House debates

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Statements on Indulgence

ABC Helicopter Crash

6:38 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Paul Lockyer, just 11 days before the horrific crash, visited the township of Grantham, where he was doing a follow-up story. Eleven days beforehand was the last interview that I did with him and I feel sure, though I would need to check the records, that that was the last interview Paul did—the follow-up story on the Grantham disaster. In the short amount of time that I had to know the man, I could tell he was a kind bloke. He showed empathy and compassion, not only with the Grantham incident but also by being the first person on the ground when the floods hit. With his surname being Lockyer, he boasted jovially that he belonged to that valley and that he owned it. He had an ability to make people feel comfortable around him. As a new member I can only suggest that, in the presence of journalists, one is always on edge and cautious about what one says, however Lockie had an ability to make you feel at home and comfortable.

Lockie was born on a farm near Corrigin, about 300 kilometres away from Perth. His award-winning career spanned more than 40 years. Lockie had done everything from working in foreign affairs and as a political correspondent to covering the Sydney Olympics. He first joined the ABC Perth office on a four-year cadetship in 1969 and he quickly rose up the chain, moving to Sydney and then to Canberra in 1976. Three years later, Lockie was made ABC's South-East Asia correspondent. He was one of the first to uncover the full extent of the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia. After a stint in Washington Lockie returned to Australia to join the Nine Network in 1988. He reported on droughts in eastern Australia in 1994 and A Current Affair was given credit for the inspiring Farmhand Appeal. He returned to the ABC for a decade where his coverage of the Sydney Olympics earned him a Logie award for the most outstanding TV news reporter. In 2005 Lockie was the presenter for the ABC news in Western Australia.

Recently in this House a member made a fitting comment about another journalist who had passed away. He said:

I have been in this place for almost 21½ years and in that time I have interacted with many journalists, past and present. I can honestly say that you could number on my left hand the number of journalists that I would be prepared to speak about in a condolence motion. Rob Chalmers is one of them. I found him to be a good person. I found him to be a decent person. I found him to be a very ethical person. And I liked him.

They were the words of Daryl Melham, the member for Banks. Well, I liked Paul Lockyer and my condolences go to his family. I did not know the other gentlemen, pilot Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean, and my sympathy and condolences go to their families and to the loved ones they leave behind. Having lost a father earlier in the year, I know losing a loved one is a tough gig. To the workforce they have left behind in the ABC family, my thoughts go to them and I know they will find strength and comfort in each other's company. Again, my total condolences go to those loved ones that Lockie left behind.

6:43 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Thursday night, my husband Chris and I were sitting at home when he got a phone call at about 10.30 from the executive producerof 7.30. It was to advise him of the sad loss of three of the ABC's most dedicated, professional and longest serving servants of the news. It is a significant loss for the ABC. I have witnessed much over the last week, and I will outline some of that tonight. I cannot believe how these three men touched nearly everyone in the ABC—if not everyone in the ABC—and made a very lasting impression on them which was all decent and good. These were three very good and decent men and it is a great loss, not just to the ABC but to journalism and Australia.

The deaths of journalist Paul Lockyer, cameraman John Bean and pilot Gary Ticehurst has hit the ABC and its staff very hard. The managing director of the ABC, Mark Scott, referred to 'a team of three of our finest. It's going to one of our saddest days ever.' Tributes for these three veterans of the news have come thick and fast.

Journalist Paul Lockyer had a career in journalism spanning four decades. As a result of the depth and breadth of that career at the local, national and international level he touched nearly everyone—if not everyone—at the ABC. He served in a variety of roles and in many locations around the world. In the footage that we have seen in the last few days you see him in all sorts of exotic and less exotic locations.

Paul has often been described as a journo's journo. His peers looked up to him, he was admired and he was respected. Well-known names of ABC news have also heaped praise on the professionalism of Paul. I was interested to read the tribute by Kerry O'Brien, who declared that he so admired Paul that he wanted to be him. He said:

I remember Paul in the early 80s in Bangkok and I remember thinking, 'Gee, I would like to be like to be like him' …

I am sure there are lots of ABC reporters who have thought and felt the same.

ABC news director Kate Torney said:

Paul Lockyer was a journalist's journalist. He had done it all—war correspondent, Olympics, floods—and he never burnt a source.

I think Paul will be remembered for his recent reporting of the tragic floods in Queensland, where he not only reported on the hard facts of the developing tragedy, particularly at Grantham, but also managed to capture the real human tragedy of that disaster.

One of the lasting impressions I will have is of the series Paul did on Lake Eyre which were majestic—that is the only word you can use to describe them. They were just extraordinary tributes to our beautiful country and our beautiful landscape from someone who was so in love with it and had such an attachment to it. Obviously the cameraman and the pilot had that great love too. It is just obvious from those beautiful works of art that they produced. In Paul's reporting you also get a great sense of the people behind the story. That is no small skill, and it will be significantly missed.

Paul is survived by his wife, Maria, and their two sons. I understand his memorial service is at Riverview this Friday. There are going to be a lot of tears shed that day too. The who's who of the ABC and of journalism will all be there, and I do not think there is going to be a dry eye in the place. I imagine it will be oozing out at the edges with the numbers of people who want to turn up for the event. I understand he is a Riverview boy, so there will be old boys there as well. It is going to be, I hope, a celebration of his life and a tribute to him, but it is also going to be a very sad day.

While Paul may have been the face of the story, we should not forget the incredible work of those men and women behind the camera. John Bean was every bit to cameraman what Paul Lockyer was to journalism. John had an incredible eye for photography and could capture in pictures what many journalists could not capture in words. As Mark Scott said, he was a cameraman that the reporters always clamoured to work with, a beautiful craftsman. You can see that with those fantastic works from Lake Eyre. He was wonderful behind the lens. In the tribute show that was on last Friday night on 7.30., Leigh Sales was saying that John—'Beanie' I think they called him or 'Beano'; I cannot recall his nickname—was always the man that journalists really wanted to work with, and you can see why.

John also served in many places around the country and around the world. He brought his great talent to a variety of sources. My heart goes out to his wife, Pip, and his family and friends. From all accounts, they had a very close relationship. Someone said it was not the model marriage but one of those marriages where there was absolute respect and warmth and genuine love and depth. I understand Pip is doing it very hard. My husband Chris's producer at 7.30, Michelle Ainsworth, and her husband, Ben, were very, very close to John; he was actually the best man at their wedding and Ben's best mate. So they are doing it really tough at the moment. They flew up to join Pip on the weekend to basically console her and support her during this incredibly difficult time. Speaking to Michelle on the weekend was pretty tough going; she was absolutely devastated.

Chris and I have been through this before in terms of having a dear friend killed—not in a helicopter accident but in a plane accident. My dear friend Liz O'Neill was killed in the Garuda flight when it ran off the runway in 2007. The irony of it was that just this weekend her husband, Wayne, and our goddaughter, Lucinda, were staying with us for the weekend, so all this was playing out while Wayne was there, and I was thinking, 'Gosh, I wonder what's going through his mind—whether it's bringing back all that drama and those horrible days when we first found out and we were waiting to find out about the body and waiting for the identification of the body.' It is pretty rugged. Chris and I at that stage, as soon as we found out that Liz had died in the flight, flew up to Jakarta to be with Wayne. So hearing what Michelle was doing with Ben for Pip Courtney was very reminiscent of those days. So it is tough, and my heart really goes out to Pip, Michelle and Ben at the moment. I think it also takes me back to that flight and the fact that there were journalists who died on that flight in the line of duty as well. Morgan Mellish from the Australian Financial Review died, and Cynthia Banham, whom many of you know from the SMH, was badly injured. Cynthia is a constituent of mine; actually, she lives just down the road from us. She has just moved into a beautiful new house there with her husband, Michael Harvey, who is also a journalist. It makes you reflect not just on the journalists who die in the line of duty but also on the public servants like my dear friend Liz and also Allison Sudrajat, the councillor for AusAID at the Jakarta embassy, and the AFP agents Brice Steele and Mark Scott. So what has been happening in the last few days has brought all that back to us, and I really felt for Wayne at that time. Also, I am sure that Cynthia would have been reliving some of what she went through as well.

Gary Ticehurst was a helicopter pilot who had clocked up more than 16,000 flight hours in his four decades of work as a pilot. He was a former serviceman and then moved into work with the ABC. Like Paul and John, he will be remembered for his strong commitment and his dedication to his career both as a pilot and as a newsman. In fact, journalist Tim Palmer, who is part of that ABC family and was in Jakarta when everything happened with Liz, Cynthia and Morgan, remarked:

Wherever we landed, Gary would always be "in" with the police or mates with the firefighters … or just charm one of the locals until he found out what was happening, one-upping the reporter as often as possible—

which I am sure would have generated great joy for him, because it is always good to one-up a journalist. I know, because I am married to one. So he sounds like quite a character. He was more than just a newsman; he also had a strong and committed heart. This is perhaps best remembered for his efforts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race, where he set aside his news role and participated in the search and rescue operation for those stricken boats—another tragedy. Gary will be sorely missed by his wife, Therese.

In closing, I think that what has really struck me about the last week is that there is a great feeling amongst the people of Canberra about this loss, but it is the ABC family that has really suffered a significant blow from this. I know that some people may think it was indulgent of the ABC to do the tributes, but obviously these men had such a significant effect on other people. They were so well loved by other people that those people almost do not care that it is construed as indulgent, because they really want to pay their respects and honour these wonderful individuals. I know that Ross Solly, the local ABC 666 presenter, did a tribute to him on Friday. He was at pains to say, 'I am sorry if this is indulgent but I really do want to pay tribute to these wonderful men.' So I do hope there are no repercussions for the ABC and that people do not write and complain about the fact that it is indulgent. As you know, 7.30 did a special on them and there have been lots and lots of reports. I noticed Barrie Cassidy also paid tribute to him on Insiders on the weekend. I understand that Barry and Heather Hewitt were very, very close to Paul and the rest of the crew. It really has reverberated throughout the ABC. It is a loss for all of the ABC and they are really feeling it. There has been this sort of pall over everyone over the last week—speaking to Chris and speaking to other friends in the ABC, it has deeply, deeply cut into their hearts. It is a significant tragedy.

To lose any one of these men would have been a very, very deep blow for the ABC, but to lose all three is a grief that is really unimaginable. My condolences and those of the people of Canberra, because we are great ABC fans, go out to their families and their friends and to their family at the ABC.

6:56 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to say thank you to the member for Canberra for sharing those insights from a personal perspective with us. I offer my condolences on behalf of the electorate of Hasluck to the families of the three ABC staff killed in a helicopter crash last week, 150 kilometres north-west of Marree in the Lake Eyre region. I watched that 7.30 report the member for Canberra referred to and what I got a really good sense of was the individualism of the three—the spirit and the essence of who they were and their work. You looked through the eyes of the cameraman at the scene he was shooting and what you saw was an incredible encapsulation of the absolute richness and beauty of the Australian landscape. I suppose in one sense the three epitomise what the ABC has always strived to do, and that is to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard. You do not achieve that unless you have quality staff—like these three were—to broadcast programs that contribute to a sense of a national identity and inform and entertain and reflect the cultural diversity of Australia community. I see that regularly through ABC programs.

The stories of Paul Lockyer, who came from my hometown of Corrigin, really went to the heart of a community or the heart of a group of people and reflected their feelings and the way in which they saw the world from their patch within Australia. The combination of the three was an incredible combination. They were, if I can use this term, like 'Three Amigos' because they were very rarely apart when they were working together and because of the interpersonal relationship that seemed to prevail. The very powerful still images of the three of them standing there with a helicopter in the background in a sense captured the relationship that the three had in the context of their work.

I had the incredible privilege of being the chair of the ABC advisory committee for two years and I got to know many of the ABC people. I got to know the professionalism but more importantly what I got to appreciate and have a real sense of was the family element that was so strong within the ABC.

The ABC is important and the people who do the work on the ground, who deliver the programs and services we take for granted, provide Australian society with a communication network that reaches into the remotest regions of this nation. The work that they pull together is of a high standard and high quality and they often do it with meagre resources. But the resources have never been a constraint to the quality of what they have produced and delivered for all Australians in their work. The passion that was certainly evident in—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 19:00 to 19:27

The loss of these three in particular would have been a significant blow within the ABC, given the closeness of the people who work together. The member for Canberra described the staff at the ABC as one large family, and this has certainly been exemplified many times in my interactions with the ABC. Journalist Paul Lockyer, pilot Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean were tragically taken away from their families, their friends, their colleagues and the nation. Their deaths are a tragic blow to journalism in this country.

Without risk there is no reward, and these men took their pursuit of balanced and informative news to the highest level. Over the past few days there has been a raft of wonderful and touching stories that have come out of the ABC and the wider news community from friends and colleagues of the three men which recount their experiences together. What touched me in Canberra were comments many people had put in the condolence book in the ABC offices within Parliament House.

Paul Lockyer had spent over 40 years as a journalist and covered some of the most important and historical moments in our time, both in Australia and abroad. I think the sentiments that were expressed by their families at the end of the report on 7.30 superbly encapsulated the degree of emotion, respect and deep love that family members had for the three. From overseas postings in Asia through to leading the coverage of the Queensland floods, Paul was a beacon of everything good and honest about Australian journalism.

The ABC have produced many great staff, superb journalists and brilliant cameramen who have put together over 40 years some of the incredible stories that we take for granted on a nightly basis. Their growth has been epitomised through their 24-hour dedicated news channel. They capture the essence of who we are. They produce quality stories that reflect the Australian way of life.

In closing, I would just like to add my condolences to the families of the three who we have lost.

7:29 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to three wonderful ABC employees who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in the remote part of the Lake Eyre basin, just over the border from the western areas of my electorate of Maranoa. I was absolutely shocked and gutted when I first heard the news. The news came through to me on text first from my son, because he is married to an ABC journalist who got the news very late at night. I knew from the text and then from the voicemail that he left on my phone just how gutted they were. For the rest of the day and I think it will go on for some time, I felt empty. I spoke to a number of ABC reporters in western Queensland. People just felt lost. Certainly, I was lost for words, but we felt lost because we had lost three wonderful members of the ABC family.

We lost Paul Lockyer with his 40 years of experience. I will never forget the work that he, together with Gary Ticehurst, the pilot, and John Bean, the cameraman, put together when nature showed its wonderful beauty in the outback two years ago. That DVD is now available commercially—I am told actually it is probably one of the biggest sellers of any memorabilia of Lake Eyre for travellers into the outback and in my part of the world into places like Birdsville and Bedourie. What skill the cameraman John Bean had; what skill the pilot Gary Ticehurst had—with Paul Lockyer's dedication to putting the story together and telling it just as it was.

One of the other things I would like to say about them is that they were prepared to go out into rural and remote parts of Australia. They went into the most remote parts of this nation to report back and bring vision to us—not only to those of us with great interest but all across Australia and I think some of their vision went around the world. I also mention the wife of John Bean, Pip Courtney. I know Pip quite well; she lives in Queensland but she does a lot of work on Landlineone of those wonderful programs. It is a must-see if you have a rural seat. She, I know, like all of us was just gutted to think that a wonderful man like John Bean could lose his life in such tragic circumstances. I know Pip will go on and continue her work as a member of the ABC family and I certainly say to Pip: I know you will keep the work up—the wonderful work that John would have wanted you to do, albeit I know this period is very, very tough for you.

Could I also say that the team also not only recorded the wonderful beauty of the outback when nature delivers but they also recorded nature's fury in this summer of natural disasters just passed. They were in my electorate of Maranoa; they were in Toowoomba; they followed the flood waters down the Murray-Darling Basin system. They were first into Grantham. Importantly, they told the story as it was and showed us the vision. They were professionals. There was no spin, no sense of sensationalism. It was just a straight play. I think that is why they had been so successful in their careers.

I extend my condolences to the families, the next of kin and to the whole of the ABC family. The three men will always be remembered. They died in a beautiful part of Australia. It is a part that I love to go and visit because I know how beautiful and serene it can be and how quiet. There is another beauty in the outback; there is another beauty in the Simpson Desert, that city folk often do not get an opportunity to witness. The work that they have done out there is now available on DVD. I commend it anyone out there who wants to see some of the wonderful work that they have done. It is available in ABC shops and in tourist outlets. The first is called Lake Eyre and I think the other one is The Deluge. I commend it to you if people are listening tonight, if we are on broadcast.

Tragically we no longer have them but they died doing what they loved doing and what they did so well. My condolences go to the whole of the ABC family and of course more importantly to the families, the next of kin and the closest friends of the three, Paul Lockyer, Gary Ticehurst and John Bean.

Main Committee adjourned at 19:3 6