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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 367

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (19:25): I would like to take the opportunity at the commencement of my speech to endorse Senator Williams' words. I have the privilege of now knowing two female Walkley Award winners: Joanne McCarthy from the Central Coast and Adele Ferguson—two very brave Australian women who have done outstanding work in service of the nation.

The focus of my words this evening is to express my condolences to the families of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson and to the survivors of the experience that Australians will not forget that unfolded in the Lindt cafe. I particularly rise to honour the memory of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson—two amazing Australians who did not survive the Martin Place siege—and to extend my personal and deepest sympathies to their families. I acknowledge in the Senate the sadness and grief of an entire state—we who love Sydney as our primary city and indeed the nation. As a Sydneysider and a lover of the city, I have spent so many memorable moments of my life in Martin Place. Like many of us who live in Sydney, we saw the transformation of that place—first with the siege and then with the actions following the siege, and that needs to be marked and recorded.

I convey to the families who have braved unspeakable pain and heartbreak that their tragic loss has inspired a wellspring of emotion that has truly shown what Australia stands for. Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson will not be forgotten. Their bravery and composure under such unimaginable duress will serve as perpetual testimony to the strength and resolve of our people amid this sad chapter in our history.

Tori and Katrina paid the ultimate sacrifice in the course of the siege at the Lindt cafe in Sydney's Martin Place on 15 and 16 December, and ultimately they gave their lives for the protection of others. The events in that cafe on that long day and night and the outpouring of emotion that followed showed us and the world the real strength that binds our community. We came together as one, we showed that our own could not be taken in such grave and cruel circumstances without inflicting a wound on our collective conscious.

More importantly, we also showed that such a wound could be addressed by the natural strength and compassion that Australians are famous for—compassion that we have shown again and again in times of crisis. There was undoubtedly shock and perhaps righteous anger mixed with that compassion, but common humanity prevailed in the end. Australians showed that we would never surrender to hatred, to fear or to intolerance. It showed that we had the collective resources to rise above these obstacles as a civil, rational and cohesive society.

As the floral tributes piled up in Martin Place, Australians from all walks of life, from all religions and from across the spectrum of our multicultural and multifaith community, came to the Sydney CBD to pay their respects. Some came alone, some with their children and family, some to pray, some to stand silently and some to display community solidarity. I was touched, as I am sure all Australians were, by the images of interfaith gatherings and vigils, with friends and strangers arm-in-arm. I was struck walking through Martin Place days after the tragedy by the beautiful scent of the flowers and the transformative effect the mass tribute had on a place that could have made me and many others so heavy of heart.

The events of 15 and 16 December also hold special significance for the New South Wales Central Coast—the community where my family lives. Tori Johnson grew up on the Central Coast and was a former student at Terrigal High School. This connection brought the events of Martin Place closer to the Central Coast than the hour it takes to travel down the highway to Sydney.

Forresters Beach resident and Macquarie University student Jordyn Steele felt that connection and started a tribute at the Terrigal War Memorial on the Tuesday evening after the siege was broken, and posted her feelings on Facebook. Locals read her message: they came to the memorial with flowers and written messages, and Tori's school friends gathered and shared their stories. It was, again, a vital time for the community to unite and to repair.

Touchingly, Jordyn wrote on her Facebook page: 'As a nation we have shown our true strength and courage in the face of malignant and deliberate violence. As a community I believe we can show even greater strength.' Jordyn was part of a conversation that Australia had on that day. That conversation was about compassion, freedom and strength, not fear and anger.

Can I also indicate that those listening might think about supporting the Katrina Dawson Foundation, which will be dedicated to the education of young women, because it is through education that we will be able to overcome the horror and the terror that led to that terrible event.