I read with trepidation that today, 2 young people have been arrested and charged over the Black Saturday fires in Bendigo.

In one sense, I am glad that someone has been caught. The stupidity and malice of lighting a fire on that day is obvious, and I still recall with fear making my home safe and helping neighbours as the fire burned in Long Gully.

The lives are lost, the houses are burned, the land is scorched. Those things have happened and cannot be undone. People are rebuilding their homes and communities are licking their wounds together, and beginning to recover. It has been a time of unprecedented cooperation, imbued with a generous spirit.

As well as being a Long Gully resident, I am also a youth worker. I know many of the local young people, and their families, and I am checking through them in my mind, wondering if it is one of them. The condemnation that will rain down upon them and their families will be harsh.

As these 2 young people come to the Bendigo courthouse today, I pray that a spirit of pity would be there. It would be easy for us to persecute, rather than simply prosecute, these 2 young people.

Hear me clearly; if they are found guilty, they deserve punishment. Justice must be done. But it needs to be the kind of punishment, and the kind of justice, that restores them as full members of our community, with a sense of responsibility and care towards it, so that they may never again harm our community. If we persecute and punish them beyond repair, they will hurt others in return. Somehow, we need to discipline with love, a difficult task but we have seen the courage and strength that Victorians have. Let us bring that same courage and strength to our enemies.