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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 13055

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (10:57): Like many residents who live locally and I am sure right around Australia, I awoke on Friday morning to the dreadful news of a fire at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home, located in my electorate of Greenway, which had left an unknown number of elderly residents dead, injured or homeless. My heart, my sympathies, my prayers and my deepest sorrow go out to all the victims, their families and the staff of the Quakers Hill Nursing Home. This is one of the most awful of tragedies and the most helpless of circumstances. These were truly innocent victims, elderly people who had survived wars, the Depression, disease and the passage of time itself, their lives ripped away by an event none of them could have foreseen or deserved.

The scenes and accounts of these victims, many of them totally incapacitated either physically or mentally with no prospect of surviving such an event either alive or without injury, is truly terrifying. It is impossible for us here to understand what it would be like for a person suffering from dementia to be woken by smoke and flames to find oneself in what local Rouse Hill Times editor David Catt described as a makeshift field hospital outside the complex, surrounded by firefighters, police and other emergency services personnel. Personally I was overcome by the scenes of family members waiting for news of their loved ones outside what had become a crime scene, praying as they listened to the manifest being read out of the names of residents and whether they were dead, alive or injured. I cannot imagine the grief of those family members.

When I spoke with the Minister for Health and Ageing shortly after the news broke, it was clear that the priority of all was to let emergency services personnel get on with their jobs and to make alternative arrangements for those residents who did not require hospitalisation. On this point I want to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of all the emergency services personnel, police, fire and ambulance, who responded so quickly and with such care. As has been consistently reported, their bravery and swift action certainly saved lives. They are heroes one at all.

I want to acknowledge the local residents and indeed some of the small businesses around Quakers Hill who did whatever they could to assist the victims of the tragedy, bringing food and refreshments to them and their families and those assisting at the scene, including the many volunteers who joined Minister Geoff Bates of the Quakers Hill Anglican Church, which acted as both a triage zone and a safe place of comfort for the families of those involved. The church is arranging a memorial service to be held this Wednesday, which I am sure will reflect the communal feeling of grief and sympathy from our local communities. In Western Sydney, we are renowned for our generosity in times of need. I have been contacted by many residents who want to do something, anything, to help the victims, many of whom have lost everything they own, and their families. I will be speaking to Minister Bates about the best means to channel this generosity of spirit.

I also wish to acknowledge the efforts of my staff, who took many calls from concerned family and community members as the news unfolded on Friday, including calls made to the special hotline that was set up, and responded to requests for help made through social media channels. It was a traumatic time for all involved and I thank them for their professionalism.

As it stands, there have been six residents confirmed dead as a result of this tragedy, with several more on critical lists in various hospitals around Sydney. Again, my heart and my prayers—and, I am sure, those of everyone in this place—go out to those victims and their families.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): In accordance with standing order 193, the time for constituency statements has concluded.