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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1420

Mr CHEESEMAN (2:10 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the recovery and rescue effort following the earthquake in Christchurch?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. The member for Corangamite was actually born in Christchurch and lived there until 1988—something I did not know until talking to him about Christchurch and the earthquake in New Zealand. He has a younger brother and a grandfather there, and I am very pleased that yesterday he got the news that they were safe and well.

But, as members of the parliament would know, that news has not been brought to a lot of people. Rescue and recovery efforts are still underway in Christchurch and in the surrounding districts. We have seen on our TV screens the pictures showing this grim and difficult work. I want to pay tribute to the courage and the professionalism of the many individuals who are going about doing this grim and difficult work—the search and rescue teams, the police, the fire authorities, the ambulance workers and the volunteers and ordinary citizens who are there pitching in and doing everything they can in what remains the very urgent task of looking for people amongst the rubble. The death toll now stands at more than 70, and many more are missing. That obviously is bearing down very strongly upon their families as they wait for news. We know that the likelihood of survivors being found diminishes over time. Prime Minister Key has stressed that this continues to be a rescue mission, and I am sure everybody wishes that we continue to find people alive and able to be rescued in that rubble.

I have been in contact with Prime Minister Key today and he thanked me and thanked Australia for our efforts to assist New Zealand to date. We are working side by side with New Zealanders in this rescue effort. The overall number of people in the Australian effort will shortly reach 500. We have a medical assistance team, search and rescue teams and Emergency Management Australia personnel there. We have had our Defence Force involved with its aircraft and a medical field hospital. And 300 of our police officers will depart soon for New Zealand.

It is something of a miracle that so far we have only seen this impact upon one long-term Australian resident—tragic, tragic news for that family. Given the scenes of devastation and destruction and the number of Australians we know were in the area, we are relieved that at this stage we have not seen that toll rise. But it does remain possible that that toll will rise as the work continues with search and rescue and as the work continues going through the rubble.

Appeal funds have been set up to help the people of Christchurch. I know Australians are going to be very generous in their support. In that regard, I warmly welcomed the news today from Cricket Australia that tomorrow’s Australia and New Zealand World Cup match will be broadcast live by Channel 9, Fox Sports and ABC Grandstand. Players from both teams will be showing their respect by wearing black armbands and having a moment’s silence before the match. The earthquake appeal will be promoted and there will be ways for cricket lovers to donate as they watch that match.

Inevitably there will be some very, very difficult days ahead as the search and rescue continues in Christchurch, and our thoughts are with the people of New Zealand as this happens.