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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 642


Mrs D’ATH (3:19 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence Materiel. Will the minister advise the House of the assistance provided by defence equipment and support crews during the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi?


Mr CLARE (Minister for Defence Materiel) —I thank the member for Petrie for her question. Last time the parliament sat we heard a lot of stories about the incredible work that our pilots did in terrible conditions. This question gives me an opportunity to thank the men and women who put those pilots in the air and helped to keep them there.

Last year I spoke to an old pilot who told me that unless the ground crew can get you to the start line a pilot is not worth two bob. Over the last few weeks of this terrible summer, there have been a lot of men and women doing a lot of work to get our planes and helicopters to the start line. One of them is a man named Col Beal. Col heads up the Black Hawk maintenance team at Oakey. Our Black Hawks have already flown more than 700 hours this year. For every hour in the sky, there are a lot more hours of repair and maintenance on the ground, and that has meant that Col’s team has done a lot of work early in the morning and late at night. Some of his team came back from Christmas holidays, others had their own homes flooded. Col had his head under a Black Hawk the day that his car was washed down the street in Toowoomba when the inland tsunami hit that town. It is because of people like Col and his team that we were able to deliver so many supplies to isolated communities and winch so many people to safety.

One of those people was an old lady who lives near the town of Forest Hill in the Lockyer Valley. On 11 January this lady got the shock of her life when she found a sergeant in a full flight suit and a helmet standing in her lounge room. It was 7.30 at night. He had been winched into her backyard into water waste deep. He waded around to the front steps and into her house and told her that it was time to go. She said, ‘Don’t worry, my daughter is coming around to pick me up.’ Unfortunately, that was not going to happen, because her house had been isolated and all the roads had been cut off.

The lady then went and got her purse and had a look for some change. She told the pilot: ‘Sorry love, I don’t have enough money for a helicopter.’ He told her: ‘Don’t worry, this one’s a freebie.’ She then went into the kitchen to put the kettle on and said, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ He said that he would love one but that they did not have time. He had been in the house for about 20 minutes. It was pitch black and the helicopter was still hovering overhead with three other people who had been rescued that afternoon and it was running low on fuel. He finally got her to the front door and onto her steps where he put a harness around her and, with live electrical cables only two metres away, was able to winch her to the safety of the Black Hawk.

This was only able to happen because of a patient and brave sergeant, because of the men and women hovering overhead in the Black Hawk and because of the men and women back at Oakey who had been working through the night to get that Black Hawk to the start line. It is a nice story. It is a nice story from a terrible day in a terrible month. It is also a timely reminder for all of us here that saving lives, just like rebuilding Queensland, requires us all to work together.