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January 26, 2012

The following is an edited extract of Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester’s Australia Day address:

We gather here today amidst the smoke of another major bushfire and it’s probably no surprise that my comments are framed in the context of the volunteer spirit of the Country Fire Authority and Red Cross.

This week, we have seen Gippsland at its finest – a community pulling together in a crisis – helped by strangers who have arrived from across Victoria to lend a hand.

And every natural disaster is the same – we rally together and although we sustain losses, sometimes great tragedy in the form of people killed – we always manage to work our way through the crisis and out the other side.

We share a common hope in such troubled times, that better days are coming – that it is worth fighting on – that we won’t give in.

My challenge to all Gippslanders on Australia Day is to retain that passion – retain that sense of community spirit – capture the energy and enthusiasm which we have mustered in troubled times and apply ourselves to making Gippsland an even greater place to live in the future.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – but I made one this year.

My New Year’s resolution is to encourage all Australians to count their blessings, to be more positive and optimistic in our outlook for the future.

We are blessed to live in this magnificent country which is the envy of the world.

We are blessed to be part of a community that has volunteers who have answered the call yet again and responded to the bushfire disaster.

We are blessed to live in a community with outstanding health and education facilities and people like our doctors, teachers and nurses to care for us and nurture us.

We have so much to be thankful for as Gippslanders and as Australians because we know that others are not so fortunate.

Today is a chance to celebrate the great things about Australia and about being Australian.

It’s a chance to reflect on the positives and also to strengthen our resolve to do something about the negative things in our lives and in our community.

As much as I’m a relentlessly optimistic person, I’m also a realist.

We face many challenges as a community and as a nation and I believe we all have the capacity to make a difference.

I don’t believe our Federal Parliament has set a great example when it comes to showing respect and accepting responsibility for the big issues in our nation… but I also don’t believe that the problems all reside in Canberra.

We have too many passengers in Australia at the moment and not enough people willing to take on responsibility.

We need more people who are prepared to take action because Gippsland needs more people who are prepared to get involved in community and civic life.

We need to capture the spirit of volunteerism and community action that we have seen all this week and apply it to every day of our lives.

Former US President John F Kennedy famously asked his nation to consider this prospect:

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country

As we count our blessings, as we reflect on what’s great about Australia, surely we have a shared obligation to do our bit to keep it that way or to even improve it wherever possible.

As we remember and celebrate the great diversity of our people – our natural environment – our relaxed lifestyle – the freedoms we enjoy and the men and women who have fought so hard to protect those freedoms in the past – surely this is the day we should ask ourselves – what can I do for my country – what can I do for Gippsland – what can I do for my community – what can I do for my family which will make this nation an even greater place in the future?

Volunteering not only provides services and facilities that governments would never be in a position to offer, it brings us closer together as a community

By volunteering to support a community or sporting organisation, you are making a statement that you care about the future of Gippsland, Victoria and Australia – and more importantly – you are prepared to do your share of the work.

Volunteering is the essence of the Australian spirit of lending a helping hand to a mate in need… it’s what Australia Day is all about.

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