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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3469

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (11:26): I would like to join the Prime Minister and other speakers in extending my sincere condolences to families and friends of passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, now presumed lost in the Indian Ocean, approximately 2,500 kilometres south-west of Perth. This is a mystery and a tragedy that has touched the lives of people around the world, particularly in China and Malaysia. I welcome the Prime Minister's offer of support to families who may wish to travel to Western Australia to seek closure around this distressing event.

Sadly, six Australians and two New Zealanders were among the 239 passengers and crew when the plane went missing on 8 March and lost all communications with the ground. This is a sorrowful and difficult time, and our thoughts are certainly with the passengers' loved ones. Queensland holidaymakers Rod and Mary Burrows were taking a holiday to China while Mary was on long service leave from the Queensland Police Academy's constable development program. They were travelling with friends, fellow Queenslanders Catherine and Robert Lawton. Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting members of the Burrows and Lawton families while they were in the House of Representatives for the condolence motion. Later it was arranged for them to visit AMSA, which is essentially the nerve centre for the current search operations, so that they could have an understanding that Australia was devoting every possible effort to locating this aircraft and to doing what we can to help these people understand what happened and, as a result, have some closure from this event. Amanda Lawton, a daughter of Robert and Catherine Lawton, and Deborah Hanger, the sister of Robert, and Jayden and Melia Burrows, the son and daughter of the Burrows family, are facing a particular burden and shock loss at this time. We feel especially for them and the other members of their families as we go about the task of trying to understand what happened and recover what may be left of this aircraft. Young Sydney couple Yuan Li and Naijun Gu were heading to Beijing to spend some time with their children. Also on board was Perth based New Zealander Paul Weeks, a father of two, who had moved his young family to Perth in the wake of the earthquakes which devastated their home in Christchurch.

A search and recovery operation coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has been active ever since it was suggested, maybe counterintuitively, that this aircraft might well have been lost off the Australian coast, completely in the wrong direction from where it was intended to be travelling and almost without any kind of logical explanation. But as a result of modern satellite telecommunications and advice from the engine manufacturer, which monitors movement of aircraft around the world, it was determined that there were two possible paths for this aircraft, and one of them was in the Southern Ocean near Australia. As time has moved on, the northern option has been largely discounted and all of the global effort now is focused on an area some 2,500 kilometres off the Australian coast.

Because Australia is the nearest landfall area, but particularly because this area is within Australia's search and rescue zone, under the Chicago convention we have been taking the leadership role in this search operation. This operation is building momentum. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority was yesterday able to resume the search following a day lost because of heavy rain, rough seas and gale-force winds. Today there are 10 aircraft and five ships operating in the area. The five military aircraft come from three countries—Orions, a Japanese Gulfstream and a US Navy P8 Poseidon. There are also five civilian aircraft involved in the search. A number of countries are now involved, and it seems that others will join in this search operation over the days ahead.

As others have mentioned, it is a particularly difficult search. It is at the extent of the range of the aircraft that are involved in the search. They only have an hour or two over the site and then they must return to base. Often during the search period items which were thought to be of interest have been found by visual observation, only to have a subsequent aircraft come in to continue the observation and not be able to pick them up. We have even had cases where debris potentially from the aircraft—but, of course, no-one knows—has been plotted and the site has been clearly identified but, when the Australian naval vessel in the area came to pick it up, it could not find it. That has been the exercise all the way through.

This morning the Malaysians spoke about satellite pictures which identified 122 objects which may be of interest in the search. This was the precise area where the search aircraft were operating the day before, and none of these objects were sighted. So it is becoming a real demonstration that no matter how advanced the technology is—and let me say that the US, Chinese, Japanese and Australian search aircraft working in that area have at their disposal the best search equipment available anywhere in the world—the most valuable piece of assistance in spotting debris and then recovery is actually people's eyes. That is why the commercial aircraft are of real value in this search, because they have seats to be able to carry a number of observers who hopefully can pick up sightings of some of what may be left from this aircraft.

It has already been a week of enormous effort, with the eyes of the world on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and our leadership in the search and rescue effort. The exhaustive search effort has drawn on the full depth of the expertise available to AMSA, and I can assure families that we will continue our vigilance in seeking signs of the aircraft. Based on the initial advice developed by the US National Transportation Safety Board, AMSA has undertaken drift modelling and other analysis to develop and continually refine the search area in the southern Indian Ocean. Obviously recovery of any kind of debris that may be related to the aircraft will be important for the investigative stage, so it is very important for us to try to find as much of the aircraft as we possibly can. The ideal, obviously, would be to locate as much of the wreckage as possible. That will require sophisticated equipment, some of which we do not have in Australia and much of which will have to be brought from the United States, in particular. It is a priority to recover the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the aircraft. Machinery to detect the signals sent out by the black box flight recorder is now in Australia and ready to be deployed for that task.

We will need assistance with technology, from countries such as the US, to be able to work at those depths in the search area to recover the equipment. It is thought that the aircraft will be lying in waters between 1,000 and 6,000 metres deep. That is exceptionally deep water to be trying to recover anything of importance to the investigation. There are 12 aircraft and at least five ships involved from six countries—Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea—searching in the area. India has also offered to join the mission. When the investigative stage is undertaken, Malaysia as the flag of the aircraft will have primary responsibility under the Chicago convention, but the US as the manufacturer of the aircraft and something like 14 other countries who have passengers on board will also have a right to be involved in the investigation. Australia has offered its services to support that investigation. I remind members that Australia invented the black box, which may well be a key part of this investigation—probably the most important item in the search. We therefore have good skills in interpreting the data, and hopefully can obtain as much information as we can.

This is without question an unprecedented disaster. Once again, I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of passengers on flight MH370. There will be no closure for them or the world until we locate the aircraft and exhaust all avenues in unravelling the mystery of this flight. There are a thousand theories about what may have happened. All of them are easy to discount. This is clearly one of the great mysteries of global aviation. We need to find out what happened. Australia remains determined to do its duty to the aviation world and to fulfil its responsibilities to the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. While there is any hope of finding answers we will be strong and determined. We are anxious to work with the international community to find solutions which will help to give closure to the families of all of those who grieve this day.