Wednesday, 23 February 2011
New Zealand Earthquake
On indulgence—yesterday New Zealand lived through what was probably its darkest day in peacetime history, and today New Zealand is recovering from that darkest day. Australians are watching heart-rending scenes on their television screens as our New Zealand family copes with this enormous natural disaster.
The number of fatalities is now at 55. Prime Minister Key has indicated to his parliament that he expects the toll to rise above 75. Three hundred people are reported missing. Prime Minister Key has declared a state of national emergency.
In these circumstances I advise the House that one Australian permanent resident has lost his life. He is a New Zealand born man who has lived in Australia for a long period of time. His wife and his family are here. Our very deep and sincere condolences go to them and to his brother who is in New Zealand and grieving his loss.
This Australian resident was killed in the Pyne Gould building when it collapsed. He survived the initial collapse and was assisted by a passing stranger who was able to communicate with him and then made mobile telephone calls on his behalf, including to his family and his wife. But he did not survive long enough to be brought out of the rubble.
Our very sincere thanks go to that passing stranger. It was a very big act of kindness and emblematic of the sorts of things people are doing for each other in these extraordinary circumstances.
Australian officials in New Zealand are seeking to urgently confirm the safety and welfare of Australians in the Christchurch area. At 10.30 this morning, the DFAT consular crisis centre had taken 6,155 calls and registered 2,027 cases. All of this is to be expected, because we know that Australians visit New Zealand in large numbers and that large numbers of Australians live there for extended periods of time.
We have confirmed the safety of 682 Australians and we are seeking to confirm the safety of 1,266 Australians. We are aware of more than 440 Australians sheltering at an emergency centre near the Crown Plaza Hotel.
As I reported to the House yesterday, the Australian women’s cricket team is safe.
The devastated centre of Christchurch is being evacuated and cordoned off. People are still struggling with severe disruptions to water, electricity and phone services.
Domestic flights have resumed. The commercial airport is able to take domestic flights. We understand that both Qantas and Air New Zealand will be putting on additional capacity as part of their international service to bring people out of Christchurch. New Zealand civil defence is giving visitors to Christchurch the opportunity to relocate to Wellington and is assisting them to get there. We are boosting our consular support team to deal with the work necessary to assist large numbers of Australians and also to identify that the large numbers of Australians that we have registered in the area are safe. Six officials are now on the ground in Christchurch. Six further officers from our department here in Canberra are flying to New Zealand and will arrive there at 4 pm local time. Four Centrelink social workers will also travel to Christchurch to provide emotional and moral support to people who are traumatised. Australians who have lost their passports should go to the airport early and, subject to some basic questions about identity, they will be able to fly.
We are providing assistance directly to the people of New Zealand at this time. Seventy New South Wales urban search and rescue staff arrived in New Zealand this morning on two separate flights. Another 70 Queensland urban search and rescue staff are also travelling to Christchurch today. In addition to commercial services, RAAF planes that have transported urban search and rescue teams to Christchurch will have some limited capacity to transport Australians wishing to leave Christchurch and get back to Australia.
We have made available a specialist medical team of 25. It includes doctors, nurses, surgeons and support staff. We are deploying a 75-bed medical field hospital with six surgical, medical and support staff, and we have sent two Emergency Management Australia liaison officers so that they can ensure we get the information we need to upscale efforts at the request of the New Zealanders. The New Zealand Police have requested that Australia provide 300 police to assist with the aftermath of the earthquake. We are making plans for that deployment. That deployment will be a mix of Australian Federal Police—around 50 officers—Victoria Police and New South Wales Police. What we are being asked for in that regard is people to assist with community policing, not with search and rescue, and to backstop New Zealand Police, who are obviously under a great deal of pressure. We anticipate that the police who deploy will be there for around two weeks, but we will keep that under close review.
To assist in the immediate recovery and to help Christchurch get back on its feet, I announce that the Australian government will make a $5 million donation to the New Zealand Red Cross earthquake appeal. We think that this immediate donation of $5 million will be able to help with relief and assistance on the ground, because that is what the New Zealand Red Cross is doing. I have advised Prime Minister Key of the making of this donation.
We will continue to respond to the needs of New Zealand. I know that the thoughts of all Australians are with New Zealanders as we have watched the devastation on our TV screens. New Zealanders are like family to us. They are like family in good times and bad. This is a very, very bad time. We will be with them during this very bad time, and whatever assistance they need that we can provide we will certainly make available.
Obviously I support the Prime Minister’s remarks. I welcome the measures to support New Zealand which she has announced to the House, including the donation of $5 million to the New Zealand earthquake appeal. As the Prime Minister has said, New Zealanders are family; they are not foreigners, and that is why this disaster has especially touched the hearts of every Australian. Almost all of us have family and friends across the Tasman, so our thoughts and prayers have become even more focused and intense over the past 24 hours as news of the scale of the disaster unfolds. It is especially poignant now that we know that an Australian is amongst the dead.
The coalition stands shoulder to shoulder with the government on this one. Whatever New Zealand asks Australia will give. Whatever the government does the coalition will back.