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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12853

Mr LAWLER (5:38 PM) —I rise today to speak about a few issues—some of them unrelated—and I certainly do not pretend that the gravity of some of them should be offset by some of the issues that I will talk about. Firstly, I want to remind the House that we are approaching the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, which will start in Sydney on Boxing Day 1999. This will be the last opportunity before the running of this race to speak a little about the disastrous race that started on Boxing Day 1998.

At 1 p.m. on December 26, 115 yachts set sail and only 44 reached their intended destination a few days later. What started as a great day that I spent with my family on Sydney Harbour to see the beginning of the race turned into an absolute disaster for the yachtsmen Glyn Charles, Bruce Guy, Phil Skeggs, John Dean, Mike Bannister and my uncle, Jim Lawler, and for their families and their friends. The lessons from this race should not and have not been swept under the carpet. The resilience of the sailing fraternity is shown as they prepare themselves for another Sydney to Hobart. By and large, most of the sailors involved in the Sydney to Hobart have accepted the dangers that they face. They have accepted that the situation unravelled last year and are applying themselves to thinking forward rather than dwelling on the past.

I would like to remind my colleagues and fellow Australians of the courageous efforts above and beyond the call of duty by men and women from the various rescue agencies that were involved in the search and rescue attempts for the six yachtsmen who died, and to express gratitude to them for the rescue of some 55 sailors. These people were touted as heroes in the few days following their rescue efforts but they have been largely forgotten since, and I do not believe they deserve that. They include the Victorian Polair helicopter aircrews, the Westpac Lifesaver rescue helicopter aircrews, NRMA Careflight, Gary Ticehurst Helicopters, the crew of the Moira Elizabeth and the crew of the Josephine Jean, the ACT & South-East New South Wales Aero-medical Helicopter Service, Telstra control radio, especially Lew Carter aboard the Young Endeavour, Lieutenant Commander Neil Galletly and the crew of STS Young Endeavour, the Victorian and New South Wales police, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol based in Eden, the Royal Australian Navy, especially the HMAS Wollongong, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The bravery and selflessness of these people and the people aboard these vessels is so very much appreciated by the families of those involved in the disaster.

I would like also at this point to make a comment on the media coverage of this event and the rescue effort. In this day and age there is the demand of the public for in your lounge room, minute by minute television. Television and radio stations attempt to deliver what they perceive to be a public demand, but I believe this must be attempted with some accuracy and reporting with a thought to the emotional roller-coaster that is being experienced by the families of those missing.

The pressure on reporters to bring this news as it happened into our lounge rooms resulted, in this case, in a huge amount of inaccurate and dangerous reporting. The people who reported often showed no regard for the feelings of the families who were involved, making sure that their No. 1 priority was not accuracy or public service but ratings and drama. The news variously reported that the men aboard the Winston Churchill, for example, were still afloat but had lost radio contact when in fact they were in the water. It said that they were about to be rescued by the Young Endeavour when in fact the Young Endeavour was nowhere near the site. They also reported that all were safely aboard life rafts when they had no way of checking the accuracy of this information. They further reported that the two life rafts had been spotted and those aboard were about to be rescued when in fact there was only one spotted and those aboard the second life raft had already lost their lives.

I know the investigations continue into the race and I understand there are more to come next year, but I trust the findings will result in safer standards for the yachts and equipment and a better system to keep the families accurately informed on the lives of their loved ones. It should not be up to the rescue services themselves to provide this link to the families. There should be a system in place which can provide the link, with a dispassionate motive, and which should be freely available for the families of the people in situations like this—be it sailors in the Sydney to Hobart or some other disaster—so that they can have accurate, up-to-the-minute information and do not have to rely on the reporting on television, the purpose of which is not necessarily to deliver reliable and accurate information.

I have spoken about the true heroes of the rescue effort in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. There are many other heroes that I would like to talk about. Recently I, as did everybody who is in this place, had the opportunity to present some Senior Citizens Recognition Awards. These people, too, are heroes in their own communities, albeit in a less public manner. The winner in my electorate of Parkes was a gentleman by the name of Bob Parker, who was selected from amongst 20 as the outstanding contributor amongst all the senior people who were nominated. Bob Parker has worked tirelessly on many committees, including Dubbo City Council Access, Dubbo City Council Community Services, the Dubbo Drug and Alcohol Committee, the Dubbo branch of the Red Cross and several others.

As a result of his contact with a high number of disadvantaged people, Bob began collecting bread from a local baker and personally delivering it to needy families. A number of local businesses now donate goods, and Bob has now built up a run where he distributes food every day, with approximately $60,000 to $70,000 worth of goods per annum delivered to those in need. Bob has supplied donated Easter eggs and chocolate on Easter Sunday to about 360 people in undercare homes for the past 10 years. Food Bank in Sydney sends a pallet of food every few weeks at a small cost of 70c per kilo, but Bob pays for this out of his own pension. He is truly an outstanding Australian.

The other people who were mentioned in the Senior Citizens Recognition of Awards in my electorate were, from Parkes, Jack Scoble, Betty Muzyczuk, Con Diamond, Nena Williams, Joyce Roeder and Phyllis Edwards; from Forbes, Robert Lytton; from Condobolin, Joan Reardon; from Terra Bella in Geurie, Trevor Stephenson; from Dubbo, Kevin Hopkins and Lona Edwards; from Tomingley, Lionel (Bill) Millgate; from Narromine, Jean McKillop, Ted Jackson, Joyce McCaffrey and Gwenda Mary Bourchier; from Trangie, Olive Fitzgerald and Lynell Chambers; and, from Menindee, William Moroney. These were the 20, from whom it was very difficult to choose.

There were many others who did not make it on to the top 20 list but, because of the outstanding contribution that they had made, we also decided to present our own certificates to several others. Not the least of them was—and I will mention her by name—Emily Tonna from Broken Hill, who is 93 years old and still delivers Meals on Wheels to `the old people' and still serves in the St Vincent de Paul meal kitchen—again, for `the old people'. And this lady is herself 93 years old!

Mr Slipper —An amazing lady.

Mr LAWLER —An amazing lady. The purpose of the Senior Citizens Recognition Awards was not to identify one outstanding person and say that their achievements were any better than those of another. They were really a symbolic gesture for the community to recognise that, just because we have a compulsory retirement age and certain ages set down for age pensions, that does not automatically mean that once people reach a certain age they are no longer active contributors to our society. In fact, many people go on contributing in an enormously beneficial way to the society in which they live, and these people were just a few of those.

At one of the presentations we had—and, incidentally, we had presentations in Broken Hill, Narromine, Dubbo and Parkes, because that was where the bulk of the recipients were from—a comment was made by Jack Scoble that perhaps they did not need to be called `senior citizens awards' and that a more appropriate name would be the `Nearly Worn Out Australian' awards. The people who attended those celebrations were most appreciative of the fact that they were offered the opportunity and they all enjoyed themselves extremely well. It provided a great forum for people to mix and congratulate each other on their contributions.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.H. Adams) —Order! As the time for the grievance debate has expired, the debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.