are jobs there for your family, for your kids, in the future and that we continue to make positive strides forward together as a region, as a state and as a great nation. I thank the House.

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