Bourke St Fund - Speech to Parliament

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2017

Dr Leigh (Fenner) (11:24): Perhaps the most poignant thing to come out of the tragedy that took place in Bourke Street on 20 January this year was a letter by Henry Dow, which was read at the Federal Square remembrance for the victims. He told the story of Lou, a taxi driver. He said: 'Administering first aid with me under that skinny little tree is a man named Lou. He's everything great and courageous you've seen, heard or read rolled into one authentically humble bloke.' He talked about how, having seen the car fly by, he managed to help some passers-by, and he said that was the moment at which Lou came over. 'Lou grabbed my hand and firmly told me to "keep it together", that I was okay and that we needed to keep strong for this woman. In a level and loud voice Lou barked orders at other pedestrians standing by, having not fled but still too stunned to think or move. He directed assistance to several of the victims lying on the pavement around us, all whilst keeping me calm and speaking lovingly to this woman: "I'm Lou. You're going to be okay. We are looking after you."'

Lou, in his white shirt and neat, dark tie, was a taxi driver. He had been smoking a cigarette, waiting for his next ride, and this story that Henry Dow told was not one of tragedy but one of courage. As he said, 'There was only kindness in the voices of the police who came to relieve us. I felt only love when an older man hugged me, having just told a father he had lost a daughter. Many images and sounds will stay with me much longer than I might like, but I am glad to see, and I hope never to forget, just how brave and loving strangers can be.' As Henry summed things up, 'Hundreds responded with the love and sense of community that makes Melbourne such a beautiful city and Victoria such a great state.'

In this chamber during this parliamentary sittings fortnight we have acknowledged the victims: Matthew Si, a son, a husband to Melinda and a father; Jess Mudie, a daughter, and a twin sister to Emily; Bhavita Patel, a daughter and a sister; a 25-year-old visitor from Japan whose family have asked us for privacy in their grief; and, most painfully for those of us who are parents, Talia Hakin, aged 10, just a week away from starting grade 5, and Zachary Bryant, who was just three months old. We always look for our own stories in these situations and, as somebody whose eldest son started grade 5 and whose youngest son is named Zachary, these hit me particularly.

We are here today speaking on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Bourke Street Fund) Bill 2017 because this bill ensures tax deductible gift recipient status for a memorial fund that has been established for the victims. There are those who stepped forward on the day—such as Lou—who were there as heroes in the moment, but there are many other Australians who, in their generosity, have given more than $1 million to the Bourke Street Fund. That fund does not automatically receive tax deductible gift recipient status—it does not fall into the established categories—and so this bill allows it to do so. A permanent memorial garden will also be established.

We hope that this fund will help to assist the many victims—the many who were injured and the families of those who were killed. In this parliament we are united in supporting the families, the friends and the relatives of those who lost their lives. We are also united in supporting the Victorian government's fund and the Prime Minister's announcement that donations will receive deductible gift recipient status.


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