House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Thailand: Cave Rescue

11:08 am

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Medicare) Share this | Hansard source

Disaster brings out the best in humanity. Whether it is a natural disaster like the fires, floods, earthquakes and droughts that we are seeing around the world right now, a major catastrophe such as the Genoa bridge collapse in Italy, or even an act of terrorism where innocent people lose their lives or are badly hurt, disaster often sees the best in people who come together to help those in need at a critical time. It is even more noticeable, however, when lives are still hanging by a thread and it becomes a race against time. Most of us can still recall the Beaconsfield mine collapse in Tasmania in 2006. Seventeen miners were trapped. One of them, sadly, was killed and two of them stayed waiting underground for nearly two weeks in the hope that they would be rescued.

More recently, we have the case of the 12 young boys who were trapped in the caves in Thailand. They were aged between 11 and 16 and they were with their 25-year-old coach. There was not a lot of experience among them and they were caught up in some terrible circumstances—undoubtedly with fear and desperation in their hearts as they waited to see whether they could be rescued. These are human emotions that we can all relate to and which become more profound when it is about the lives of children. It is this universal commonality of human emotion that overrides race, culture, colour or religion. So it was with the misadventure of the 12 boys and their coach. For most of us, they were total strangers whom we don't know and will probably never meet. But that didn't diminish our deeply-felt hope that they would be saved.

Hope alone is not enough. Their survival depended on a rescue operation where others had both the expertise and courage to launch a very difficult and risky rescue operation. It is no exaggeration to say that the risks were real, with one experienced diver, a Royal Thai Navy SEAL veteran, losing his own life. And we shouldn't forget him either.

It was a rescue operation that drew on the expertise and experience of people from around the world, as the member for Forrest has just pointed out, including people from Australia. A team of some 20 Australians, led by Dr Richard Harris and veterinarian Craig Challen, were crucial to the mission's success. If anyone needs any proof of Australian cultural diversity and acceptance at its best, then look to the Thai caves rescue mission. The Australians who participated in the rescue of those 12 boys and their coach made every Australian so proud. Dr Richard Harris, Craig Challen, Troy Eather, Robert James, Kelly Boers, Benjamin Cox, Matthew Fitzgerald, Justin Bateman and Chris Markcrow were all awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, in recognition of their representation of this country and in recognition of what they did. Most of them were also given the Bravery Medal, with Richard Harris and Craig Challen also being given the Star of Courage medal. None of these people went to Thailand to seek glory. They went there because they knew that there was a desperate situation. But the public recognition offered to them by way of the medals that they were granted showed the gratitude of a nation, and rightly so. Indeed, I had several constituents contact me after the rescue asking for that to be done.

I was in Adelaide and was privileged to attend a reception at Government House, hosted by His Excellency the Hon. Hieu Van Le, in recognition of the leadership role of Dr Richard Harris. Dr Harris humbly accepted the praise and accolades afforded to him. But it became very evident that, for him, there had been a crisis situation in hand, he had some much-needed experience and expertise, and lives were at stake—that was all that mattered. There was a job to be done. And the Australians stood tall in the face of that adversity, when the global spotlight was on them, and their recognition did all of us proud. The recognition given to them is indeed well deserved. And I know that Dr Richard Harris came back to Adelaide and just went back into his normal life as a doctor, doing what he does best—saving lives.


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