House debates

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Constituency Statements

Beirut: Explosion, Abdullah, Antony, Abdullah, Angelina, Abdullah, Sienna, Sakr, Veronique

11:46 am

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

As the House knows, on 4 August two large blasts reverberated through the port area of Beirut in Lebanon. These blasts caused extensive damage across the city with 6,000 injured and almost 200 killed. The site of that blast is scarred in the memories of millions of people around the world now, and tragically one Australian, young Isaac Oehlers, was killed. We pass our condolences to the family and to everybody affected by this awful tragedy and the ongoing toll that it's taking on the people of Lebanon.

The Australian government quickly provided $5 million in emergency humanitarian assistance for immediate needs. The Australian Embassy was very badly damaged in its nearby location and proximity to the blast. I want to thank those staff for the way they worked to upskill to protect the people who were injured and to immediately re-establish service to the many people who had been affected.

On behalf of the Prime Minister, I was able to chair and convene the leaders of the Lebanese community here in Australia. I want to thank them, from all their different faiths and backgrounds, for the way they came together as one whole family of Australians of Lebanese background to immediately talk about what Australians, with our relative prosperity, could do to help the many family members back in Beirut affected by these blasts. It's amazing stuff, and we are now seeing practical assistance being provided, by so much Australian caring and giving here, to the impacted people.

I have the opportunity today to recognise the awful and tragic event that affected a local group of Australian Lebanese families, Maronite families, the Abdallah, Sakr and Kassas families, after the tragic loss of their children Antony, Angelina, Sienna and Veronique through the actions of a drunk driver. I want to pay particular tribute to the strong faith and the community spirit of the Maronite community in Parramatta coming together. I was able to attend the funeral for the children. It was a great privilege for my wife and I to do so and see the community spirit in action for the grief that was faced by these parents under the most tragic of circumstances.

I also want to say to Danny and Leila—who particularly became quite famous as the mother who had lost two young children in such a terrible tragedy appearing on television candidly and being able to forgive the young male who caused the death of their children—that forgiving that person on TV is one of the most powerful things that I've seen and I know it has impacted a lot of people of faith and people not of faith in Australia. We do want to pass on our love and our care and concern for those families in the ongoing recovery that they face. To Leila and Danny Abdallah, to Bridget and Bob Sakr, to Rania and Assaad Kassas: our thoughts and prayers are with you and, more importantly, the community's support and love for you and all of the children who have survived—we'll be there for you, and together as a family, one community of Sydneysiders, we'll support you anyway we can.