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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3464

Mr PORTER (Pearce) (10:54): It is 2½ thousand kilometres off the coast of the Pearce electorate, in fact, in a search area the size of South Africa, that the hunt continues to recover physical evidence of what we now know must be the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Almost everyone in Western Australia would be familiar with that sensation of looking out to sea from the coast off Perth and realising that the next closest thing to their home is South Africa. That immensity of distance and the absoluteness of the isolation of the city of Perth is framed by that incredible expansive ocean that you look out on. The southern Indian Ocean, off the Perth coast, is one of the purest parts of the natural world and, like all truly wild things, it is incomparably beautiful as well as incomprehensibly dangerous. That expanse of ocean was the perilous pathway for the first European contact with the Australian mainland, and for hundreds of years it has been the scene of great drama and great tragedy.

In rising in condolence for all of the terrible loss of life aboard flight MH370, I wish to pay particular tribute to a single man who, for the past several years, had made his home in the electorate of Pearce. Aboard that flight was Paul Weeks. Paul had moved into the electorate of Pearce approximately 2½ years ago, following the devastating earthquakes that had affected Christchurch in 2011 and ruined his family home. I had not met Paul and I wish to pay him in this place sincere condolence based on what we know about a father of two sons, three years and 11 months old, and a loving and loved husband of Danica Weeks.

Paul was born in New Zealand. He went to school and studied at the University of Canterbury as a mechanical engineer before serving as a soldier in the New Zealand armed forces. Whilst backpacking in Europe, he met his wife, Danica, and they both lived together in London before moving back to New Zealand. In September 2011, following the New Zealand earthquakes, he turned his attentions to Australia, where he set out to take advantage of employment generated by Western Australia's great mineral wealth. Within a week of arriving in Australia, he had three job offers and was settling in to a bright future. As things transpired, Paul ultimately accepted a job in Mongolia with Transwest Mongolia as a fly-in fly-out worker from WA. On 8 March 2014, he was actually on his way to commencing his first four-week stint. His family reported that he was excited about this new opportunity, but, as one would expect, this excitement was balanced with the sadness of leaving his family behind.

His is a story which so many Western Australians would be familiar with: the sacrifice to provide for a much loved family leading to the very hard reality of long stretches away from home. It has been reported that, before heading to his new job, he devoted himself to squeezing in as much time with his family as he could. His final words were contained in an email to his wife, sent on his journey to Mongolia. They were the words of a loving husband missing his family, words that people who travel too often away from their families would be familiar with. It does not feel quite right to read those words here, but they were very sad words. He was 39 years old.

I sincerely extend my condolences to Danica Weeks and her two sons, who have been left without their father as a consequence of this tragic mystery. Paul was one of 227 other people—mothers, fathers, sons and daughters—and 12 crew who all disappeared without apparent explanation from the lives of their families on 8 March 2014. I extend my sorrow to the families of all of them, particularly the families of the six Australians. The thought that a plane carrying 227 passengers can disappear is a terrifying one, but for the families I have mentioned it is a life-changing tragedy. In deep sympathy for those families, I support this condolence motion.

Finally, in doing so, I would like to take the opportunity to note the dedication of the men of service at the Pearce air base in my electorate, who have played an instrumental part in Australia's ongoing role in this investigation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their contributions and the efforts that they have made and are making. Many of the inroads into this mystery have come from the hard work of these service personnel, who have had to visually search across the ocean and try to pick up signs of debris or parts that perhaps may be related to this aircraft's disappearance. To give some idea of the work involved, just the Australian operation alone has covered some 500,000 square kilometres. Ultimately, this operation has been essential to making some small headway towards giving the families that we have referred to some closure, and I thank the personnel at RAAF Base Pearce for the small amount of comfort this has no doubt provided to them.