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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3102

Mr IRONS (6:28 PM) —I rise this evening to support this condolence motion. It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Dobell. It was interesting to hear that he has done so much research on this subject. He spoke with passion about his connections to New Zealand. On behalf of the people of Swan, particularly the constituents in my electorate who are from New Zealand, I place on record our condolences to the victims, the families, relations and everyone affected by the Christchurch earthquake which struck last month.

As the Leader of the Opposition said on Monday, there is hardly an Australian who does not have some sort of link with a New Zealander, whether it be through business, family or migration, either originally coming from New Zealand or going to New Zealand. There are certainly strong links between a lot of people in Australia and New Zealand.

Although we are separate countries, we feel much closer than that. We have a strong rivalry in rugby union, rugby league, cricket and many other sports, particularly netball. That rivalry will continue. It is friendly rivalry and it keeps and brings our countries close together.

I have my own small business in Western Australia and over the years I have been fortunate to employ and become friends with a number of New Zealanders. Some were from Dunedin and some from Port Chalmers. The people from Port Chalmers are different people. They are very friendly and they take on challenges, which I am sure most in New Zealand are with this tragedy.

They are good people, and it is right that we support them in their time of need, as they would in ours. I am pleased to say that, as far as I am aware, the Australian government has been providing a good level of support to New Zealand. We are close to them. Every bit of support we can give the New Zealanders is I am sure appreciated by them.

When the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck on 22 February the government was quick to offer support. Australia provided support on the ground in New Zealand through emergency services and other services that they required. I understand there were more than 600 people at its peak. Of course, the human cost has been great, with 164 deaths so far, including two Australians, with the final toll expected to rise still further.

Christchurch’s spirits were certainly lifted by the memorial service last week. It was good to see Prince William, the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in attendance at that ceremony. However, as the dust settles and media attention moves elsewhere, the challenge will be to make sure that families are getting the help and support they need to recover emotionally in the long run. There is no doubt that Christchurch can be rebuilt but to rebuild its people particular attention must be paid to counselling and support services.

Of late there has been plenty of talk in this place about mental health. There is no doubt in my mind that the influence of former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry has been immense and from my point of view most welcome. I have confidence that the New Zealand health authorities will be acutely aware of the situation and doing their best to assist.

Professor Creamer, an expert in this field, has suggested that about 10 per cent of people who survive a traumatic situation go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder while a broader swath of the affected population will endure less debilitating but still serious mental health problems in the mid to longer term. Professor Creamer expects the majority of these cases to occur over the first four, five or six months post the disaster. However, he says they may continue to see people presenting for the first time 12 months, 18 months or possibly 24 months after the disaster. All of this is applicable to the areas in our own country that have been struck by disaster this year. I hope that everyone in this parliament will be vigilant and keep the mental health issue at the forefront.

Let us also not forget the broader economic implications of this tragedy. The New Zealand Treasury has estimated that the earthquake will cost the country over $12 billion. Economists have estimated that it has wiped 1.5 per cent from New Zealand’s projected economic growth.

It was interesting to hear the member for Dobell talk about insurance. I was in New Zealand a week and a half ago and heard plenty of talk about the insurance companies not stumping up because they considered what caused the problem to be an aftershock and not the initial earthquake. The original earthquake was in September last year apparently. While I was in New Zealand there was another aftershock of 4.9 in Christchurch.

I know the member for Groom put pressure on the insurance companies in Australia when many Queenslanders faced problems with the insurance companies. We hope that the insurance companies in New Zealand do stump up and assist these people in their hour of need.

It is great that I have had this opportunity to present condolences on behalf of my electorate of Swan. My best wishes and thoughts go to the people of Christchurch.