MH17 Condolence Motion

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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:49): I want to add a few words to the condolence motion before the chamber today. My colleague the member for Throsby spoke earlier about the impacts of this terrible tragedy on our local community so I want to endorse his comments. More broadly, I join my colleagues from this parliament in supporting the statements of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the parliament yesterday offering the condolences of the nation to the MH17 victims and confirming our resolution to seeking justice, not only for the 38 Australians killed in what was a barbaric act but for all of those who died from nations around the world including so many from the Netherlands.

The horror that this act struck in the hearts of people around the world was so powerful, I believe, because it was a civilian aircraft carrying people undertaking simple acts of everyday life. They were holidaying, visiting family or working—indeed, as we know, many were attending the international conference on AIDS here in Australia. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners and parents, friends, teammates, classmates, colleagues, wonderful people who loved and were loved, people who laughed and learned and made a life under the Southern Cross. They could easily have been any one of us. They could have been our families, our friends and they were, as many colleagues have indicated, they were members of our local communities.

I join my colleague the member for Throsby in recording in our parliament the sentiments that we were able to share at the condolence events in our own area over the loss of two wonderful locals in this terrible event: retired teachers Carol and Michael Clancy. The local paper, the Illawarra Mercury, obviously reported on this terrible tragedy and how it had affected us so close to home and opened a condolence book on their site. I thought it was one of the great opportunities that social media provides—for people to find that space and be able to express their sense of loss and grief for the family, and for our community more broadly.

I think it was particularly moving for many of us because both Carol and Michael as teachers had given a lifetime's dedication to enriching the lives of others. I know many of my colleagues would hold their own teachers from their younger years in great esteem, and it is a very noble profession. That was absolutely reflected in the case of both Carol and Michael by the many, many former students who went on to the website to record their expressions of appreciation, of how they had touched their lives as students—and the member for Throsby read some of those comments into the record today. There was also a recollection of how Michael would play Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody at the beginning of lessons to settle students down and to get the day underway, and recollections of how he knew every student's name. He would wander around the school and greet not only them by name but their family as well if they were on the grounds.

There were some lovely comments from the family as well in the paper and some, I think, very moving reflections on how they were managing their own grief and how appreciative they were that the community more broadly had indicated its absolute determination to stand with them at a very difficult time.

In that vein, I would like to also commend the Lord Mayor, Gordon Bradbery, and the council, who very quickly organised the candlelight ceremony on 21 July. It brought together religious leaders of many denominations and representatives of all levels of government. As the member for Throsby indicated, the family members did not at that point feel able to speak themselves but had written down what they wanted said, and that was read by the mayor to the crowd on the night.

Also, my great personal commendation goes to the principal of the Albion Park Public School, Glenn Daniels, and to all the staff there. As the member for Throsby indicated, it is really difficult to work our way through understanding an event like this as adults, but it would be a really difficult task for primary school age children to understand that people they loved so well, Michael and Carol, had been lost. The school itself had an assembly and a follow-up ceremony for the community to come along to. That is really tough. I think we should record our great appreciation for the work of the principal and his staff in working through that.

Finally, like so many here, I would also like to add my words of appreciation to the Governor-General; to all of the specialist expertise; to the Australian people on the ground in a very, very difficult circumstance, whether they are part of forensic or air crash investigation or policing-type authorities—all of those people doing work for us in that circumstance. The fact they go into very difficult circumstances is a great strength of our professional people, whatever area they come from. Let us hope that their skills are not needed in the longer term, because we have seen that in Bali, as a previous example. I too would just like to place on record my appreciation for the work that they have done and to join both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in all of their sentiments that were expressed in the House yesterday.