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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2966


Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (10:34): I rise to speak in support of the statement made by the Prime Minister on the anniversary of the Japan tsunami and nuclear disasters, which were sparked off by an earthquake that occurred on 11 March last year. This was one of the five largest recorded earthquakes in human history and it unleashed a tsunami of enormous proportions which hit the north-east of the island of Honshu in Japan. The devastation that was wreaked by the tsunami was utterly shocking and unimaginable. It gave rise to stunning visions on TV. It is hard to imagine the force behind a tsunami but you could see it in the incredible pictures that we saw on our TVs. Nineteen thousand people were dead or missing as a result of the tsunami, thousands more were injured and hundreds of thousands more were left homeless. Whole villages were swept away and, as is always the case in natural disasters of this kind, the way in which the natural disaster impacts upon the community is not uniform and is certainly not fair—it can be extremely arbitrary.

One elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi—the Okawa Elementary School—lost 74 of its 108 students. It lost 10 of its 13 teachers and staff. One of the great tragedies of this tsunami was that it occurred whilst children were gathered during school hours. It is unimaginable that you could head off to school in the morning or send your kids off to school as a parent and by the day's end find that three-quarters of those who attended that school and most of the staff had perished. But that was the nature of this extraordinary event.

As a consequence infrastructure was completely wrecked in the vicinity of the tsunami, particularly the Fukushima nuclear plant, which had a significant radiation leak as a Debate resumed. ult of the tsunami. That in turn gave rise to a range of issues and consequences in the region of the power plant. Former Japanese Prime Minister Kan described it as the most testing moment in Japan's history since the Second World War, and I am sure all of us would agree that is exactly the nature of the situation that Japan faced.

Australia's reaction to the tsunami was very swift and makes one proud as an Australian. We were very keen to be there on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Japan. A $10 million donation to the Japanese Red Cross was announced very quickly and soon after that we saw emergency workers, including urban search-and-rescue teams, deployed to the Miyagi region of Japan, exactly where the Okawa school was washed away. I know that every Australian was proud of the contribution that those emergency workers made in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. This happened at the conclusion of a Southern Hemisphere summer of disasters and tragedies. There were the floods in Queensland and Victoria, bushfires in Western Australia and then the tragic earthquake in Christchurch, but this was of a magnitude completely different to what we had previously seen.

Not long after the tsunami two prominent Australians visited Japan in a way which was incredibly important to the Japanese. The first of course was our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who was the first foreign leader to visit Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami and to tour the devastated region. She spoke very eloquently at the time and indeed in the last two days about the effect that it had on her, but I also know the effect that her visit had on the people of Japan was one which gave them an enormous sense of confidence and also a sense that the world was standing in solidarity with them against this incredible tragedy. The other person who was in Japan at the same time as the Prime Minister was Kylie Minogue, who was performing a series of concerts in Japan. As I understand it, she asked her touring crew whether or not, given everything that had happened, they wanted to visit Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear disasters. She was going to go through with the concerts that she had planned and indeed, as I understand it, her crew came with her. Being able to perform in Japan in the aftermath was something that the Japanese regarded as very important, knowing that the international community was standing with them.

In my capacity as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs I visited Japan on 9 June last year, almost three months after the tsunami. At that point I was really struck by the life that is led in a country which is prone to earthquakes and earth tremors. Indeed, there was a tremor on the day that I was there, which was very noticeable where you could see things move. Incredibly, there is now a phone app, which, literally within a matter of minutes after an earth tremor, will tell you the size of it and where it occurred. That says something about the ever-present nature of the shifting earth in a place such as Japan and what the people there live with on a day-to-day basis.

I met with a number of Japanese politicians in the context of my duties as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. In the afternoon I also had a meeting with a couple of members of the Democratic Party, members of the Japanese Diet, Keiro Kitagami and Norihiko Fugita. Both of them are members of the Australia-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Japanese Diet, which of course is the parliament of Japan. They spoke fulsomely about their respect for both Julia Gillard and Kylie Minogue in coming to Japan in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. They said there was a sense that all of them felt that they laughed about this, and it was good to see that their humour was intact. If you had taken a satellite photo of Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami, in terms of the international reaction to it all you would have imagined that Japan was glowing green because of what had happened at the Fukushima plant. Of course, that was not the reality. Tourism and international trade and people going in and out of Japan are very important parts of their economy. They were deeply concerned that this international perception of Japan, in the aftermath of the tsunami, would mean that people would not come to Japan. They cited the actions of our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Kylie Minogue as being very important to overcoming that invalid international perception. There is no question that the Prime Minister's visit to Japan was one of the most significant visits that an Australian head of state has ever made to that country.

In conclusion, in the global community of nations Japan and Australia are the very best of friends. Japan is a close ally in all that we do. It is a partner in what I do, representing this country in the Pacific. I will be in Japan in a couple of months time in that capacity. We are very close friends with Japan. It is a key trading partner of our country. There is an enormous sense of kinship between Australia and Japan. Our hearts went out to Japan this time last year and our thoughts are very much with them on the anniversary of that terrible occasion.