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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 785

Mr KERR (7:45 PM) —This parliament has been called on on a number of occasions—too many occasions in the past 20 years—to consider motions that have spoken of tragedy in other countries. Those who have served for a long time in this parliament will recall the concern we expressed to the victims of the tsunamis that happened in our own region, to the victims of the Pakistan earthquakes and to a number of other events where the frailty of humans against the scale and magnitude of events caused by earthquakes, tsunami or fire have devastated us.

I think it is fair to say that few, if any, of those circumstances, and certainly any that I can recall in my 23 years as a member of parliament, have amounted to a toll of 220,000-plus in such a small, poor and tragic part of the world. Of course, this is not our backyard and some might say, ‘Why does the compassion of the Australian parliament reach out to people in an area of the world where other and more mighty countries have primary responsibility?’ I accept that basic proposition, but I accept it only this far. As citizens of a globe, we have some significant responsibility, firstly, to express our personal sorrow for the losses and, secondly, as a nation to make a contribution as a fellow nation state to the work of the relief organisations and to the rebuilding of that society. We have already made quite substantial contributions to the initial emergency phase. I am certain the member for Fremantle will continue to press for a continuing and ongoing commitment by the Australian government both by way of financial contribution and advice and constructive input into the best way to ensure that the lives of those who have survived can be reconstructed in a way which permits them to have some chance of a fairer and better future.

This is an enormous tragedy, and I thank very much the member for Mallee for referring to the personal loss that the member for Fremantle has experienced. Four of her close friends with whom she worked at the United Nations lost their lives in the disaster that befell the UN. The UN has difficult roles to play in this world and nothing more tragically illustrates that cost that is sometimes imposed on its personnel than that fact. I am certain that the member for Fremantle, when she composes herself sufficiently to refer directly to those four people that she knew so well, will make her own contribution in that regard.

Finally, I am delighted that this motion that has been put forward has received the bipartisan support of members from all sides. That reflects broadly my experience of this parliament when it is confronted by these kinds of large tragedies that affect the global community. I echo the hope of the member for Wills that we are able to make a common defence of ongoing significant contributions to overseas development assistance, particularly as it is sometimes contested by those within our community. It is something that we all share a responsibility of advocating.

I thank the member for Fremantle for raising this matter in this parliament. I know it has been the subject of comment by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I am certain that the good wishes that are being expressed today and the advocacy that is occurring behind the scenes by members on all sides in encouraging our Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance to focus on ongoing reconstruction will be attended to with goodwill and with the support of all sides of this parliament.

I thank all members who have participated in this debate. We are always put on the spot when we speak on these kinds of things. It is hard to find words that effectively capture an event of such immensity. To speak on something that caused the loss of some 200,000 lives—nearly half the population of my state of Tasmania, let alone those injured and left behind homeless, fatherless and motherless—is something that is truthfully beyond me. I do my limited best to express my concern.