House debates

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Ukraine Air Disaster

10:01 am

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Loss and grief bring people together, and that has been one of the consequences of the MH17 disaster. We have all seen images of this terrible event, on the far side of the world. We all feel we know the field in which MH17 crashed on 17 July.

So as members of the Australian community, most of us with no personal knowledge of those on board, we share the sense of grief that is felt so much more acutely by the friends and the families of those on board.

We all mourn the 38 Australian citizens and residents who died when MH17 was shot down and we honour their lives. But it is not just the Australians for whom we mourn; we mourn every life lost on MH17, the passengers and the crew.

The MH17 crash reminds us of our common humanity and of the unexpected dangers that can affect anyone at any time. It is a reminder that, even in this modern world, none of us is immune from danger.

It reminds us, too, that although Australia is a mercifully peaceful place, conflict in other parts of the globe can and does affect us. We have to be peace builders. That is why Labor fought so hard to claim a role on the Security Council and I congratulate the foreign minister for using the position we won to move the resolution that allowed access to the crash site.

As we mourn the loss of those who died, it is also important to remember what wonderful contributions they made to their communities and to our Australian community. They came from diverse backgrounds; they came from all corners of the country. But together they create a tapestry that shows the kind of nation we are.

They were retirees, children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, people young and old returning from adventure. Five were lost from one family and four from another family. There was a nun, doctors and business people.

There was a Glen Iris couple from Melbourne, who migrated to Australia four decades ago, and an English teacher and her husband, a novelist, from Toorak. There was a couple from the Victorian town of Mallacoota, who ran a hairdressing salon and an abalone fishing cooperative. There was a teacher from Maningrida in the Northern Territory and a preschool teacher from Sydney. There was an IT specialist, a real estate agent and his wife, both heavily involved in their local football club. There was a couple from Toowoomba, a pathologist and a GP; a former school principal from Albion Park, near Wollongong; and a public servant from Canberra. There was a couple working in finance in Melbourne, originally from Malaysia and the Netherlands.

Perhaps our greatest loss was of our children. It is so very easy, as a parent, to imagine the excitement of these children, excited about going on holidays and then excited to be coming home to share their experiences with their friends. It is heartbreaking.

We also mourn the victims from overseas who were travelling to Australia, particularly those researchers on their way to the 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne, the largest ever health conference held in Australia. Among them was a giant of HIV research, Joep Lange, who was once the president of the International AIDS Society.

David Cooper, the Director of the Kirby Institute at UNSW, said that his colleague of 30 years was:

… committed to the development of affordable HIV treatments, particularly combination therapies, for use in resource-poor countries.

In his 30 years of HIV research, Lange held pivotal trials of antiretroviral therapy and had a pioneering role—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10:05 to 10 : 22

Before the interruption, I was speaking of the pioneering HIV researcher Joep Lange. I told the chamber that, in his 30 years of researching, Mr Lange led pivotal trials of antiretroviral therapy and had a pioneering role in exploring affordable and simple antiretroviral drug regimes for the prevention of mother-to -child transmission of HIV in poor countries.

This work really is an extraordinary gift to humanity. We know that, in countries where HIV transmission rates—or infection rates—are very high, millions of children were being born already infected with HIV, and their prognosis, of course, was never good. Being able to prevent mother-to-child transmission has been an aim of the international HIV-researching community, and Mr Lange's work in making such a contribution to that shows the very best of human endeavour. Five other delegates to the AIDS conference also died in the crash, including Lange's partner.

These people only ever wanted to do good in the world and to help others. They wanted to help people who were complete strangers, people that they would never meet, mostly living a long way from their own homes. That absolutely altruistic desire to do good in the world is such a sharp contrast to the stupidity and violence of those who fired a rocket at a passenger jet, which of course represents the worst in human nature. There could not be a starker study in contrasts. We thank those, all of those, who helped in responding to the MH17 disaster: those who worked on the ground in Ukraine; Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; Australian, Dutch and Malaysian specialists; Australian Federal Police; Australian Defence Force personnel who were on backup; the Australian consular staff who helped the families and friends of the victims. We hold the victims, and their families and friends, in our hearts.

10:24 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

All of us in this House who were here on that Friday, the last Friday of sittings, will remember our own shock and horror at the news of the downing of MH17. But then, I think, the one thing that I saw in my colleagues' faces was an awareness that our shock and horror was only just the thought of it, the compounding of that shock and horror in the relatives of those who had lost family members—all of those lives that were lost in the downing of MH17.

This is a condolence motion, but there is no easy way for us to pass on our condolences to those who lost loved ones in the tragedy of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Whilst at times it is easy to say that we can understand, almost, the emotions and sorrows that result, really—unless you have been through it yourself, or a situation quite similar, and lost loved ones in a similar situation—the truth is we actually cannot understand it. We try our best to, but we cannot. Even though we may not personally know how the family members are feeling, we do know that, if we could ease their pain, we would. I hope that all of those who have lost in this way take some comfort from the number of people—not just in this place but around Australia and around the world—who would actually ease their pain if they could—if they could. And we all feel that way.

Even though no members in my electorate themselves were lost on that fateful day, the grandparents of the three young Maslin children live in Dunsborough, in my electorate. And in this situation we had a grandfather, Nick Norris, with his three young grandchildren on MH17 coming back to Australia; the family had been in Europe for a holiday. And, of course, Leonie and Bob Maslin are the grandparents of Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin and they live in Dunsborough, as I said, in the south-west; and they are some of the world's beautiful people. That is the only way I can describe them. Leonie and Bob are just some of the world's beautiful people. Of course, this was just such a dreadful and tragic day for them and their whole family. What I do know in talking with them is that, for them, it is a day that has no end. The day has no end; they never wake up the next day and find things are different. It is the same day after day after day for this family.

What an incredible amount of courage the whole family has shown. I cannot put into words the respect I have for all of them, and Leonie and Bob themselves: their courage in this and their willingness to actually try to help those around them who are also suffering and wanting to offer support; their courage in dealing with people who really often do not know what to say to them. Leonie and Bob are just the best people. And it is taking a lot of courage for them and their son and the rest of the family to get through this, and particularly for Mo and Evie and Otis's parents, Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris. Marite lost her father as well: Nick Norris was on that flight and he was bringing the children home. I saw—it was only perhaps the next day or so—Anthony go to the football match to talk to Mo's mates: the boys he played footy with. The children cannot understand this. So Anthony went along, as did Rin, to talk to these young people. And as enduring an image as Australian Rules football is, so was the fact that here was this brave family talking to these young people to make it easier for them. That is what the family has done: tried to make it easier for everyone around them to try to deal with this.

The one thing I want to read into the Hansard is the actual words of Anthony and Marite Norris—the parents of Mo, who was 12; Evie, who was 10; and Otis, who was eight—in the message that they released. This is what they said:

A message to the soldiers in the Ukraine, the politicians, the media, our friends and family.

Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell.

Our babies are not here with us—we need to live with this act of horror, every day and every moment for the rest of our lives.

No one deserves what we are going through.

Not even the people who shot our whole family out of the sky.

No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis.

No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for Grandad Nick.

No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other.

This is a revelation that gives us some comfort.

We would ask everyone to remember this when you are making any decisions that affect us and the other victims of this horror.

So far, every moment since we arrived home, we’ve been surrounded by family and friends. We desperately pray that this continues, because this expression of love is what is keeping us alive. We want to continue to know about your lives, all the good and all the bad. We no longer have lives that we want to live by ourselves. So we’d like to take the chance to thank everyone, all our incredible friends, family and communities, and to tell you all that we love you very much.

We would also like to thank the people at DFAT; the local co-ordinator Claire and most sincerely, Diana and Adrian from The Hague, without whom we would not be here. We ask the media to respect the privacy of our family and friends — pain is not a story.

Yours truly

Anthony Maslin & Marite Norris

I think that, for all of us in this place, our thoughts and our hearts go out to all of the Maslin family, including Bob and Leonie, the grandparents. And I saw how well we worked together when I went to visit them. The community, of course, rallies, as we do very well. They had food, they had people visiting them, and even last week the arms of the community were around Leonie and Bob, as they are around the family in Perth. And so I know that they have had incredible support, but I would also—perhaps on their behalf—like to thank the Prime Minister; the foreign minister, Julie Bishop; the officials; our Public Service staff; the consular officials; DFAT; and the AFP people. The one thing that the family has had most of from all of our great people who work with us and for us in this place is incredible compassion and caring, and all the support they could possibly want. So we thank all of our people who have helped not just this family but every other family around Australia.

10:33 am

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the people of my electorate, I would like to pass on our condolences to the families and the friends of the 298 people that were murdered in the skies above Ukraine in July this year, when Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot out of the sky. One of those families lives in my electorate and they are the Oreshkins. On that plane was their son Victor. He was 29 years old. He was a devout Christian; he went to Regents Park Christian School, and he was a volunteer at Lidcombe's Slavic Evangelical Pentecostal Church. His job there was to set up the microphones and put the heaters on in winter. A few months ago, he went on a trip to Europe and it was a pilgrimage for him. He crisscrossed the continent to learn more about his faith. He went everywhere from Italy to Germany to Lithuania. I did not know Victor Oreshkin, but I wish I did. It would have been a privilege to know him. I am privileged to know his mum and dad, Serge and Vera, and his brothers and sisters. They are the most wonderful, beautiful people that you could ever meet. Like 297 other families, they are also the victims of this monstrous crime. They live in a nightmare that they cannot wake up from.

I have had a few chats with Victor's mum and dad in the past few weeks, and my wife and I have been privileged to be invited into their home. When we were there we saw a loving family, a house filled with family and friends, and 10 very loud and affectionate grandchildren. Serge tells me that they melt his heart. Victor's suitcase, apparently, was half full of gifts for these beautiful little children. Gifts can be replaced, but Victor cannot. Like the 297 other people on MH17 he is irreplaceable. He was Serge and Vera's gift. He has left a void in their hearts that they can never fill. He was, Serge tells me, his best friend. He tells me that they destroyed Victor's body, but they cannot take his soul; it never touched the ground.

This is just one story that is being repeated right across the country and right around the world. I hope it gives members a little bit of an insight into the sort of people that we have lost and the people that are left behind. I also think that it is important to tell the parliament that, in the midst of all of their terrible grief, Serge also told me that he was thinking about Rin Norris and Anthony Maslin—they live on the other side of the country in Perth; on MH17 were their three children, Mo, Evie and Otis. In the midst of all his pain, Serge was also thinking about those three little children and their grief-stricken mum and dad. He told me that he wanted to reach out and wrap his arms around them. Those are the sort of people that the Oreshkins are; the sort of person that Victor was. Victor was coming home on MH17 to start a bible studies course the following week. He is still not home. That is all, now, that Serge and Vera and the whole family want. They just want Victor home. I know that that is what the Prime Minister, the government, the Australian Federal Police and the Netherlands government are all working to do. On behalf of Serge and Vera Oreshkin and their whole family, and the people of my electorate, I thank them for the work they are doing.

10:37 am

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join my colleagues in expressing condolences for those who have suffered as a result of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 having been shot down so tragically. I cannot do so representing constituents who have suffered loss of family. I have been very much impressed by those who have spoken before me who have been in touch with families who have been affected by such tragic loss. We collectively have lost 298 human beings; among them 38 people who call Australia home. I believe that what has occurred is an absolute travesty, and the reaction from those who are responsible absolutely appalling. They had been shot down far from their families and friends. As the Prime Minister has said, our job is now to bring them home.

I would like to commend the Prime Minister, the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and our foreign minister. I believe the feelings of all Australians were very well represented by them to the families, to the international community and to the world stage. I would like to thank the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has taken care of the bodies of Australians as though they were their own. Now we begin Operation Bring Them Home; to honour the dead by returning them to those who loved them. It is our objective to retrieve the bodies, to secure the site, to conduct an investigation and to obtain justice for those victims and their families. I agree with the Prime Minister that we should not rest until this is done. It is our duty to them.

Paragraph 8 of the UN resolution that was passed in the wake of this disaster states:

Insists on the dignified, respectful and professional treatment and recovery of the bodies of the victims, and calls upon all parties to ensure that this happens with immediate effect.

We should expect nothing less. We will bring them all home and we must bring them all home.

10:39 am

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

The loss of the MH17 is such a random act of terror. But for the grace of God, it could have been anyone on that aeroplane. Now the families and friends of 298 people, 38 of them Australian or residents of Australia, are so shocked by the tragedy that we, with them, have cause to mourn and to grieve—mourn and grieve over lost opportunity, of lives so arbitrarily cut short. Lives of individuals who all have a story of love, achievement, ambition—the potential of contributions that will remain now forever unfilled.

Each one of these individuals was unique. One such person was Emma Bell. Emma was a resident of Maningrida, an Aboriginal community in central Arnhem Land on the coast of the Arafura Sea—a wonderfully beautiful place. Emma was a teacher and during her school break, before she boarded the doomed flight, had visited Switzerland, Czech Republic and Amsterdam, where she had a very close friend. She was just 30 years old. She was a dedicated teacher—well loved for her innovative and passionate approach to Aboriginal education in the remote Aboriginal community of Maningrida, which as I said is in central Arnhem Land; it is in fact 400 kilometres east of Darwin on the mouth of the Liverpool River.

Emma was born in Casino, educated at Lithgow for her HSC and Brisbane, and attended Griffith University. She had a graduate diploma in education in 2010, a graduate certificate in fine arts in 2012 and a masters in applied linguistics. She was a member of the Australian Education Union and began teaching at Maningrida College in Arnhem Land in 2013, and she taught class Ellemore 5. When she got home she was to have begun a new challenge, a significant and important challenge: a new job as a homeland centre teacher but sadly it was never to be.

Homeland teachers travel from the hub school, in this case Maningrida, along bush tracks to smaller communities or outstations, homeland communities, teaching students from three to 18 years of age. Emma had been adopted into the local family and it is not surprising that she was learning one of the local languages. She had been given the honour of a skin name that carried with it great responsibility. Her loss has meant a great deal to the people of Maningrida; not only her comrades in the school but the students and the community—all are grieving. A smoking ceremony was conducted in her honour. Smoking ceremonies are where special leaves are selected and burned in a ritual that is believed to heal and give strength to those grieving for a deceased person, and to call to the spirits of the dead to make them aware that those who have gathered have come as family and friends.

Emma had doubtless made significant inroads into this remote community, this very important community, and had an amazing relationship within that community, particularly with her students. Three of them: Wendy, Clare and Sarah G picked flowers for her memorial service held at Maningrida on 6 August of this year. Sarah said on her Facebook site:

We are sad for Emma's family. We hope our flowers make them a bit happy.

Wendy and Clare said:

Emma Bell is always lovely girl and very kind. Her hair colour is orange and she is the teacher for Ellemore 5.

The principal of the school, Stuart Dwyer said:

She was an exceptional teacher. She listened more than she talked. It's fairly raw here. People have been supporting one another exceptionally well.

She had really amazing attendance ratios, always a good sign in Aboriginal education of a teacher's perceived value to the community. One community member, Bernie Rose Warduguga Nethercote, said:

So shocking we lost a wonderful person who loved life, so full of fun.

The regional coordinator of AFLNT, Bernie Price, said Emma had a close affiliation working with him. He said, 'She loved working with these young kids and she was really good at it.' Emma is survived by her father, Paul, and mother, Barbara. Paul Bell said:

I don't really care about the war between the Ukrainians and Russians, but I would love to have my daughter back home. I have lost my daughter. She was only 30 years old. She was one of the most beautiful people you could ever know, but she died doing what she loved—travelling.

As I said, before boarding she had been visiting the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Amsterdam. Her previous holiday had been to Japan to see the cherry blossoms. Barbara and Paul intend to visit Maningrida to connect with those who loved her so dearly. My sincere condolences, and those of my community and the people of Lingiari, go to Barbara and Paul, family and friends, colleagues at Maningrida College, and community members of Maningrida and the nearby homelands.

I should say this as a parent: currently, I have two children travelling in Europe—one is in Amsterdam as we speak and the other was in Scotland, but I think she is travelling to Amsterdam. When our young people, our kids, go away, how could we know? How could anyone know that, with happenstance, they board a flight home, get on the aircraft expecting to arrive at a destination in Australia, and then, as I said earlier, this opportunistic random act of terror brings the plane down. I cannot understand at all how any person could want to take the life of another. I appreciate that some will say it was 'in the fog of war', but the truth of it is that when our young people go away they go away for a purpose—in this case, to visit their friends. I cannot find the words to express what Emma's parents, Barbara and Paul, must be feeling. Those of us who are parents, I am sure, share that view. It is just impossible to understand, I think, the grieving that is taking place.

I want to acknowledge that so many—298 people—lives have been so arbitrarily cut short. I want to acknowledge the work of the Australian government and all the officials and thank them for their work. I acknowledge their continuing interest in making sure that when, and if, we are able to recover further remains, they are brought home. We must give these people finality—a place to be buried, a place to rest, a place to be. Rest in peace, Emma.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the member for Lingiari for his fine condolence speech, choked with emotion as he spoke those words. The member for Lingiari is normally a hard man, but that was the most compassionate speech I have ever heard him give. It just goes to show the emotion that all Australians have been gripped with following this recent tragedy. I know my colleague the member for Flynn is also going to speak in a few minutes, about how he has been personally touched in his electorate in Queensland by this tragedy. We heard the member for Blaxland speak earlier about somebody from his region, his district, who lost their life in that awful, unnecessary act of barbarism. We heard a beautiful speech given by the member for Forrest. Whenever these sort of tragedies arise, whether they are natural disasters, whether they are people suffering hardship, or disasters such as this, the member for Forrest always rises to the occasion with her beautiful words.

It crosses all sides of parliament, this awful tragedy, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. It was an horrific and inexplicable act: 283 passengers and 15 crew on a routine flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur killed when their aircraft was downed over Ukraine. The world watched in horror. We in parliament—when the Prime Minister spoke on that Friday morning just before we went on the mid-winter recess—were all agape at the dreadful news, and then of course what followed: the pictures of the crash site, the names, the faces of those onboard and the wreckage left behind being broadcast on social media, on television and on the front pages of our newspapers. And to think that 38 Australians—38 brave men, women, boys and girls—who should have been coming home, should have been continuing on their journeys, on their holidays, on their business, were then not coming home the way that their relatives would have wanted and expected. It is just unbelievable. As the names and faces were learned, as loved ones discovered the unimaginable loss, the hearts of all Australians went out—particularly to those 38, but indeed to all the 298 onboard. They are all family people—work colleagues and friends.

The Australian government led the international response at the United Nations Security Council in a resolution which condemned the aircraft's downing and the loss of lives. Certainly the words of our foreign minister rang true when she said:

We must have answers. We must have justice. We owe it to the victims and their families to determine what happened and who was responsible.

That is absolutely necessary, of course. The Australian nation has been moved by the heartache. Ours is a grief etched in what cannot be explained. There are no real answers, but at a national day of mourning on Thursday 7 August the nation gathered together in Melbourne to remember those whose lives were taken. As a nation we were moved by singer Katie Noonan's rendition of I Am Australian. It was an apt and fitting description of the Australian nation at that dreadful moment in time. As we saw those first images in the early hours of the morning, Australian time, on 18 July, we were all shocked and appalled. There are no words, as I said, or explanation for this dreadful event. We do, as a nation, commend those who have worked so hard in Operation Bring Them Home. We do commend the 500 personnel deployed, including the 250 dedicated military personnel and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, for their efforts. It is a dreadful thing to recover bodies, to identify bodies. Operation Bring Them Home is certainly going to provide some small semblance of closure, but it will never give the answers that the families seek.

It is gratifying that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko have had one-on-one talks, after which the Ukraine leader said that a road map for a possible ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine would be prepared as soon as possible. That is necessary. Operation Bring Them Home will bring our wonderful Australian people home. This is a dreadful tragedy. May they rest in peace, as well as all the other passengers and crew on that fateful flight.

10:54 am

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join colleagues on both sides of the House to express my deepest sympathies to the friends and families of those who lost their lives on MH17. It was very horrific, as previous speakers have said, that 298 people lost their lives on that fateful flight. But I want to speak about two particular passengers, Albert and Maree Rizk. Albert and Maree are from Sunbury in McEwen. They were loving parents to James and Vanessa. Albert was a director at Raine & Horne, a local real estate agent. Both he and Maree were heavily involved in the Sunbury Lions and Sunbury Kangaroos football clubs. They were active members of our community and had a very wide and very tight, close-knit circle of friends and family.

Hundreds of people attended the memorial service held for the couple recently, showing just how valued and loved Albert and Maree were in our community. Both of these wonderful people managed to create happiness and warmth wherever they went. Maree, affectionately known as Ree—or Ree-Ree to her family—was known especially for her infectious laugh. Through the devastation and the loss of two special people, the silver lining was to see the community rally together and support each other, especially in support of James and Vanessa, who lost their parents in this tragic, devastating and horrible event.

Sunbury has always been a tight-knit community, supporting each other through happy and sad times. This is no exception. It is a horrible situation when two normal Australian people head off for a holiday and never return. According to Gisborne Raine & Horne director Ken Grech, he got a call from James at 7 am saying the plane was the one that his father was on and that he was hoping that they had transferred flights. Obviously, the family was quite devastated when they found out that something was not quite right. Our local councillor, Ann Potter, said she was sitting in a coffee shop when she heard that two of the people that she knew very closely had been killed in this horrific event and she was in total shock. Jamie Byron, another local Sunbury resident and friend, said that he purchased his first home from Albert at Raine & Horne. He said that he was a great human being who was not only a great family man but also a dedicated and hardworking member of the community, and that he will be very sadly missed.

Both of these wonderful people managed to create happiness and warmth wherever they went. We must remember that we have to make the most of each other, each and every day we have. We always should be telling our friends and family how much they mean to us and finding a silver lining in every situation, because we never know when the next day will be our last. Albert and Mare lived their lives with joy and energy right to the very end. I know that all of our community in Sunbury will remember them. We will remember them. We know that James and Vanessa have got a good solid bunch of friends and family around them to support them through what I can only imagine is a horrific time. We know that through this horrible act of deliberate terrorism many families around the globe are shattered. I hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that every power that justice has, every law possibly available, make these people come and be accountable for destroying a family, hurting a community and really impacting on people everywhere right across the globe. With that I will wish James and Vanessa the very best. I know it is a tough time for them; but I know that through their family connections and friends that they will be strong and that they will get through this.

10:58 am

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today, I join with my parliamentary colleagues in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the victims of MH17, their families and their loved ones. Like all Australians, I awoke on 18 July 2014 to the news of an unimaginable tragedy: a commercial aircraft shot down over eastern Ukraine. The loss of an MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur claimed the lives of 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 crew. Of the 298 victims of MH17, 38 men, women and children called Australia home. We are still struggling to come to terms with this act of complete disregard for human life. As a mother and as a member of society, I struggle with such a tragedy. Every day millions of people across the world put their loved ones on a plane, wave goodbye, send their best wishes and say, 'Have a safe trip.' I imagine the families and friends of people travelling on MH17 saying those words at the aircraft gate, then finding out that the unimaginable had occurred.

We ask ourselves: 'How can a commercial aircraft be shot out of the sky? Why did we lose a couple, both teachers, who were on holiday celebrating their retirement? Why did the victims include young men and women who were travelling in Europe and making the most of their youth? How can a young family returning to Australia tragically never return home? Why did so many innocent children, including Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin, have their lives tragically cut short? The families and loved ones of those lost are still searching for the answers to these questions, and so are we all.

As a nation, Australia grieves for all victims of MH17, and we share a particular loss for our fellow Australians who were returning home to the lucky country. We mourn for the scientists, medical researchers and doctors who were headed to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference. The Central Coast Catholic community suffered the loss of Catholic nun Philomene Tiernan, former chancellor of the diocese of Broken Bay. I mourn for other types of losses. I mourn for the loss of the dreams of the people on board. I mourn for the loss of their hopes and aspirations to, one day, make the world a better place. I mourn for the loss of love and happiness that they brought to their families.

During a special national day of mourning on 7 August 2014 Australians came together to remember the victims and to celebrate their lives. On that day, as I paused in my office in Dobell, paused with the families and loved ones of those lost whilst watching the memorial on television, the enormity of this loss hit me. As a mother I simply cannot fathom the pain and the feeling of helplessness being experienced by the families and loved ones of those innocent victims.

As Australians we share our pain with Belgium, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. As a member of this parliament I am immensely proud of the role that Australia has played in leading the international response in the wake of this tragedy. I am proud to be an elected member during Operation Bring Them Home when Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought the recovery and repatriation of victims of MH17 without hesitation.

While Prime Minister Abbott led our international effort from home, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop immediately left Australia for New York where she successfully initiated the UN Security Council resolution. Minister Bishop worked nonstop by spending the next two weeks travelling between Holland and Ukraine, tirelessly coordinating the international effort. For their dedication and tireless devotion to this cause I thank them. I thank Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC, AFC, retired, who led a special envoy on behalf of the Prime Minister. I also thank the 100 Australian officials from various agencies who were deployed to Ukraine and to the Netherlands with a sole determination to honour the victims by returning them to those they loved.

While we may never fully understand the loss of MH17 we stand united in the cause of justice for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy, innocently caught in the horror of a foreign war. We must never forget the passengers and crew of MH17 who were taken too soon.

I express my deepest condolences to all the families, friends and communities whose lives have been touched and changed forever by this heartless tragedy. So, hug your children a little tighter, tell someone you love them, give your loved ones a bit of warmth and compassion, perhaps through a hand squeeze, because, as this tragedy has shown, life is short.

To those on board MH17 who were tragically taken on 18 July 2014, may you rest in peace. God bless.

11:04 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to lend my support to the comments made by all my parliamentary colleagues, and to extend my deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of all those who lost their lives on board flight MH17. News of this incomprehensible tragedy was unfolding on the morning of the last day this parliament sat before the winter break. Details were scant, but news updates confirmed that a passenger plane had been shot down, whilst flying at high altitude in Ukraine skies, leaving little hope for any survivors.

This was an unthinkable horror, and Australians everywhere were mourning the loss of MH17. There were 298 men, women, and children from 17 nations across the globe on board this flight whose lives were tragically cut short. Those 298 killed included: six delegates en route to Melbourne for the 2014 international aids conference; Professor Joep Lange, a pioneer of AIDS research and former International AIDS Society president, as well as his partner; fellow health professional Jacqueline van Tongeren; Glenn Thomas, a British communications officer for the World Health Organization; Martine de Schutter of AIDS Action Europe; Lucie van Mens of the Female Health Company; and Pim de Kuijer of the campaign group Stop Aids Now!

Those lost on flight MH17 included citizens from Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Germany, Belgium, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, which bore such a heavy burden with 193 of its citizens lost. Australia lost 38 of our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents and partners, friends, neighbours, teachers, mentors, and colleagues—people who were loved and who were part of our community.

For the friends and families left behind, this remains a time of great sorrow, of shock and disbelief, a time of continuous morning. While Australians know of your grief, there is no way that we can truly understand what you are going through. The very public interest in your private mourning is tough enough, but the lack of knowing, the lack of finality and the long ongoing wait for identification and repatriation of your loved ones would be too much for many Australians to bear. I pay tribute to the extraordinary courage, strength, and resilience of the families and friends left mourning. I also want to acknowledge and thank the representatives of the Department Of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Federal Police, who offered significant support to the families and loved ones in the days and weeks following the tragedy. I know that the affected family members in my electorate are especially thankful for the work you are doing and for your ongoing support at this difficult time.

Following the atrocity of the downing of MH17, stories emerged of the 298 on board, the contributions they made to our nation and, more broadly, to our planet. I wish to briefly recognise one Australian couple in particular who were on that ill fated flight: Michael and Carol Clancy. Michael, who grew up in Taree just north of my electorate of Newcastle, was one of five children to Joy and Brian Clancy. His direct connection to Newcastle is strong. Michael attended the Newcastle Teachers' College in the 1970s learning his trade, and a number of his siblings—Ruth, Anne and Richard—call Newcastle home today. Following graduation from the college, Michael settled in the Illawarra teaching for more than 35 years before his recent retirement alongside his wife and fellow teacher Carol. By all accounts, both Michael and Carol were extraordinary teachers who had a profound impact on hundreds of students who had the benefit of being in their classes.

I did not know Michael and Carol myself, but Michael's sister Ruth is a constituent of mine and a longstanding friend of my sister. She is a remarkable woman full of love and compassion, even in the face of such tragedy and grief. I wish to read a statement given recently by Michael's family to pay tribute to their lives:

Michael and Carol were both devoted teachers. Dozens of tributes have been posted by past students, parents, and colleagues commenting on their personal commitment to individual students, particularly those with behaviour issues and learning difficulties. He and Carol were both humble and caring people who gave much the community over many years, touching many lives. The community has lost two genuine and inspirational human beings who contributed to others without fuss. We have lost two beautiful members of our family, who will be remembered for their open-hearted approach to life. We are focused on supporting each other through this difficult time. We hope that the repatriation is able to be completed as soon as possible so that Mick and Carol can be laid to rest with the dignity and respect they deserve and so the family can move through the grieving process. Our hearts go out to all of the other families also affected by this tragedy. The family would like to thank all the people who have provided support and offered their condolences.

We have lost two beautiful members of our family who will be remembered for their open-hearted approach to life. We are focused on supporting each other through this difficult time. We hope that the repatriation is able to be completed as soon as possible so that Mick and Carol can be laid to rest with the dignity and respect they deserve and so the family can move through the grieving process. Our hearts go out to all of the other families also affected by this tragedy. The family would like to thank all the people who have provided support and offered their condolences.

Personally, on behalf of all Novacastrians, I sincerely offer my heartfelt condolences to the Clancy family and all families affected by this tragedy. Let us remember those we have lost not for how they died but for how they lived—for their love, their laughter, their passion and the legacy they leave behind. May they rest in peace.

11:10 am

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join with other members to express my condolences on behalf of the people of Corangamite. On that fateful day, 18 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine and 298 people were murdered. It was a civilian commercial flight. This was a complete tragedy and a complete waste of human potential. The lives of the families and friends of those on board changed forever that day. The downing of MH17 forever changed our nation. This despicable action strikes at the heart of the freedom of movement which we so readily embrace in the globalised world in which we live. Thousands of commercial flights take off across the world every day. Flying has become a normal and frequent part of life for so many Australians whether it be for travel, work or holidays. There is a real sense that it could have been any one of us on that plane.

Today I honour the 298 innocent people who lost their lives on that day, including 38 people who call Australia home. In particular, I pay tribute to the 17 Victorians who died—Ithamar Avnon, Francesca Davison, Liam Davison, Marco Grippeling, Gary Lee, Mona Lee, Emiel Mahler, Elaine Teoh, Gerry Menke, Mary Menke, Albert Rizk, Maree Rizk, Hans Van Den Hende, Piers Van Den Hende, Marnix Van Den Hende, Margaux Van Den Hende and Shaliza Dewa.

I commend our government for acting swiftly, with the Netherlands and Ukrainian governments and other international partners, to implement the highest level international response. In particular, I wish to commend Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for their global leadership in instigating a criminal investigation and implementing the recovery of the bodies of those who died. That Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, along with her diplomatic team in New York, was able to secure within a matter of days a resolution of the United Nations Security Council to condemn this terrible crime and provide vital access to the crash site to begin the grisly task of sifting through the wreckage is an enormous credit to her and to this government. As the Prime Minister said at the memorial service at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne on 7 August 2014, on that national day of mourning, 'We cannot bring them back but we will bring them home as far as we humanly can, and as a government, a parliament and a nation we are determined that justice be done.'

11:14 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

At approximately 12.15 pm on 17 July Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed from Amsterdam airport, due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur at approximately 6 am the following morning. I know the flight well. I have travelled on it many times myself. Tragically, the flight never landed, as we know. Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky in an act of terrorism and crashed near Torez in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast region, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. There were 38 Australian citizens and residents on that flight that morning. There were five victims from New South Wales and two from Kanahooka, a suburb in my electorate of Throsby. They were Michael Clancy, 57, and Carol Clancy, 64, both schoolteachers from the Illawarra. Both of them had dedicated their lives to helping young students get the very best start they could in their lives. Carol was a schoolteacher from Lakelands primary school and Michael, who I knew—although not well, but I did know him—had just retired as Assistant Principal at Albion Park school. Together the couple were taking their dream holiday and they were on their way home from a three week trip through Germany, France, Norway and Holland to celebrate Michael's retirement.

They will both be remembered fondly. After the news of the crash made its way through the Illawarra community, stories started to flow. In the passing week there has been an outpouring of love and support from the community, because both Michael and Carol are remembered as talented educators, loving parents and loyal friends and neighbours. A tribute from young Sharon, a parent of a student from Albion Park school, really has struck a chord with me. She says: 'He was such a wonderful man and deputy principal. My daughter still laughs about him using a hammer to put kids' stickers on the sticker chart and how the hammer was bigger every time she went into his office.' Hundreds and hundreds of stories like this came forth in the days and weeks after the tragedy.

Given the impact of Michael and Carol's contribution to the Illawarra community throughout their lives, there were a number of public and private ceremonies held in the district to honour them. The largest was held at the Albion Park public school, and I attended. This was the school that Michael worked at immediately prior to his retirement. Green and white balloons were released into the sky by hundreds of students, parents and teachers who had gathered on the lawns to pay tribute. It was a musical affair. It began with a few bars of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which was one of Michael's favourite songs—a song he liked to play for his students to help them settle at the beginning of the school day. A parent of a child in the school's special needs class—an area that both Carol and Michael advocated for in their work as teachers; it was one of his areas of specialty—sang the song To Sir With Love and there was barely a dry eye in the school ground. I joined with the principal, Glenn Daniels, who has done a fantastic job. I pause to pay tribute to the work that Glenn has done. I cannot begin to imagine how you explain to a young group of kids not only what has gone on in an international sense but how somebody they knew and loved very well has been ripped from their presence. It is difficult enough to try to explain this to adults, but to have to do this to young school kids is a very difficult task. So I pay tribute to the work of Glenn Daniels and all the staff at that school. The former principal and teachers all joined there on that day, together with the Anglican ministers from Albion Park, to pay memory and help the kids through that difficult process. The Monday after the crash was a cold, wet night. Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, who is with me in the chamber today, and I joined more than a hundred mourners who braved the terrible conditions to pay their respects to Carol and Michael in the Civic Plaza in Wollongong.

I was surprised but very pleased that Carol's children—Jane and Andrew Malcolm, and Andrew's wife, Yuliya—joined us on that day; I could have thought of nothing harder for them to do. Jane travelled down from Sydney to be with us. Andrew had prepared a statement, which was read on his behalf. They were joined by dozens of people from the teaching community, where they were well-known and respected, by civic leaders and plenty of other people who did not know them but wanted to show their respect and support for the family and friends who are grieving. Young school students, whose lives had been touched forever by the couple, were among those holding flickering candles. It was a very moving ceremony indeed.

I had the honour of speaking. I made the observation—because a number of religious leaders from all denominations had got up and paid tribute—that, when tragedies like this occur, we often look to the heavens in search of meaning, but with something like this, meaning does not rest up there; it rests among us down here on this earth. It is our obligation not to add to the volume of hate in this world, but certainly to seek justice and to ensure that tragedies like this are not visited upon innocent civilians ever again.

In closing, can I take the opportunity to thank Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and his team for their work, the Australian Defence Force personnel, the consular officials, the victim identification unit, the forensic experts and all the air safety investigators who are working alongside Dutch and Ukrainian forces in very dangerous and difficult circumstances to secure the crash site, to engage in identifying and recovering the remains of the victims and to help in bringing them back home.

I spoke to Carol's children, Jane and Andrew, yesterday afternoon and I asked them if there was anything that they would like me to say on their behalf; they said that they have said it all. They welcome the fact that the national parliament was going to be speaking on this motion. They did advise me that they are still waiting on the identification process as a necessary step before bringing their parents home and organising a funeral. I cannot imagine how difficult that is; on the one hand, relieved by the fact that there is so much community support and public interest in their private grief, but on the other hand, denied the essential closure of a funeral and enabling them to get their lives together and move on. My message to them is that, while your loss and grief is very private—and so it should be—you will be supported by members of this parliament and the community. To Michael and Carol, I can think of no better way to pay tribute to your life than through some of the words of one of your ex-students who had this to say:

I had the greatest pleasure in the world as a child as I got to be able to go to school every day and spend the most enjoyable time with Mr Clancy. I live by every thing he told me to work towards in life when I was a child and I wouldn't be half the person that I am today without his guidance. Rest in paradise.

This is nothing short of a tragedy, but I am certain, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there would not be a man or woman in this parliament who would not enjoy that sort of tribute being spoken in their favour after they have passed from this earth.

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Throsby for his condolence motion. The question is that this motion be agreed to. I call the Deputy Prime Minister.

11:24 am

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. I would like to join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and other members in extending my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the 298 passengers and crew who died on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

On 17 July, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine killing all on board including 38 people who called Australia home. This was an appalling act of violence that has taken the lives of innocent civilians flying in what was clearly a non-military aircraft, flying high on a recognised international air route. There can be no excuse for the perpetrators of this criminal act. The loss of these 298 innocent people has affected so many families and communities around the world. Millions fly every day and they have a right to expect that they will safely reach their destination.

So, rightly, we offer our condolences to all who have suffered and our support to all who are grieving. I acknowledge the extraordinary work of Foreign Affairs and other staff who have assisted families through their grief. The very moving national memorial service in Melbourne was a truly extraordinary occasion and gave the nation a chance to share its grief for those lost Australians.

There are so many devastating stories of loss and heartbreak from this tragedy. We heard a number during this condolence motion today. I officially opened the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, attended by some 10,000 experts from around the world, but the focus was shifted to the small number of empty chairs—the doctors and the researchers who were on their way to Melbourne and were on board MH17. There was the story of the three small children from Perth, travelling home with their grandfather for the start of the school term.

Sister Philomene Tiernan, a nun who taught at Kincoppal Rose Bay for 30 years, was returning home after attending a spiritual retreat in France. Sister Tiernan was originally from Murgon in my electorate. She, together with a group of family members and community leaders, led by Mayor Wayne Kretzmann from the South Burnett, had travelled to Dodewaard in the Netherlands to honour the memory of her uncle, Patrick Tiernan, on the 70th anniversary of his death during World War II, when his Halifax 715 was shot down over Holland. Particularly, this delegation went to Dodewaard to thank the local people for having tended his grave for 70 years as though he was one of their own. Sister Tiernan stayed on in Europe to attend a retreat after the rest of the group had returned to Australia and was making her way home on MH17 when the plane was shot down.

The Tiernan family are now trying to come to terms with the loss of Sister Philomene in such a shocking and tragic circumstance. The family had suffered tragedy a couple of decades ago when Sister Philomene's brother, Dermot, who was a councillor and community leader, was killed while trying to make peace in a violent disturbance outside the family's Australian Hotel in Murgon when he was still a relatively young man. I was pleased to meet one of Dermot and Jillian's sons at the memorial service in Melbourne for the MH17 victims. So there were many, many sad stories of lives that were cut off that should not have been cut off—all loved, all missed and mourned by their family and friends.

In particular today, I extend my thanks to the more than 500 Australian officials who have been working in the Ukraine and the Netherlands as part of Operation Bring Them Home to complete the grim task of returning the remains of the Australian victims of this tragedy to their families. I mention especially the military, the police, the accident investigators, the diplomatic staff, and those with the awful task of identifying the bodies and linking together the body parts to return them to their loved ones. Angus Houston and his team led the Australian response. I also want to acknowledge the Prime Minister, whose personal commitment put Australia at the front of the response to MH17 and helped to steel other nations into doing what needed to be done. Australia stood tall amidst our grief. This has been a complex undertaking, but we can be proud that these people, these Australians, have fulfilled their duties with distinction, professionalism and respect.

The Australian government will continue to work closely with the Dutch authorities to ensure that the process is undertaken as swiftly as possible. As the repatriation continues, Australian experts are also assisting Dutch and Malaysian authorities in the formal investigation of the crash and are working with the International Civil Aviation Organization task force on the risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones. The Prime Minister has announced that a permanent memorial to the victims of MH17 will be constructed in the grounds of Parliament House, here in Canberra. This will provide a lasting memorial to the lives that were tragically cut short and ensure that they will be remembered by all Australians into the future. Gone but never forgotten.

11:29 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the people of Kingsford Smith I offer our sincerest condolences and thoughts to the families and friends of the victims of the unspeakable crime and tragedy that was the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

I wish to pay particular tribute to the life of Sister Philomene Tiernan. Sister Philomene was a resident of Kingsford Smith and her light shone brightly, touching the lives of countless people in our community and beyond. Sister Philomene, as the Deputy Prime Minister has pointed out, was returning home from attending a spiritual retreat in Joigny, France, where she boarded the ill-fated flight MH17. Sister Philomene's passing was especially devastating for the students and staff of the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart, where she worked as a teacher and a spiritual leader.

A tragedy of unfathomable proportions, the downing of MH17 and the loss of 38 Australian citizens and residents is intensified by the exceptional character—and the stories that we have heard here in the parliament today—of those who, unfortunately, lost their lives. Sister Philomene is proof of that.

She was born on June 17, 1937 in Kingaroy, Queensland, the second of four children to Jim Tiernan and his wife, Mary. Mary Philomene Tiernan grew up in the small town of Murgon, in Queensland's South Burnett farming region before joining the Society of the Sacred Heart soon after leaving school. She would go on to work and study in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Boston, Chicago, Rome, Paris, Grenoble and Manila before coming to the convent and school at Rose Bay in Sydney in 1957. Over the next three decades, she completed several bachelor's and master's degrees as well as diplomas in theology and clinical pastoral education. Sister Phil, as she was affectionately known in the community, worked in different roles for the Society of the Sacred Heart on four continents, and spoke English, French and Italian.

I was fortunate to attend the memorial service, where the pain of those mourning the loss of Sister Philomene was acknowledged but also, importantly, the contributions that Sister Philomene made in many different walks of life in our community were celebrated. The parish priest of Rose Bay, Monsignor Tony Doherty, described Sister Phil as 'a woman of astonishing grace, great charm and above all, a gentleness. I think the first thing that you were struck with was her gentleness and her courtesy. Her character had a profound effect on people.' That character was visible and noticeable in the effects on the children, the students of Kincoppal-Rose Bay, when I attended those memorial services. This is a person who spent her entire life helping others through pastoral care and of course bringing out the best in young Australians through education.

Her legacy will live on in the young women who have learnt from her humility and her spirituality. Philomene Tiernan is survived by her sister, Madeline, two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law and 63 nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. One of those is George Wright, the National Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, who spoke to me fondly of the memories of his wonderful aunt. Her brothers, Ray and Dermot, predeceased her. May she and those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy rest in peace. Our condolences and thoughts are with their families and friends.

11:36 am

Photo of Ken O'DowdKen O'Dowd (Flynn, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Along with other members here today, I pause to offer my condolences to the families of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. It is a tragedy that goes to the heart of all Australians. In this address, I speak for all the people of Flynn. There were 298 victims of this atrocity, including 38 Australian victims—innocent people caught up in an undeclared war they had nothing to do with. Why, why, why? These are the questions we all asked but they remain unanswered.

My heart goes out to one particular family. We heard the family mentioned here today by other members. Members of that family were Albert and Maree Rizk of Victoria. Like all victims of this tragedy, they had many family members and friends across Australia. But the link with my electorate is that Irene and George Burrows, who have lived in Biloela in my electorate for many, many years, are part of their extended family. Sadly, the Burrows family were still coming to terms with the death of their son and daughter-in-law in the previous disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and we all know that that flight just disappeared out of the sky. They have had no closure from that tragic—well, we cannot call it an accident because we do not know what happened—but they had had no closure when this latest tragedy hit their family. We cannot understand or describe the grief attached to losing a son and a daughter-in-law on MH370 and then losing very close family in MH17. When they were hit with the news that their relatives had been killed in this tragedy, it was just total despair in their household and in their community of Biloela. This is one of the saddest stories that has come out of a very sad and shocking tragedy. We stand as Australians to help them as much as we can through their moment of need.

I would like to thank our Prime Minister, our Minister for Foreign Affairs, our Governor-General, Angus Houston and all of his men and women—about 500 in total—who went over to the Ukraine to help with the recovery of bodies and body parts.

The repatriation of bodies is so vital and so important for closure of this horrific incident, and our hearts ache with sadness for the people who are left behind. May the victims all rest in peace.

11:40 am

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

My community in Canberra's north was just one of hundreds of communities worldwide to suffer a terrible loss on Friday, 17 July this year. When Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 went down it took with it someone who was from around here, someone who will leave a great gap where she lived, someone who resembled the rest of us in many ways.

Liliane Derden was a citizen of the world and a servant of the public. Like so many locals, she could tell you what year she moved here. Like so many Canberrans, she could tell you where she worked when she met her closest friend. For many years, she lived not far from my family home—and, indeed, not so very far from where we meet today. Liliane Derden was a person entirely characteristic of this city and we all feel the effects of her loss. But she was also a person with a private 'life entire' whose death brings her closest friends and family inexpressible pain.

Today I acknowledge Liliane, and we acknowledge the people who miss her most: her partner, Craig; her daughters, Cassandra and Chelsea; and her family in Australia and in Belgium; the Canberrans she worked with at the NHMRC and at Calvary Hospital; and the communities of Ainslie and Hall, where her loss is so deeply felt. Chelsea wrote to me this week about her mum, 'She is very loved and missed by us all.' Canberra is a considerate community. We would never intrude but we will never forget, either, and we are here if you need us.

This event was tragic but it was not a tragedy; this was a crime. Let the guilty be brought to justice, let the innocent rest in peace, and let those who remain know they are not alone.

11:42 am

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today on behalf of my constituents to express the heartfelt shock, grief and sorrow that we all felt and continue to feel about the shooting down of flight MH17. It is a very sad reflection of the terrible barbarism that exists in parts of our world—where life is held cheap and politics or ideology trumps reason. Our TV screens seem to be flooded with appalling images of violence these days. The shooting from the sky of flight MH17 is seared in our consciousness and is a reminder of the many threats to our security and our way of life.

But the evil that resulted in this tragedy is not something I want to dwell on in this motion. In fact, I would like to spend this time celebrating a very special woman, a constituent of mine, Helena Sidelik, who lived a life of joy, generosity and strength. She embodied all that is good and right with the world—the complete opposite of those who committed the atrocious act of shooting down the plane in which she was travelling.

Last Saturday I joined with well over 200 friends and family members at the Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Life Saving Club to remember Helena, to celebrate her life and to mourn with them the loss of a remarkable lady. Helena was obviously very, very loved. Friends travelled from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and New Zealand to attend the memorial on Saturday. I am reliably informed by her good friends Paul Wyeth and Ian Morice that in true Helena style, her 'after party', as she liked to refer to a wake, continued until 2 am on Sunday. It was a fitting tribute to a woman who loved life and who had a tremendous generosity of spirit.

I was given the honour of reading a personal message from the Prime Minister at Helena's memorial. The Prime Minister outlined some of the challenges Helena had faced including the death of her long term partner and her decision to relocate to the Gold Coast three years ago. She had just completed a major renovation on her apartment in Burleigh a week before she left to go on her overseas holiday. As the Prime Minister described it, after having dealt with the loss of her partner, joy and happiness were again in her life.

What I learnt at her memorial, however, was the incredible joy and happiness that Helena brought to the lives of others. As her friend Sally Dunn described her, she was larger than life, a barrel of fun and she collected friends wherever she went. Despite having moved to the coast just three years ago, she was very big part of the Burleigh community and had made very dear friends. She was adored by her workmates at Vision Burleigh. She was loved and will be terribly missed by her brother Hans. Her generosity and kindness was such a big part of who Helena was. While she was away she actually let two different lots of friends in her very newly renovated apartment on the Esplanade so that they could enjoy the lovely home that, sadly, she only spent a week in.

I have heard stories of how when a friend's husband took ill she would go around and collect the couple's children and take them bowling just so the couple could spend some time together. She was affectionately known as 'Big H'. The 'Big' referred to her heart, her generosity and her love of life.

The loss of Helena, just like the loss of the other souls who perished on MH17 leaves a hole in the hearts of so many people. It is a difficult loss to overcome given the senseless nature of this act. It simply just should never have happened. As the Prime Minister pointed out in his message at Helena's memorial, we are a nation united in grief and in our determination to see that justice is done. I am proud to be member of this government that has taken a leadership role to ensure that the international investigation got under way swiftly. We are very determined to ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice. When I asked two of Helena's very dear and oldest friends what message they might like to convey to the federal parliament, they said they would very strongly support any moves to ban Vladimir Putin from entering our country for the G20. It is entirely understandable that those who loved and who will always love Helena Sidelik should hold this view.

As the Prime Minister said recently, it is one thing to do the wrong thing; it is another thing to persist in wrongdoing. Russia armed and assisted separatists in eastern Ukraine and supplied these separatists with sophisticated weaponry including the sophisticated weaponry that we are very confident was responsible for this particular atrocity. In two or three months, the government will be in a better position to make a final decision on this invitation. Right now, the ball is clearly in Mr Putin's court. Australia and the world will be looking to him to cease destabilising eastern Ukraine and fully and openly cooperate with the international criminal investigation now under way.

I extend the condolences of the people of my electorate to all of Helena's family and friends, to the family and friends of the other 37 people on flight MH17 who called Australia home, and to the loved ones of the other 260 people on board who lost their lives. May this loss make us ever vigilant to the evil that threatens our security and safety. It should be a reminder to everyone in a leadership position of the heavy responsibility we have to try to make our world a safer place.

11:49 am

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to add a few words to the condolence motion before the chamber today. My colleague the member for Throsby spoke earlier about the impacts of this terrible tragedy on our local community so I want to endorse his comments. More broadly, I join my colleagues from this parliament in supporting the statements of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the parliament yesterday offering the condolences of the nation to the MH17 victims and confirming our resolution to seeking justice, not only for the 38 Australians killed in what was a barbaric act but for all of those who died from nations around the world including so many from the Netherlands.

The horror that this act struck in the hearts of people around the world was so powerful, I believe, because it was a civilian aircraft carrying people undertaking simple acts of everyday life. They were holidaying, visiting family or working—indeed, as we know, many were attending the international conference on AIDS here in Australia. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners and parents, friends, teammates, classmates, colleagues, wonderful people who loved and were loved, people who laughed and learned and made a life under the Southern Cross. They could easily have been any one of us. They could have been our families, our friends and they were, as many colleagues have indicated, they were members of our local communities.

I join my colleague the member for Throsby in recording in our parliament the sentiments that we were able to share at the condolence events in our own area over the loss of two wonderful locals in this terrible event: retired teachers Carol and Michael Clancy. The local paper, the Illawarra Mercury, obviously reported on this terrible tragedy and how it had affected us so close to home and opened a condolence book on their site. I thought it was one of the great opportunities that social media provides—for people to find that space and be able to express their sense of loss and grief for the family, and for our community more broadly.

I think it was particularly moving for many of us because both Carol and Michael as teachers had given a lifetime's dedication to enriching the lives of others. I know many of my colleagues would hold their own teachers from their younger years in great esteem, and it is a very noble profession. That was absolutely reflected in the case of both Carol and Michael by the many, many former students who went on to the website to record their expressions of appreciation, of how they had touched their lives as students—and the member for Throsby read some of those comments into the record today. There was also a recollection of how Michael would play Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody at the beginning of lessons to settle students down and to get the day underway, and recollections of how he knew every student's name. He would wander around the school and greet not only them by name but their family as well if they were on the grounds.

There were some lovely comments from the family as well in the paper and some, I think, very moving reflections on how they were managing their own grief and how appreciative they were that the community more broadly had indicated its absolute determination to stand with them at a very difficult time.

In that vein, I would like to also commend the Lord Mayor, Gordon Bradbery, and the council, who very quickly organised the candlelight ceremony on 21 July. It brought together religious leaders of many denominations and representatives of all levels of government. As the member for Throsby indicated, the family members did not at that point feel able to speak themselves but had written down what they wanted said, and that was read by the mayor to the crowd on the night.

Also, my great personal commendation goes to the principal of the Albion Park Public School, Glenn Daniels, and to all the staff there. As the member for Throsby indicated, it is really difficult to work our way through understanding an event like this as adults, but it would be a really difficult task for primary school age children to understand that people they loved so well, Michael and Carol, had been lost. The school itself had an assembly and a follow-up ceremony for the community to come along to. That is really tough. I think we should record our great appreciation for the work of the principal and his staff in working through that.

Finally, like so many here, I would also like to add my words of appreciation to the Governor-General; to all of the specialist expertise; to the Australian people on the ground in a very, very difficult circumstance, whether they are part of forensic or air crash investigation or policing-type authorities—all of those people doing work for us in that circumstance. The fact they go into very difficult circumstances is a great strength of our professional people, whatever area they come from. Let us hope that their skills are not needed in the longer term, because we have seen that in Bali, as a previous example. I too would just like to place on record my appreciation for the work that they have done and to join both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in all of their sentiments that were expressed in the House yesterday.

11:55 am

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was indeed a moving contribution by the member for Cunningham. I rise to speak on this motion on behalf of the people of my electorate of Lyons. We all watched in disbelief when flight MH17 was shot from the skies over the Ukraine in July. Many of us could find no words to explain why.

As we well know, MH17 had 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, who all died in the crash. Tragically for Malaysian Airlines, this followed the disappearance of flight MH370 on 8 March, en route from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur. The lives of 38 Australian citizens and residents were lost in the downing of MH17 over Ukraine. I know the names of those people who died, but I knew no-one. I knew no-one on at flight. I have no connections to those people on that flight. But, as Australians and as citizens of the planet that we are on, it was truly terrifying to see what humans are capable of doing to other humans. In some respects it is quite depressing that it took a tragedy like this to bring our nation so clearly together. I pay tribute on behalf of my electorate for the needless loss of life and indeed the anger, and acknowledge the anger that was felt by many Australians. I want to personally thank my Prime Minister on behalf of many people in my electorate who also felt that anger but who saw, clearly, in the way that our Prime Minister responded, the anger that he was feeling on behalf of the people of Australia and no doubt personally.

I wonder what those who fired the missile that brought down this plane feel. I wonder if they sleep at night. I wonder if they can imagine and feel the anguish of the families who lost loved ones. I wonder whether the leaders in Russia ever lose sleep or whether they pause to contemplate the tragic consequences of their actions.

I was unable to attend the memorial service held in Melbourne on behalf of those who lost their lives. I trust and I pray that this provides some comfort to the families of those who did lose mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and grandchildren. They must know that we as Australians are grieving with them. We cannot imagine the pain, we cannot imagine the suffering, we cannot imagine your sense of loss, but rest assured that we are grieving with you. As to the question why, indeed Australia is used to natural disasters. We see them every year, be they floods or bushfires. Natural disasters can be explained. We do recover. Nature has a way of recovering. But I think it is the emptiness that is left after such a tragedy that asks us the question, why?

I think it is very appropriate, and I commend again the initiative, to have a memorial placed in Australia's Parliament House to remember those people whose lives were tragically cut short. We move on, but many of those families will never be able to recover. But we must—as individuals, as communities, as a nation—look to the future in a positive way. Again, on behalf of the people of my electorate and personally, I want to thank the Prime Minister. I want to thank the foreign minister. I want to thank the departmental staff. I want to thank the experts who have helped in the identification of bodies. I want to thank the public servants who clearly have gone above and beyond. I want to thank Air Chief Marshal Houston. I want to thank the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. I want in time to come to thank the counsellors who will support the families as they struggle to understand the tragedy. I want to thank the family members who will come together and remember those they lost. I want to thank the friends of those families who will support them when that is needed. And I trust that those responsible will one day be brought to justice swiftly. Thank you.

12:01 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

I did ponder whether I would speak today on this motion on MH17, trying to balance the community expectation that members of parliament acknowledge the appalling event and those who lost their lives with a personal reluctance to intrude on what is a very private grief of a family in my community over the loss of a son. Jack does not belong to us. We in this place know more about the manner of his death than the wonder of his life. We are shocked, outraged, afraid and reminded of our own vulnerability by the circumstances of his death, and we seem to have a need as a nation to mourn together when these events occur. But there are people—friends and family of Jack's—for whom the manner of Jack's death does not define their grief, whose very lives were interwoven with Jack's, who not only know the quality of his life but were part of it before he drew his first breath and as he grew into a boy and a man.

I will not speak much of Jack today, because I believe that should be left to those who lived his life with him. But he was loved—genuinely, passionately and unconditionally—and he knew it. And from the strength of that love and support he went forth to explore himself as a man and to explore the wilder parts of the world before returning home on MH17 to the bonds of his family. To Jon and Meryn: some day, if you feel you can share it, I would like to read the story of Jack, not because of the way he died but because the small excerpts you shared with us at the private memorial to his life reminded me of all those small moments we experience every day that make up a life and just how wondrous Jack's life was. Vale Jack O'Brien, 25 years.

12:04 pm

Photo of Natasha GriggsNatasha Griggs (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of all Territorians to offer our condolences to the family and friends of the victims of MH17. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was an act of unspeakable brutality and an atrocity that sheds new light on the West's relationships with Russia and the motives of its President, Vladimir Putin.

I hope and pray that the loved ones of the victims of this terrible tragedy get answers to the questions they have about this disaster, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice as quickly as humanly possible. But I know that time will never fully heal the grief and despair they have at the enormous loss they have endured and the senseless and shocking way it occurred. My thoughts are with all those people affected by the tragedy, and also with the recovery teams that have been to the crash site as part of Operation Bring Them Home.

Of the 298 passengers on board MH17, 38 called Australia home. Three were from the Northern Territory. One of those, Emma Hall, was a much loved school teacher in the coastal Top End community of Maningrida. She will forever be remembered for her commitment to education, and for the generosity of spirit and enormous kindness that led her so far from home to teach in a remote Indigenous community.

The other two, Theresa and Wayne Baker, were long-time Territory public servants who loved the Territory and had so many friends and family around the Top End. Wayne and Theresa's sons, Geoff and Steven, are well-known in the Territory, and our thoughts are with them. Wayne and Theresa's ties with the Territory are very deep. In fact, Wayne was the best man of a good friend of mine, local businessman Tony Skelling. This linkage only serves to illustrate the reach that this tragedy has had around the globe.

Last month I attended a multifaith commemorative service at Darwin's St Mary's Star of the Sea cathedral for the victims of the tragedy. It was an extremely moving service against a beautiful backdrop that gave Territorians, and those close to those killed, the chance to pay tribute to the people who lost their lives when the plane went down. It was a reminder, as Bishop Eugene Hurley said at the service, that peace and love must begin at home—that goodness must be nurtured with the family.

I would like to finish by quoting Bishop Hurley, who spoke passionately about the innate goodness of people and the consequences of straying from this path. He said: 'If we don't take seriously the command to love one another, then the consequence is we must accept that atrocity, hatred, war, death and sadness are in some way inevitable and expected and maybe even somewhat normal. When any of us refuses to forgive, or harbours prejudice, or accepts injustice of any sort then we add to the hatred and the madness that leads to the tragedy that we are witnessing. War and hatred are not inevitable. We are not hard-wired to hate each other … these are the things we choose to do.'

May the victims of MH17 rest in peace, and may their families and friends know that we are thinking of them and that we wish them well during this terrible, sad time.

12:08 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with a heavy heart—a heavy heart I share with my colleagues, who have made some incredibly compelling and deeply thoughtful speeches this morning—that I rise to pay my condolences to the 298 victims who lost their lives on flight MH17, including 38 Australians and one Canberran.

The shooting down of MH17, as has been acknowledged over the last month or more and by my colleagues today, was a horrific act. It was a violent act. It was an unimaginable crime. It was also a timely reminder that although we here in Australia live on a peaceful island nation, we are not isolated from the horrors of war that occur in this world. In an instant, war and conflict can reach out and touch every one of us.

This horrific crime shocked our nation, but it also united us. Before I talk about how it has united Australians, and particularly the Canberra community, I want to acknowledge the Canberra victim, Liliane Derden. She was a 50-year-old mother of two daughters, Cassandra and Chelsea. She was the youngest of four brothers and four sisters who grew up in Belgium and moved to Australia in 1989. When the flight was shot down over the Ukraine Liliane was on her way back to Canberra via Perth after visiting her siblings in Belgium and travelling with her daughter Chelsea. Liliane was a Public Servant. She worked for the National Health and Medical Research Council, which issued a statement calling her a valued colleague and friend. There were many heartfelt memorials to Liliane when the news came that she was on that MH17 flight. She was a dedicated Public Servant and a valued team member and she made a significant contribution to Australia's health and medical research.

I also want to acknowledge the six victims who were on their way to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference. We saw the response of those who were awaiting their arrival in Melbourne for that major international conference. It absolutely shocked the Melbourne community and particularly the AIDS and HIV community and all those who were attending. They were six world-leading activists, researchers and international communications experts. These were people who had made a significant contribution over many, many years. They had dedicated many years of their lives to improving the situation for HIV and AIDS sufferers, raising awareness about what these sufferers were going through and the whole notion of HIV and AIDS and, most importantly, trying to come up with a cure for this disease. Those six victims who were on that flight made a significant contribution with respect to this dreadful disease.

As I mentioned, Australia, the world and Canberra were united in their grief over this tragic crime. It was unexpected and the circumstances were surreal—almost unspeakable and incomprehensible. The world united in its grief, and what particularly moved me was the fact that the Canberra community reached out its hand particularly to the Dutch community here. I saw the Dutch ambassador at a number of occasions during the period when these memorial services were being held. She was deeply moved, as was her government and the Dutch community, by the level of support she was receiving not only from the Canberra community but from the Australian community as a whole. On the Sunday afternoon after this horrific event occurred, I went for a walk past the Dutch embassy. On the stark granite walls at the front of the embassy was a mountain of flowers, little teddy bears and tributes and cards from people who were overwhelmed in their grief and their sympathy for the Dutch victims and also the Australian victims. It was a lovely gesture. There were lots of little teddy bears and angels, lots of teddy bears with hearts and lots of toys that had been dear to Canberra families and Canberra children. They had reached out in their compassion by giving them something quite heartfelt and close to them and shared in their grief. It was deeply moving to see those tributes out the front of the Dutch embassy—and I am sure they were not just from Canberrans but also from people right throughout Australia and possibly the world who wanted to share their grief with the Dutch community, who bore the heaviest loss.

Canberrans also commemorated those who passed, those who suffered, those who lost their lives in this dreadful tragedy by sharing their concerns with the families through a range of memorial services. One of them, again deeply touching, was at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Lyneham. It was a beautiful service attended by the diplomatic community, as well as the Ukrainian community from across Canberra and the region. The church is very traditional, with icons all around the quite small space. What really struck everyone who attended that beautiful service was the haunting music. They had brought together a number of choirs from the Catholic community and the Orthodox community in Canberra. The choirs had not actually rehearsed together. They probably had five minutes beforehand to share what they were going to do. They sang the most deeply haunting and beautiful music in tribute to those who lost their lives on the flight and their loved ones. This deeply moving commemoration of the victims of this tragedy was beautifully subdued and haunting because in the centre of the church they had 298 candles marked out in the sign of the cross.

On the national day of mourning, I also attended a service in my electorate at the multi-faith church in Barton. That service was a subdued affair. It only went for a very short period of time. It allowed the Jewish community, the Anglican community, the Catholic community, the Hindu community—a range of communities from across Canberra—to come together to make tributes and to leave some sort of message showing their concern for the families, expressing their sadness at the loss of all the people from throughout the world—young lives, people whose bright futures were cut off unnaturally in a very short and very cruel manner, and small children. Eighty children died in this dreadful tragedy. It deeply touched the world.

Before I close, I would like to acknowledge the work and commitment of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff, the AFP and the defence personnel who travelled to the crash site, led by the wonderful former Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. I would also like to acknowledge the work and the wonderfully bipartisan approach adopted by the Prime Minister and the foreign minister, by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow foreign minister during this tragedy. This is what is required to unite the world. I commend all those politicians for showing such united leadership.

I also want to touch on the fact that, to a very, very small level, I understand some of the agony the families may have gone through while waiting for news. My dear friend Liz O'Neill died on the Garuda flight that ran off the runway a number of years ago in Yogyakarta. It was agony waiting to find out whether she was on that flight. I remember a day or two after, when we still had not heard whether she was on that flight, thinking possibly she had escaped the flight, that she had got away. Then there was the agony of waiting for DNA results and for the return of the body. With Liz, the DNA results were returned after a number of days and the body was returned after about a week. We had confirmation that she was on that flight probably within about 24 hours.

My heart just goes out to those families. Can you imagine what it is like waiting, wondering if your loved one is actually on that flight and then finding out that they were actually on it? Then there is the agony that they have endured for weeks waiting for the DNA results, waiting for the confirmation that it was actually their loved one and then waiting—still waiting in many cases—for the bodies to be returned home. The agony is just beyond imagining and my heart does go out to all of them for the suffering that they have endured. This is a tragic situation; it is an incomprehensible situation. It is made all the more tragic by the tension in the region—the families are going through all this grief and uncertainty and fear, and they also have got that tension in the region and all those geopolitical strategic dynamics as backdrop.

Before I close I want to touch on the speech that Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans made to the UN Security Council. I think it resonated with everyone who heard it. Just extracts were played in the media but it was an incredibly powerful speech. It was a raw speech but it was a real speech at a time when people were just trying to understand what was actually going on. I want to highlight two elements here because, having experienced, as I said, some uncertainty and having experienced the agony of waiting to find out what has happened to someone who has perished in a plane accident, I do, to some degree, understand the situation. To me this speech was so powerful in summarising the views and thoughts of the world. He said:

We are here to discuss a tragedy: the downing of a commercial airliner and the death of 298 innocent people. Men, women and a staggering number of children—

80 children—

lost their lives, on their way to their holiday destinations, their homes, loved ones, their jobs or international obligations … Since Thursday, I have been thinking: how horrible must have been the final moments of their lives, when they knew the plane was going down. Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts, did they look each other in the eyes, one final time, in a wordless goodbye? We will never know.

Then he went on to say—and I think this really resonated with the world in the fact that, as I said, these families were facing such tragedy, dealing with such deep raw emotion and grief against this dreadful tension in the region:

The last couple of days we have received very disturbing reports of bodies being moved about and looted for their possessions. Just for one minute … imagine that you first get the news that your husband was killed, and then within two or three days, you see images of some thug removing the wedding band from their hands.

To my dying day I will not understand that it took so much time for the rescue workers to be allowed to do their difficult jobs and that human remains should be used in a—


political game. I hope the world will not have to witness this again, any time in the future.

I think that everyone in this chamber and probably right throughout Australia—I know in Canberra—concurs with his views.

In closing, I offer my deepest sympathies to the families, the friends, colleagues and loved ones of the 298 victims whose lives were tragically cut short. I trust that the loved ones of the victims of flight MH 17 know that they are not alone in their grief. They have the full support and condolences of the Australian parliament, of the Australian people and of the Canberra community. May they rest in peace.

Photo of Brett WhiteleyBrett Whiteley (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for that excellent speech. The question is that the motion be agreed to. I call now not only the member for Gippsland but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence.

12:23 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I would associate myself with the comments by the member for Canberra and also the comments in the chamber yesterday by the Prime Minister and the opposition leader. As with all members, it is with a very heavy heart that I join this debate on this condolence motion. This parliament, as we know, is often bitterly divided but today we stand united as elected representatives from all corners of our wonderful nation, thoughtfully reflecting the grief and the compassion of the many different communities that we represent. It is days like these when the Australian people have their faith restored in our wonderful democracy. On issues that really matter, this parliament is as strong and as resilient as the people we seek to represent.

I must admit that when I woke to the news of the MH17 disaster my first thoughts were quite selfish. I guess it is just human nature but, on learning about this tragedy, I thought to myself: I hope there is no-one that I knew on the flight. I hoped there were no Gippslanders. I hoped there were no Australians on the flight. And, as I said, I acknowledge now that that is probably quite selfish, but I guess that is human nature. Unfortunately, within a few hours, it was very apparent that on all counts I was going to be bitterly and sadly disappointed. There were 38 Australians on board MH17. Two of those people who perished on the flight were from Gippsland and one passenger was a lady I had met personally during my campaigning for the seat of Gippsland in the beautiful coastal village of Mallacoota.

In speaking on this condolence motion today, I wish to share a few stories from the lives of those two Gippslanders: Gerry and Mary Menke. But, first, let me give you a little bit of context and my comments a bit of context to the community we are talking about. As the nation and the world recoiled in horror from the stories and images of MH17, the last place in the world that you would expect to be directly impacted would be Mallacoota. It is a refuge from all of the bad stuff that happens somewhere else. We see images of war and destruction, but it is not something you would imagine that our little community of Mallacoota, on the east coast of Australia, would be directly impacted by. People live in Mallacoota for a whole host of reasons. Surely, one reason must be the beautiful sanctuary that it offers. It is an unspoilt wilderness, with a very close-knit community. People do not just know each other in Mallacoota; they know their pets' names, they know each other's kids, they know which university their kids are at, what job they are doing, what course they are doing, they ask about each other and are a very close-knit community. Sure, there are disagreements, there are arguments and disruptions to community life, but people care about each other. We have about 1,000 or so full-time residents. They are passionate about their community and proud of their community. It is a little slice of paradise. It is restful, it is calming, it is relaxed, in an otherwise increasingly busy world.

Mallacoota is famous for its world-class abalone industry. It has a tourism industry dating back many decades, a small business and services sector and it has a vibrant visual and performing arts community as well. And, for at least nine months of the year, it is a very quiet place to go and recharge your batteries. In the tourism season, however, the town's population multiplies to about 8,000 people, as visitors—primarily from Melbourne and also Canberra—come to Mallacoota to try to soak up a little bit of that Mallacoota special atmosphere. So it is indeed a very special place. It has a unique mix of lakes, wilderness and ocean frontage that welcomes both locals and visitors.

And so it was that, on 2 August, the town gathered on Captain Stevenson's Point for a memorial service for Gerry and Mary Menke, two of Mallacoota's best-known and much-loved citizens. As always, it is hard to paint a picture in just words alone, but imagine a grassy, elevated parkland, overlooking a pristine inlet, the sun rising and the water shimmering in the sun and the gentle pounding of the shore break in the background. That was the setting for the memorial service for Gerry and Mary Menke.

Thankfully, the weather was kind to us on that day. It was a bright sunny day. It was still chilly, as you would expect in late winter in Victoria. It was chilly, but the air was fresh with the morning dew and typical of what we like to think of as an East Gippsland masterpiece at that time of year. It was the type of day that made me think it would have convinced Gerry and Mary Menke—all those years ago—that they had made the right decision to settle and raise their family in Mallacoota.

More than 500 people gathered on Captain Stevenson's Point that morning to commemorate the lives of two of the community's most-respected citizens. It was held in a spectacular open-air cathedral, a very fitting environment in which to listen as family members and friends told stories of a couple who lived their life to the full and led by example, as business people, as community members and as loving parents. I must acknowledge that it is moments like these that I, as a local MP, find the most difficult of all. We have bushfires, we have droughts, we have floods, which often impact our lives and test our resilience in Gippsland. And as politicians, as local leaders in our community, we are expected to provide comfort, support and leadership in such difficult times. But normally in those natural disasters you can make some sense of the event, even when lives have been tragically taken or people have been seriously injured. Normally, in a natural disaster you can make some sense of the event. But there is no making sense of the MH17 tragedy. How do you make sense of the loss of 298 innocent lives from Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and of course the Netherlands, which bore the heaviest burden of all?

Indeed it was with a very heavy heart that I accepted the invitation to attend the memorial service and offer words of condolence on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Australian nation. I read the following message to the gathering which I will repeat here today for the sake of the public record. This is a letter from the Prime Minister:

To the family of Gerry and Mary Menke

During the weeks ahead, all around our country, at services like this, Australians will gather to mourn the dead of Flight MH17.

All of us grieve for everyone on Flight MH17.

We mourn for everyone, especially the 38 men, women and children who called Australia home.

Today, we mourn for Gerry and Mary Menke.

Gerry and Mary provided our country with the greatest possible complement: they chose Australia.

Gerry migrated from the Netherlands and Mary travelled 'across the ditch' from New Zealand,

Over forty years ago, they met in Mallacoota and they stayed in Mallacoota. They raised a family, ran small businesses and gave back to their community.

Their last days were amongst their happiest: celebrating Gerry's 70th Birthday in France.

Gerry and Mary were good, honest people. The contrast between their lives and that of their killers could not be clearer. This, at least, shines through in these sad times.

My prayers are with Gerry and Mary's family and the community of Mallacoota.

May all who gather to mourn Gerry and Mary draw comfort from a nation united in grief and in our determination to ensure that justice is done.

It was probably the only small comfort that people could draw from these events that they were not alone—that the nation and the hopes, the prayers and the love of the civilised world are with the families and the friends who have suffered such tremendous losses. It may be hard for those who were not there on that occasion to understand this, but the memorial service was also quite a joyous occasion. One after another we had family members and friends who spoke about the special bond the Gerry and Mary shared, and their life stories, adventures and triumphs, and the difficulties they overcame. They shared a remarkable life. It was quite an uplifting experience, as there were plenty of tears but also much laughter and music as people fondly remembered a remarkable couple. We heard about the Menke family's struggles after World War II, about their move to Australia, about Gerry's courtship of the young New Zealander whom he first met at the Mallacoota Pub, about the early days in the abalone industry, and about their wonderful birthday celebrations in France. The family has drawn comfort from the fact that Gerry and Mary's last days together were happy ones indeed. I have had the opportunity to talk to the family after the memorial service, and also during the national day of mourning. They are very thankful for the words of support they have received, and the comfort they can take from knowing that the nation is united and that the civilised world is united in pursuing the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

I also asked the family if they would like to place on the public record a tribute to Gerry and Mary, and I am honoured today to read from an address that was given by the children Sara, Brett, Anna, and Paul at the memorial service:

Mer and Ger, Mum and Dad, Oma and Opa

Our hearts are heavy. Our bodies are weak with grief, and our heads still trying to comprehend that we will never see, talk, hold or kiss the two people who raised and nurtured us to be the people we are today.

What can we say that hasn't already been said? What can we feel that we aren't all feeling together? What can we do to fill the gaping hole in our hearts?

You both know how much we loved you; You both know how much we all admired you. You were always there for us with love, support, guidance and generosity.

We can all remember the last cherished moments that we had with them. A kiss and embrace from Mum&Dad, 'See you back at home and have a good trip', they said. All we can remember are the good times, the happy times. Maybe this is why it is so hard.

Mum&Dad were the most loving and inspirational people we know. They loved their family to no ends and were very much the caring and nurturing grandparents. Valuable life lessons and family values that Mum&Dad instilled in us are now blossoming in their grand-kids.

We were taught that family is important, that family love carries you through the good times and hard times, and as a family unit we can and could get through anything. They would make times for us and held no grudges.

Family holidays in the caravan, camping trips to the Thurra River, trips to the many beautiful destinations and even the simple things such as blackberry picking for jam, chopping wood for winter and growing veggies in the garden.

Mum was so vibrant, always riding her bike, playing tennis or playing the piano with Dad in tow or Dad sitting in his favourite chair listening to Mum play. You could always hear and smell Mum before her vivacious personality filled the room. Family dinners were exceptional with Dad on the pasta machine and Mum cooking up a storm. Her spontaneous nature was infectious and her desire to watch us achieve our goals was heart-warming. "Live life (and shop!) in the now!

Dad was full of knowledge. If you didn't know the answer, he would! He would never have idle hands, always in the shed tinkering around, in the garden, or down at the boat yard organising things. And more often than not had a bump on his head!! He is a great mentor and was known to laugh harder at his own jokes than anyone else!

We especially remember the early guidance with the help of the wooden spoon -yes Mum you did go thru a few!!! And if that didn't work and we got away, Dad always said "they have to come in to eat sometime!'

When people talk about marriage, it is a unison like yours that people have in mind. Your devotion to each other is unwavering. Your commitment to each other is an inspiration. You were never swayed by anything that was put in your path. It is this total love for each other that brings us some comfort that you are together now and always. Selfless, not selfish. Help and seek nothing in return.

All the people here today is a testament to the far reaching love of Mary&Gerry Menke, our Mum&Dad, a love that is TRUE, PURE & UNDYING.

Grab your family, grab your friends. Tell them you love and care for them and that you will be there thru thick or thin.

You both wanted the best for us and we hope that we will continue to make you as proud of us as we are of you as our parents.

Mum&Dad, we know you are together, laughing and dancing to an endless song looking after us all. We miss you and we love you.

It is an extraordinary family, a remarkable family, and I did feel privileged to play a very small part in that memorial service at Mallacoota on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Australian people and, of course, my electorate of Gippsland.

Finally, I would like to make some general comments on the nature of the motion before the House and the views expressed by both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader, and I do join with the Prime Minister in supporting the motion that is before the House. I would like to take the opportunity to commend the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence for the manner in which they have conducted themselves and led our nation in the most trying of circumstances. Let no-one listening at home today misunderstand that the members of parliament, our leadership team, feel their grief and experience it like anyone else. To see the strength of character of our leadership team in these most trying of circumstances has been something which we should all be proud of.

I also, at this time, extend my personal thanks and join with other members who have extended their thanks to the men and women of our Public Service—particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but also the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police, who have to this day continued to place themselves in harm's way and to provide a service to our nation which can only be described as first class. I cannot imagine the hardship, the hurt, that they must have experienced on the ground as they set about their work in those early days. They face the most difficult task of their lives to do that work in a war zone, made all the more complex and more challenging, and a simple thank you does not seem enough.

I said at the outset that it is times like these when we see the best of this parliament and the best of our democratically elected leaders. I attended the national memorial service on the national day of mourning at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, along with the representatives of the Menke family and the loved ones of other victims of this tragedy. It was the most extraordinary service: It was a moving and compelling tribute to those who had lost their lives and, again, it must have given some comfort to their loved ones. I think it reminded the families that they will never walk alone on the journey they face now. Our nation is united in its grief and we are united in our resolve to do whatever is humanly possible to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice. I think it goes without saying—but I will repeat it here again today—that the world community stands with us and stands with us in our commitment to bring our people home and to seek the justice they deserve. I commend the decision announced yesterday by the Prime Minister to establish a memorial garden in the parliamentary gardens as a public sign of respect to the 38 Australian victims, and I commend the motion to the House. May the victims rest in peace.

12:39 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence on his contribution: a very heartfelt and genuine account, particularly of his attendance at the national day of mourning.

I, like all members, support the Prime Minister's motion of condolence in respect of the MH17 victims. I support the words of the Prime Minister, as I do the words of the Leader of the Opposition. There is no doubt that this is a terrible tragedy—an unspeakable event that has occurred on foreign soil but which to some extent is very close to home.

As members of parliament we are not foreign to being on international aircraft as we go about doing our duties. Some of those involve visits to other parts of the world. Some of us have had the privilege of visiting other areas in the Middle East and some of those have been troubled zones. But none of us undertake that with the view that it may be our last trip because disaster looms around the corner.

I cannot imagine the situation for the 298 people on the aircraft because I imagine it would have been pretty instantaneous when MH17 was shot down. But what I can empathise with is the hurt and the grieving that all the families of people who were on that aircraft have gone through and will continue to go through for a long while to come.

On 17 July, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was carrying 283 passages and had a crew of 15. It was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over the airspace of eastern Ukraine. It is a fact that this airline was travelling at an altitude internationally approved for travel over Ukraine. It had been cleared. It was known to be a commercial passenger jet. Of those 298 citizens on board that aircraft—people who came from all over the world—absolutely regrettably, 38 were citizens or residents of Australia.

I take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathies to the families of victims on board the aircraft at this terrible time. I acknowledge in doing so that this is not just to be put down as an accident. I know this was a violent and heinous crime that was committed and which took the lives of these people. I am proud of the way that Australia has handled that situation. I support the Prime Minister's call that justice must be answered in respect of those innocent lives lost on MH17.

Throughout my electorate of Fowler, which is a very multicultural electorate, are many places of worship. Most of those places have conducted religious services in memory of the victims. Indeed, the Buddhist temple, Mingue Lay in Bonnyrigg established a shrine constructed by local residents to pay their respects to all those innocent lives lost aboard MH17. Fairfield City Council and their staff joined together last month on the national day of mourning to express their condolences. I am aware that that one of the council staff members at Fairfield City Council in particular is mourning the loss of a family member who was on board the aircraft.

It is also a matter of fact that among the losses that occurred on 17 July were some of the most renowned experts—researchers and medical health workers—working tirelessly to find a solution to the AIDS epidemic, particularly as it applies in Africa. Regrettably, it is possible that with the downing of MH17 perhaps we lost the very people who could be delivering the keys to the challenges of AIDS and who could have been out there doing a very good and necessary job of looking after victims of AIDS. Therefore, this crime impacts on the lives of many and, as I said, I understand that the grief and the sorrow will be felt for many years to come.

It is just unbelievable that a country such as Ukraine, despite turmoil within its domestic politics, can in such a short period of time descend into a situation where armament capable of shooting down a plane at 32,000 feet—or equivalent to about six miles high in the sky—are used, taking innocent lives. I would have thought for all those involved in the debate in terms of Ukraine's sovereignty that some civility, and certainly some humanity, should apply when they are pressing these claims against one another.

On behalf of all the constituents in my electorate of Fowler, I pass on my deepest condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones in the MH17 disaster. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time. May all victims rest in peace.

12:46 pm

Photo of Fiona ScottFiona Scott (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with a heavy heart I stand today, joined in grief with all Australians—in fact joined in grief with much of the international community. Together we are saddened by loss, horrified by a heinous crime in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17—tragically shot down over the skies of Ukraine.

This was a senseless murder of 298 innocent lives—298 innocent lives lost forever. They were children, mums and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers; people returning home from a magical holiday, some bursting with optimism of the adventures they were going to have in a land faraway and many others travelling for business. All in all, 298 lives lost too soon—298 victims; 298 too many. This abhorrent act has further changed the lives of so many, right around the world. The unspeakable grief now with the living and the murder of the innocent. Let us be absolutely clear—what happened when MH17 was shot down was murder. There were 298 innocent people that were murdered and 38 men, women and children that called our Australia their home too. Those responsible must be brought to justice.

Today, I think we have seen the very best of the parliament—people from all sides representing all areas of our country, talking together and united in grief; sharing stories of people lost from their own communities. I, from the electorate of Lindsay, have a wonderful region as well, and in the grief of this I have had so many people contact my office and with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would love to read some of their comments.

From Sue:

We should be thinking about those who have lost their loved ones, in a blink of an eye their lives changed forever. Never take a life or a family for granted because it could have been our friends or family that are now lost, or even us, so tragically and sad. May we pray for peace in our world as the fighting is not the answer.

From Gina:

Just horrible, regardless.

From Bob:

A dreadful piece of terrorism which caused the deaths of many people including innocent children. What has the perpetrator gained from this?

From Terry:

What a crazy world we live in. All those people killed for no reason.

From Dave:

These criminal actions must be accounted for. Anything less is absolutely unacceptable. Please continue to be our voice of disgust and demands for justice.

From James:

I hope the truth can be found … soon to help the … families grieving the loss of a loved one.

From Craig: 'Can't imagine the pain families are enduring at the moment and glad we as a nation are getting involved.' From George:

My prayers are with the victims and their families and friends god give all strength …

Finally, from Monica:

My gut was in knots for the families of the victims … and their loved ones.

The comments from my own electorate of Lindsay are reflected right around the country. Unfortunately, we cannot bring them back, but what we can do is to bring them home as humanely as we can. I would like to extend my gratitude for the actions of the Prime Minister and the stellar performance of our foreign affairs minister in working to send 500 Australians in Operation Bring Them Home.

In our grief, we must now remember how they lived—the footprints forever left on our hearts, gone but not forgotten. May they rest in peace.

12:51 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me preface my remarks by saying there is no-one in this parliament who has more involvement and respect with Russian culture and literature than I do. In my electorate, we hold Victory Day every year with the Russian Ambassador to commemorate the great role that the Russian people played during the Second World War, and I have large Russian and Ukrainian communities in my electorate. However, I do not think, like others who have made great contributions in the debate today, that I have ever been angrier about an international incident involving Australia than the MH17 tragedy. I ask the hapless Russian Ambassador Morozov: Ambassador, please take a report to Moscow of this debate that has just taken place in this House and in the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition's remarks the other day. This is evidence and a reminder that international politics can intrude into the lives of ordinary people. In a global village, was it ever clearer that we can never adopt the attitude that Mr Chamberlain once said of Czechoslovakia: 'It is a faraway place of which we know little.'

Of those nearly 300 people on MH17, most of them were coming to Melbourne for holidays or an important international conference on AIDS, or returning home from travelling to Europe. No-one could have predicted that the imperial delusions of Russia would directly lead to their deaths. Let us be frank about it, it is the Russian leadership who are responsible for this terrible tragedy and its President Putin in particular. How directly responsible he or his military are remains to be seen. But without a doubt, it is he who sponsored and controlled the gangsters who shot this missile in eastern Ukraine who are responsible for this.

The Leader of the Opposition expressed the emotion of the Australian people yesterday, when he said:

… let me be clear, I have the gravest reservations welcoming to Australia anyone in the future who is engaged in this act of terror—and we will support the strongest possible reaction from the Government on this matter.

Belarus has finally done something useful in providing a place where Russian President Putin and Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian President, are meeting today on political developments that will help with discussions that will hopefully avoid further conflict in that region. It is always good to attempt peace to prevent further tragedies like MH17. Mr Poroshenko being there at all is evidence that democracy is a common aspiration of all people and the fact that the Ukrainian people were able to hold an election in the middle of the military threats by Russia is a positive answer to such military aggression. It is because the Ukrainians have been increasingly successful in securing the autonomy of the Ukrainian state that Mr Putin and Russia and the thugs of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic have employed such brutal tactics, such as using ground-to-air missiles that have altitudes that can hit civilian airliners flying at 35,000 feet. Let us be clear: such weapons systems are normally operated after several levels of sophisticated command and control are exercised, and only by nation states—not by a motley gang of brigands. Whether that missile system was exercised by Russian military people or not, whoever gave that weapons system to the people who shot those poor civilians down is to blame.

I commend the Prime Minister for his behaviour during this crisis and, obviously, the Leader of the Opposition, whom I have quoted. I commend the AFP, the RAAF, the Governor-General and our colleagues in the Dutch government, including my friend the Dutch ambassador here. It is impossible not to say that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has done a good job, particularly with the Security Council. It is great that the Australian Federal Police got to the crash site. I was very moved to hear that broad Aussie accent, when I was overseas, on CNN and the BBC, talking about what needed to be done at the crash site.

It has become obvious, after this episode, that Australia needs an embassy in Ukraine. Australia is the 12th largest economy in the world but ranks very poorly in terms of the number of our diplomatic missions—markedly smaller than both the OECD and G20 average for comparable populations. It is impossible to represent Kiev from Moscow. I commend our ambassador in Poland, Jean Dunn, for her incredibly hard work. She is responsible not only for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia but also for our Australian embassy in Warsaw.

I commend the Prime Minister for the proposal of the memorial garden, which I assume will be in the same place as our memorial for the victims of the Bali bombings. I commend this motion to the House. I hope all the victims may rest in peace and that their families may have good memories of them.

12:57 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

This condolence motion is an opportunity for us to reflect on the tragedy that befell a number of Australian people—citizens and residents—and their families on 17 July. It is an opportunity for us to express our deepest condolences, in this parliament, for the victims and their families.

We live in an increasingly interconnected world, where an event on one side of the world can have significant implications for Australia. That was brought home to me in the most graphic way on the morning of 18 July last. When my mobile phone started going off at about 2 am, my heart sank, for it is rarely good news at that hour. But not in my worse dreams did I imagine that a commercial airliner—a Malaysia Airlines plane no less—in commercial airspace would be shot down by Russian backed separatists over eastern Ukraine, and that the wreckage would essentially be landing in a war zone. As daylight came, a fuller picture of the situation emerged and it was clear what confronted us: an aeroplane full of happy families, academics and medical professionals, business men and women, and other travellers were flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when the plane was shot down. Two hundred and ninety-eight passengers and crew were killed, including 38 people who called Australia their home—innocent victims of a war in which they had no involvement, they chose no side.

Even at that early stage, on the morning of 18 July, our advice indicated that it was a surface-to-air missile from Ukrainian territory under the control of Russian backed rebels, and nothing I have learned since that date has changed my view. It was and is a crime that requires an independent, impartial international investigation. But the government knew that bringing the Australian victims home with all the dignity and respect they deserved was our priority, and that meant we had to access the crash site. For that to happen, we needed to gain the support of the international community. That was essential.

We made calls to counterpart ministers in affected countries: Ukraine, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Over two days in New York, the Australian delegation worked tirelessly to build support for access to the site by international investigators because we were determined to bring our people home. I thank Ambassador Gary Quinlan for his advice and assistance in building a coalition of countries demanding a clear and unequivocal response by the United Nations Security Council.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable work done by the officials and staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who worked around the clock during this period. Immediately upon hearing the news, the department established a 24-hour crisis centre. That centre would continue for a 68 eight-hour shifts involving 115 staff. A six-member MH17 task force was created, headed by Justin Brown, to lead on policy coordination, briefing and liaison. They would produce 70 briefs for the government, 55 situation reports and 20 briefings to the National Security Committee of Cabinet as we worked hard to ensure that we could fulfil our mission to bring our people home and establish an independent investigation. Fifty-six Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff were deployed to Ukraine, 18 to the Netherlands, as part of a specially trained emergency response team. The leadership provided by our special envoy in Kiev, Angus Houston; the Australian ambassador in Warsaw, Jean Dunn; and Angela Macdonald and Amanda Gorely in Kiev was invaluable. The work of the dedicated consular case officers assigned to each MH17 family, perhaps the most difficult of all assignments, deserves the highest praise. Having spoken to the families of the victims, I know how heartbreaking this work must have been. So I thank everyone in my department involved in bringing home the Australian victims—and I know their work is ongoing—on behalf of the families and the Australian people. They have served our country with distinction.

The pain and the anguish felt by the families will continue, but the Australian government were determined, with the support of the opposition, to do what we could to ensure that they were enveloped within the Australian community. We will continue to support them in their hour of need. The Australian people can be assured that, when our country faces a crisis or a challenge of this magnitude, we can rise to the task.

1:03 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I endorse the comments of the foreign minister and I acknowledge, as parliament did yesterday in this debate, her efforts and her role in dealing with this tragedy. But I want to confine my comments today to a local resident of Greenway who was unfortunately one of the lives lost on MH17. In the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy I was very saddened to learn that a member of our community, Stanhope Gardens resident Ms Gabriele Lauschet, was amongst the victims. I wish to pay tribute to Ms Lauschet's memory and convey my deepest sympathy to her son and the rest of her family. Ms Lauschet, a German national, had been living and working in Australia with her son since 2000.

Until this tragedy, Australians were able to observe from a distance the conflict that has been taking place in Ukraine. That is no longer the case as our community struggles now with the reality of it having claimed one of our own. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the victims of this terrible tragedy.

The local media in Greenway rightly focused on the life of someone who was obviously a very special person. Ms Lauschet—as I said, from Stanhope Gardens—had just got engaged. She had been a preschool teacher at the German International School at Terrey Hills since 2000. It has been said that she will be remembered as a much-loved and caring teacher.

She was 47 years old and she had become engaged to another member of the school staff, business manager Mr Andreas Schaaf, in February. They lived together with Ms Lauschet's adult son, Tim. So Tim lost a mother, and Andreas was denied a life with the woman he loved and planned to spend the rest of his life with.

Originally from the West German town of Aachen, Ms Lauschet had been in her native country visiting her mother while on holidays, and had planned to return to Sydney before the start of the school term the following Monday. She was travelling on a German passport. Her German International School colleagues returned to school, with students due to start the term that Wednesday.

As further reports from our local media indicated, Ms Lauschet had, as well as her 23-year-old son, a twin sister who lives in Brisbane.

An ABC News online report carried comments from the principal of the school:

Principal Erhardt Seifert said she would be missed.

"[She was] always joyful, very optimistic that something she can spread around the children so everyone around her also feels the same way," he said.

"Lots of children will be touched by this, at the last graduation we had quite a few children who went with her from preschool through to the whole school so once the children come back, it will be really hard because every class has some connection to Gaby."

In a report from the Rouse Hill Times, her neighbour Peter Arnold said that Ms Lauschet was a lovely woman. The report goes on:

"She would spend every spare holiday going to visit her mother," Mr Arnold said.

He said the teacher was a gentle woman.

"She was the kindest, sweetest lady you could ever meet," …

"The tragic thing is she just got her back garden done while she was away and the sad thing is she will never get to see it."

The report goes on to quote from Principal Seifert:

German International School Sydney principal Erhard Seifert said there was “devastation” at the school following the news.

“Still sometimes disbelief because you feel like she will come in any minute ... you can’t believe she is dead,” Mr Seifert said.

Mr Seifert said Ms Lauschet was “like a second mother” to her students.

May Ms Gabriele Lauschet rest in peace and may her family be comforted by the efforts and the thoughts of all Australians.

1:07 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to associate myself with the comments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all of the colleagues who have taken the opportunity to speak in this place.

On Thursday, 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine killing all 298 of the innocent people aboard. News of this mass murder soon spread across the globe and was rightfully met with shock, abhorrence, anger and, ultimately, grief. Among the dead were 193 Dutch, and 38 people for whom Australia was home.

This tragedy has brought the conflict between Ukraine and Russia abruptly to our shores. Its victims now number among our fellow Australians—our family, friends, neighbours and coworkers.

Included in those lost were Gary and Mona Lee of Glen Iris. I wish to respect their privacy, and the grief of their families and loved ones, but do feel compelled to extend my heartfelt sympathies to their daughters. The loss of a parent is always difficult, but to lose both mum and dad, in such shocking and senseless circumstances, is a truly terrible ordeal. On such occasions words seem completely inadequate; however, neither is silence appropriate. I wish them the strength to endure, in the hope that, in time, they will go on to lead happy and full lives. After all, happy children, leading full lives, is the wish of every parent.

Another fellow Higgins resident, Dutch national Itamar Avnon, was also confirmed among the dead. Itamar was a 27-year-old young man who had been returning from family in Amsterdam to resume his studies at Swinburne university while living in Windsor. My sincerest condolences to Itamar's friends in Australia, as well as his family and friends in Holland and Israel.

These are three people who called my electorate home who have been killed without cause or explanation. However, the impact of every person lost will be grievously felt by their whole communities across Australia, and, by those who loved them most, forever.

As we now know, many foreign nationals on board MH17 had connecting flights to Melbourne in order to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Another Higgins resident, Professor Sharon Lewin, Local Co-Chair of AIDS 2014, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Alfred Hospital and Monash University and Co-Head of the Centre for Biomedical Research at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, spoke for all when she drew attention to the fact that the loss of each life extends beyond the very personal to the contribution that they have yet to make to lives of others. It is a timely reminder of people's extraordinary capacity for good and stands in stark contrast to the evil of those who perpetrated this heinous crime.

As the Prime Minister reiterated two weeks ago in his joint press statement with the Prime Minister of Holland, the murder of innocent Australians must evoke the strongest response from our government. This random attack on a commercial flight could not have been foreseen. However, what can be done when disaster occurs is for community and government to do everything within their power to console and support those affected. For the federal government, this means enabling the community to grieve their loss and extending their love and support to the bereaved; assisting with the recovery, identification and repatriation of those Australians who have died; and finding answers to questions that remain unresolved in the hope that, for some, this may provide some solace and that those responsible will be brought to justice. To this end, on 7 August 2014, a national day of mourning was held and a national memorial service was held at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.

The Commonwealth of Australia has also established a condolence book to enable all those who wish to record their condolences to the families and loved ones of those lost on MH17 to do so. In time, a copy of the condolence book will be provided to each of the Australian families affected. I hope that, at their lowest ebbs, they will find some consolation in knowing that while we cannot grieve for them it does not mean that we do not feel for them. Yesterday the Prime Minister, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, announced that there will also be a memorial at Parliament House, where family members may remember those who lost their lives.

A team of nearly 200 Australian Federal Police have been involved in the initial phase of searching the crash site in eastern Ukraine, with the support of well over 100 officers in Australia assisting in the process of victim identification. I think it should be remarked upon that the person who has been most tireless in ensuring that the international community gets behind Australia and also the Dutch in their attempts to gain access to the site has been our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop. She has worked to gain the support of the international community through the UN Security Council resolution that was passed.

In addition to the Australian Federal Police, Australians from a range of policing, forensic and forensic medical backgrounds are working alongside counterparts from the UK, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia and Belgium, ably lead by the Dutch authorities in Hilversum, Holland. While access to site is currently being hampered due to ongoing hostilities, Australia stands resolute in the need to do the work required to bring home every Australian lost, with dignity and respect.

There is no doubt that we live in an unpredictable world. Perhaps it has ever been thus. However, in less than two decades we have seen a technological revolution that has affected so many aspects of our lives and indeed our world. Communication of news and knowledge is now global, devolved and direct. Travel is more accessible than ever, while the means for assisting our fellow man through medicine is matched only by our means for reaping destruction upon each other.

I am mindful that this is a motion of condolence. However, a government's first duty is to protect its citizens from harm wherever possible. We will do what we can to keep our citizens safe.

To some extent our island nation has served to isolate us from some of the worst events of the 20th century. Yet advances in technology and improving living standards have meant that more and more Australians are venturing beyond our shores and, even for those who do not, we cannot be complacent in thinking that ill fate will not seek them out at home.

The loss of 38 well-loved Australians is a truly terrible reminder of the uncertain nature of our world and the fragility and value of life. Unfortunately it is very difficult to prevent what we cannot foresee. Nor can we undo what has been done. However, we can and will stand together with those who grieve and support them in the journey ahead. I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Brett WhiteleyBrett Whiteley (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members standing in their places

1:15 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 13 : 16