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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3107

Mr SLIPPER (6:47 PM) —I suspect that I represent more New Zealanders than any other member of parliament in the world other than a member of the parliament of New Zealand. New Zealanders on the Sunshine Coast have become fully integrated into our community. We do not really think of them as being from another place, and those who come from across the ditch are very much part of the Australasian family.

In the time of Howard-Costello government I chaired the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which undertook an inquiry into closer relations within Australia and across the Tasman. Many people feel that there is some opportunity for the relationship between the six states on this side of the ditch to form an even closer relationship with New Zealand. There is, of course, a range of opportunities for us to look at further integration between both sides of the Tasman in the future. That could possibly include a common currency or a common border, or even a confederation or an opportunity for New Zealand to become part of the Australian federation. But, regardless of whether or not one proceeds in that direction, everyone would agree that the relationship between Australians and New Zealanders is a very close relationship. It is a relationship whereby none of us is really able to feel that those living on the other side of the Tasman are actually part of a different country.

My wife, Inge, and I regularly travel to New Zealand privately. We get a cheap flight, we hire a car locally—often a bomb of a car—and we just sort of merge into the community. We are able to relax there and we always find that we are welcome. We have friends right across New Zealand.

Christchurch is a particularly beautiful city. I have stayed very close to the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which is to be demolished over the next few months. We all find it impossible to imagine that, in many ways, such a historic city has been changed to the extent that it will never be the same again. If one were thinking in an engineering sense, one would ask whether Christchurch really ought to be rebuilt on its current site or whether there could in the future be a further earthquake, given where it is and the fact it is obviously subjected to conditions which would indicate that. I believe that, for reasons of national pride, the New Zealand people will rebuild Christchurch to the best of their ability and I can relate well to that approach. Christchurch is a wonderful place. The cathedral, which was in the heart of Christchurch and after which Christchurch was named, was an iconic monument in the heart of a very vibrant part of the dominion of New Zealand.

It has become too regular an occurrence in this place to speak about some tragic and massive natural disaster that has occurred somewhere in our region. I suppose we all have to ask ourselves what is happening with respect to the earth. We have been given regular times for reflection and contemplation, when we pause to consider the fragility of life and the importance of friendship as well as, in the debate before the chamber today, the value of long-held bonds between those of us who live on one side of the Tasman and those of us who live on the other. I prefer to think of us as Australasia rather than Australia and New Zealand, because the bonds that join us together are infinitely greater than the issues that separate us. In fact, the differences between various states in Australia are, in many respects, no different from the differences which separate those states from New Zealand.

This year we have had floods in Queensland and Cyclone Yasi. We have had floods in the southern states and fires north of Perth, we have had the earthquake in New Zealand and we have had the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, about which I spoke earlier. My thoughts and the thoughts of other members of the Commonwealth parliament go to New Zealand, its leaders and its citizens during what is a difficult and challenging time. I was very impressed when I heard that our Prime Minister, our Leader of the Opposition and our effective head of state, the Governor-General, travelled to New Zealand to be present at that most incredibly moving memorial ceremony, held in Christchurch.

The Prime Minister mentioned in the parliament—and I am quite sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you listened to what she said—that she had never before seen 100,000-plus people in an area where they were gathering for such a purpose. The ceremony was held on a flat piece of land, with more than 100,000 people situated so closely together, to remember those who were lost and to give thanks to and say prayers for those who were saved and to give hope for the future. It was an experience which must have been not only very moving but also wonderful for the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Governor-General and, may I say, for the rest of the 100,000 people who were present.

I must say that I was absolutely shocked when I saw the first footage of the disaster in New Zealand. I think all of us in Australia have friends or family in New Zealand. Most of us have travelled there. The thought of something so horrendous and horrific happening so close to us is absolutely stultifying. It forces us to consider life and the fragility of life. It forces us to consider the importance of friendship, family and relationships and tends to put our quite vigorous pursuit of material possessions in perspective.

The people of Christchurch, New Zealand, have suffered considerably and continue to suffer as a result of the earthquake that struck so suddenly and so violently on 22 February this year. Oddly enough, the earthquake had a 6.3 magnitude; what made it so destructive was that the epicentre was only 10 kilometres south-east of Christchurch and at a depth of five kilometres. There was some speculation about whether it was actually an aftershock from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the same region on 4 September last year, but that earthquake was less destructive because it hit 40 kilometres west of Christchurch and its epicentre was much deeper, at 10 kilometres. Madam Deputy Speaker, I suspect that you are a bit like me in that you would not claim to be an expert in these matters, but I was initially surprised that an earthquake of smaller magnitude could wreak greater damage.

The death toll is currently 166, and analysts estimate that the damage could cost insurers around US$12 billion, which is about NZ$16 billion. I found it particularly sobering to see the old cathedral treated as it was by the earthquake and so many buildings badly damaged, knowing that they had stood for so long, some of them for well in excess of a century. They have put up with all sorts of weather, only to be so violently compromised, violated, damaged and in effect destroyed by the quake. It could be that ultimately those buildings had been subjected to so many climatic conditions over the years that there was simply no ability for them to withstand this earthquake of 6.3 magnitude.

On behalf of my wife, Inge, my family, the people of the electorate of Fisher and the Sunshine Coast more broadly, the people of Queensland and also the people of Australia, I would like to pass on my and our heartfelt sympathies to the people of Christchurch and in particular to those who have lost loved ones so suddenly and violently. Australia is a great friend of New Zealand, and I am proud of the fact that our emergency service personnel, including many from Queensland, assisted in responding to the damage.

Many people from the six states on this side of the Tasman live and work in New Zealand, and both sides of the Tasman are vocal in supporting the importance of the relationship. I think all of us agree that we are reciprocal key travel destinations for both business and vacations. People love to catch up with friends and relatives. That is why I want to endorse a statement made by our former Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of New Zealand whereby they were seeking to establish a common border for Australia and New Zealand so that if you entered Australasia you were deemed to have entered countries on both sides of the Tasman. I saw somewhere that that would save about a quarter or a third of the cost of travel across the Tasman. I do not see that that laudable aim by the former Prime Minister the member for Griffith and Mr Key is unattainable. If we consider that the integrity of the immigration system on both sides of the Tasman is equally appropriate, then that is really attainable.

I would like to offer encouragement to the government and people of New Zealand in this time of need. I pray that the Lord will guide and assist all of those affected by the disaster, comfort the families of the many who have perished and give strength to the authorities and medical personnel. I pray that He will give wisdom to the leaders of New Zealand as they guide their nation through the recovery and give them the knowledge and energy they need to make difficult decisions and to sustain them in this trying time. I thank the House.