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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 894


Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) (2:01 PM) —On indulgence, as members of the House would know, I was in New Zealand last week. I describe New Zealanders as family to Australians. Today our family are suffering a very devastating blow, with an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale hitting Christchurch and its surrounding districts. I am sure many Australians, like me, have watched the images on TV today. They have been truly shocking images: people wandering around with blood literally streaming across their heads and faces; buildings that have been reduced to rubble; the very historic cathedral in Christchurch severely damaged; cars under rubble and not being sure whether or not someone is in the car; buildings reduced to rubble and not being sure how many people are in the buildings; and parents desperately trying to get across town in order to work out what has happened to their children who are in kindergarten, child care or school. There are some very distressing images on our TV screens today.

As you would expect with a disaster of this magnitude, information is sketchy at this stage, but the New Zealand Fire Service has reported multiple fatalities. We do not know what that means in real numbers yet, but ‘multiple fatalities’ are the words that are being used by the New Zealand Fire Service. We also know that the New Zealand Defence Force has been called in. There are reports that Christchurch has run out of ambulances, with police cars being used to ferry the injured to makeshift medical centres. Water, electricity and phone services have been severely disrupted, and yet, from the images we have seen on our TV screens, in the midst of all this we are seeing some remarkable acts of heroism. I think we can say that today in Christchurch the Anzac spirit is on display.

Very shortly before coming into the parliament I had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister John Key. He had just left an emergency cabinet meeting and was making his way to the airport in an endeavour to fly to Christchurch. I said very simply to him that anything we have got that they need we will get to them. They have already requested a search and rescue team, and that is literally on its way as this parliament meets. We do not know what the needs will be. We certainly understand that needs are likely to be time critical because there is likely to be a lot of searching to do under the rubble. Prime Minister Key said to me that when he is in the position to make a further assessment he will let me know, but if we have a capability that our family in New Zealand needs then we will certainly get it across to them. I have conveyed to him the best wishes of the Australian people as he goes to join the people of New Zealand in Christchurch who are in shock. Many are in tears and many are looking very dazed when you see them on the TV screens.

Of course, our mind also turns to the circumstances of Australians in Christchurch. A million Australians visit New Zealand each year, so, inevitably, there will be Australians in Christchurch. We do not have accurate numbers as to how many. I can advise that the Australian women’s cricket team, which has been training in Christchurch, are all reported to be safe, and we are thankful for that. But there will be a lot of Australians who are concerned about the circumstances of their relatives and friends who are in New Zealand and in Christchurch. We have got no reports at this stage of Australian fatalities.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade hotline for anxious loved ones is: 1300 555135. I have just been advised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that we have three consular staff on the ground to assist Australians in Christchurch who are caught up in this event. I am sure I speak for every member of the House of Representatives and, indeed, every Australian when I say that we wish the people of New Zealand well at this time. They are in an urgent and very difficult situation. We wish them all the speed in the world with the rescue efforts and we hope that they are able to make as many people safe as possible as soon as possible.