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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2832

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Mr TURNBULL (8:02 PM) —Australians watched in awe and with horror as we saw the impact of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan» .

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 8.03 pm to 8.15 pm

Mr TURNBULL —I was saying before the suspension that we watched with awe and horror the earthquake and the tsunami in «Japan» , recognising the immense power of nature, its unpredictability and its ability to vanquish all before it. But we also, as the drama unfolded, watched with awe and admiration the stoicism, the courage, the commitment, the professionalism of the Japanese people. It is a remarkable thing that while the death toll in this earthquake is currently estimated to be in the order of 18,000 people—a shockingly large number—it would have been much, much greater had it not been for the superb engineering of the Japanese nation and Japanese professionals which made so many of their buildings effectively earthquake-proof. Of course, no building can withstand a 10-metre wall of water and, as we know, it was the tsunami that has caused the greatest casualties in «Japan» .

So we were horrified by the power of nature; reminded again of its unpredictability, its caprice, if you like, its ability to set at naught all of the technological achievements of men and women; but then also recognised the indomitability of the human spirit and the fact that, even confronted with the sort of natural disaster that would stretch the imagination of a Hollywood director in a nightmare movie, the people of «Japan» were able to stand up to that and go about their business of rescuing the dead and injured with a stoicism, an equanimity, that I think few others, frankly, would be able to equal. The conduct of the Japanese people is as awe inspiring as the destructiveness of nature.

But, then, added to this natural disaster have been the problems, the accidents and the malfunctions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. That is a very old nuclear plant—40 years old. Its design has been criticised in years past, so we read. Nonetheless, so far it appears that the damage has been contained. There is no nation in the world and few people in the world that would have more reason to be horrified and frightened by the consequence of nuclear radiation. After all, «Japan» , at the close of that brutal, existential struggle in the Second World War, suffered two nuclear bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So the Japanese people understand very well the dangers and the consequences of nuclear radiation. Notwithstanding that, they have been able to go about the business of dealing with the radiation from this damaged plant professionally and effectively. There has been a team of Japanese engineers working in and around that plant, from the outset of the disaster, in circumstances which one can only imagine would be at very grave risk to their lives. So these are truly heroic individuals. Potentially—one hopes not; one hopes that they have been well protected, but one fears—they have been sacrificing themselves in the service of their nation.

«Japan» is a very dear and close friend of Australia. We were of course opposed in the Second World War—a very brutal war—and the enmities and resentments of that war took a long time to heal. But I think it is fair to say that we have strong economic links with «Japan» . It is our second largest trading partner, it is our second largest export partner after China and it is one of the largest foreign investors in Australia—in fact, the third largest. The economic ties between Australia and «Japan» are extremely strong; there are few stronger. But the ties of friendship between the Australian and Japanese people are equally strong and becoming stronger all the time. Many young Australians learn Japanese; many young Japanese come to Australia. Modern telecommunications and the internet have made the culture of «Japan» more accessible to people in the rest of the world, something which really was not the case until fairly recently, and, of course, Western culture is very accessible and well understood by the people of «Japan» .

It was appropriate that the Australian parliament stood in sorrow with bowed heads expressing our condolences to the people of «Japan» after this terrible accident. We, as the representatives of the Australian people, shared our nation’s deep sorrow for the tragedy that was inflicted upon «Japan» . We recognise that when we have been beset with natural disasters «Japan» has always been ready to help us. Indeed, one of the cruel ironies of the circumstances of the Japanese earthquake was that a team of Japanese search-and-rescue professionals, who had gone to Christchurch to help with the rescue there, and in particular to help with the rescue of a language school where a number of young Japanese students had been killed, as they were concluding their work in Christchurch had to turn around, go back to their own country and confront an even larger and more devastating earthquake and a tsunami.

We stood with bowed heads and expressed our condolences to the Japanese people. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke, as they always do, very eloquently and I think fairly represented the feelings of the entire House. The Prime Minister quoted a Japanese proverb which I had not heard before but it was very appropriate. It was: fall seven times, rise up eight times. It is a traditional Japanese proverb that really expresses the resilience of the Japanese people, who face so many challenges, so many disasters, but have been able to climb out of the rubble literally and to metaphorically renew themselves and go on to greater achievements. As the Prime Minister was relating this Japanese proverb I thought that I had heard it before in another context. Then later I realised that in fact it is very similar to a proverb in our own tradition in the Bible in Proverbs 24:16 which says, ‘A just man falls seven times and rises again.’

It is rather touching, and perhaps rather insightful, that two cultures so different—the Judaeo-Christian culture, which is at the foundation of our society here in Australia; and «Japan» ’s own culture, a very exceptional, individual culture for that nation—have, in their own traditions, proverbs that are not identical but almost identical, expressing the same thought and the same hope and confidence that the strong, the just, the true, no matter how often they are knocked down, will rise again.

I stand here today, as I know all my colleagues do, to express my very sincere condolences to the people of «Japan and, indeed, the condolences I express are on behalf also of the people of my electorate.