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Local MP Darren Chester has urged Australians not to forget Gippsland after the bushfire emergency has passed and the recovery process gathers further momentum.

Speaking in Federal Parliament this week, the Federal Member for Gippsland said he could not be prouder of his community and its response to the unprecedented events of the past three months.

“They’re a tough and resilient bunch, a determined bunch. My community has been through fires before. They’ve been through floods. They’ve been through droughts,” Mr Chester said. “From the fires, I’ve seen enormous community spirit come to the fore.

“I carry one simple message from the people of Gippsland: don’t forget Gippsland. They want us to remember them when the cameras leave.

“My community wants to see a better future. They don’t just want us to build what we already had. They want us to work hard to make sure our tourism industry is not so seasonal.

“They want us to put infrastructure in place to make our tourism season more resilient. They want to see us working together on things like bike paths and walking tracks.

“They want simple, practical things. They want to see us harvest some of the trees that have been knocked over and salvage them to put them to good use.

“And they want to see an opportunity for locals to participate in the recovery. It is all very well to have major national contracts, but the locals need to have the chance to get the economic benefits that come from this recovery period.

“The people in my community absolutely accept we need to do our bit to reduce the emissions and to make a contribution to limit the impact of climate change in regional Australia, but they want to see us do more in terms of hazard reduction.”

Mr Chester remembered those who lost their lives in fires across Australia and Gippsland, including Mick Roberts from Buchan; Fred Becker from Maramingo Creek; David Moresi from Johnsonville; and Bill Slade from Wonthaggi.

“These were all tragedies. Each and every one of them will be grieved by their families,” Mr Chester said.

Mr Chester took the opportunity to thank the many thousands of people involved with the fire fight and recovery, including the many fire fighters, emergency service workers, police, ambulance officers and SES volunteers, government staff members, farmers from across Victoria and interstate, and generous members of the public.

“This is a complex natural disaster to deal with, because we’ve still got a fire response, a fire relief effort and a fire recovery effort all happening at the same time in my region.

“We are thankful in particular to our firefighters. They kept us safe in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” Mr Chester said. “The gratitude that my community felt was repeated to me on many, many occasions.”

“There has been an extraordinary outpouring of support. It is a remarkable nation where you actually have to go on air and tell people to stop donating stuff.

“To see convoys of 20 and 30 semi-trailers rolling through towns gave people hope. It gave people hope in the knowledge that help was coming and that they would be supported.”

Mr Chester also thanked the Australian Defence Force and forestry industry workers for their hard work after the fires passed.

“To have our Australian Defence Force available to carry out the most extraordinary evacuation by sea and by air was something that I never thought I’d see. The morale boost they provided was something our community desperately needed at that time.

Mr Chester took the opportunity to detail some of the early lessons from the disaster, including the need for more on-the-ground staff to prepare and protect communities and for reliable mobile communications during emergencies, and the importance of maintaining safe transport corridors through Gippsland.

“There were businesses bleeding cash for weeks and weeks while the highways remained closed. It’s simply not acceptable in 2020 for major arterials like the Princes and Monaro highways to be closed for over a month,” Mr Chester said.

“We are grateful as a community. We are thankful for the support we have received. We just want to build a better Gippsland.”

View the full speech here:





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