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Monday, 17 September 2001
Page: 30777

Mrs CROSIO (5:35 PM) —I, too, join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in this condolence motion. In the United States, on 11 September 2001, what can only be described as a truly horrible attack on freedom changed our world. Many Australians watched in a state of complete disbelief as the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, which were once symbols of success, democracy and capitalism in the free world, came crashing to the ground, and the defence headquarters of the world's only superpower lay crippled by the senseless acts of a few madmen.

To the people of America: the whole Australian community mourns with you. Words expressing our deepest condolences and sympathy seem, at a time like this, so futile. To the people who have lost their loved ones in this senseless human tragedy: we pray for you. To those who gave their lives to help save others: may you never be forgotten. We as a society must continue to denounce this cowardly act, the magnitude and consequences of which are far too great to comprehend at this moment. However, violence must not beget violence. People are looking for a reason. Feelings of shock are now being replaced with feelings of revenge, anger and retribution for this act of bastardry. To those people who call for revenge: your rage and anger is shared by all people of good faith, regardless of their religion. We must turn these feelings into actions which show civility and intelligence, by reacting in a way which will punish the guilty and protect the innocent. We must not start to engage in stupid actions which will only create division and hatred within our multicultural communities. A network of international extremist terrorists was obviously responsible for this act of pure evil, and it is these underground terrorist organisations which must be brought to justice.

People will always remember what they were doing at the moment when this event took place. I was here in Canberra at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference. Just before midnight, my daughter rang and said, `Mum, quick, turn on the TV.' I sat there glued to the TV for six hours. Of course, my first action was to ring my son, who travels widely. Two weeks before, he was in that very spot in America. He was fine; he said, `I'm in Hong Kong.' I rang my sister to find out about my nieces, nephew and other family who live in Philadelphia.

Then my daughter sent me Rory Robertson's report, a first-hand account of what happened. Here is a man who was lucky, an Australian who escaped. I would like to put his account on the record of this parliament. This is not what the reporters are reporting; this is an individual, an Australian, like you and me. He said:

Like many others, I was way too close to the action. I am pretty shaken, though I do not have even a scratch. Thank you to all those who called to see that I am okay.

At about 8.45am, we were on the ground floor of the World Trade Centre Marriot listening to the breakfast speaker at the NABE (National Association for Business Economics) conference when what turned out to be the first hijacked plane hit our tower.

There was a bit of a bang and the building shook. We all looked at each other across the table, wondering. Earthquake? Presumably everyone else was also thinking about the 110 floors above us. Then the building shook again. Everyone ran for the door and then the foyer. The move was reasonably orderly. I noticed dust and smoke coming from one lift well; probably it was a bomb (as in 1993), I thought? I was terrified, but okay.

Everyone was keen to get out into the street, but we didn't really know how frightened to be. On getting to the foyer, you could see the debris outside on the ground. Hotel officials told people not to go outside, as things might still be crashing down. Maybe five minutes later, people moved outside and we could see the hole near the top of the building. And the fire. It was a mind-numbing sight.

Thousands of people were spilling out into the street from buildings in the financial district, but none of us had much idea what had happened. Someone said it was a missile; another said a helicopter had crashed into the tower. So it might have been an accident?

I didn't have a clue what to do. I guessed the conference was over. Growing crowds were milling around. Like everyone else, I kept looking up, marvelling at the hole and the fire near the top of the first tower. I didn't see people jumping out, but many were talking about it. I noticed a car torn in half and an engine that seem to have flown out of nowhere. I tried to ring Gwen and Matt (they knew I was in the WTC today) to let them know that I was okay. The mobile wouldn't work but eventually Gwen got through, and she let Matt know at work for me. I tried to ring my brother in Brisbane, but the mobile wouldn't call out.

I figured I would walk downtown away from the WTC and then walk to midtown via the East side. As I started to move away, I observed debris here and there, the sorts of things you would expect to see when a passenger plane explodes. I was maybe 250 yards from the WTC when I looked up and saw the second plane fly directly—maybe 150 yards—above me. Instantly, I knew it was going to hit the tower. I didn't watch, I didn't see it hit. I just ran, maybe 50 yards towards an alley behind the building, terrified that the debris could easily carry to where I stood.

As I ran, I heard the explosion as the second plane hit. I made the alley, and hugged the near-side of the building. My thought was that the building was high enough to block out any flying objects, but looking around the alley I could see bits and pieces from the first plane. A young Japanese woman stumbled into the alley, crying and very distressed. We hunkered against the wall. I put my arm around her shoulder and told her that we were safe, at the same time hoping that we were. It was like being in the middle of a disaster movie; it was hard to credit what was unfolding all around.

After waiting a few minutes, I started walking quickly to the bottom of the island, before heading East and then uptown. Looking over my left shoulder, I could see the holes in the two towers, and the fires.

And it goes on. This man, an Australian, experienced it. He said:

... I shudder to think how many hundreds, probably thousands of people have been killed today. This is huge human tragedy.

It is a human tragedy but I plead with those people who want action—and we all do— that we will be judged in history by what actions we take and deeds we do today. Let us again mourn those people who have lost their lives and let us praise those who have worked to try to save them.