United States of America - Terrorist Attacks

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:21): I have had the oportunity while in the chair, and sometimes in my office, to follow the contributions of some of my colleagues in this response. It has been a moving experience. Nobody listening to all those contributions could doubt the great sincerity and humanity of our colleagues in this place, which I think is something we sometimes lose sight of. I am pleased to be able to join in that and to acknowledge the member for Menzies, who preceded me. It is not by design, but I want to acknowledge that I am making my contribution to the response to the statements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on this day, which is UN
International Day of Democracy. I think it is important that we all take time to celebrate and commit to the expansion, flourishing and protection of democracy across the world. It is particularly pertinent to the challenges that face us post-September 11. No doubt those who instigated these acts sought to undermine the great values of the Free World. I welcome, therefore, the opportunity to speak on this important motion which commemorates that fateful day in September 2001.

As with so many other momentous days in modern history, each of us can recall exactly what we were doing when that first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46 am, New York time. I certainly recall what I was doing: I was watching an episode of The West Wing on Channel 9. I recall a newsflash appearing on the screen, and at first I thought it was part of the show. Then Jim Waley appeared, announcing that a horrific accident had taken place in New York and that more details were to come. Like many others who have contributed to this response, I at first thought it was an accident, and a bewildering one. The West Wing episode concluded and the nightly news appeared again to report on this horrific air crash in New York City. I recall quite clearly seeing the thick black smoke billowing from the top half of the north tower, then, right before my eyes, seeing the second airliner crash into the south tower and explode into flames. Like many others, as I remember those events I can still feel the goose bumps we all felt across the world as we observed that. During this time the true horror of what we were seeing began to dawn on us. I, like many others, stayed glued to the news, flicking from channel to channel until the very early hours of the morning. The horror dawned of seeing three buildings collapse upon themselves within the space of 102 minutes. It was hard to believe. As if this were not enough, further news reports came that another airliner had crashed into the Pentagon. Then more news, that another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. This last plane, it was speculated, was headed for Washington, to crash into a significant place there—the White House or the US Capitol, for example.

Four planes filled with innocent civilians were used by terrorists as missiles. The last plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was brought down by the heroic efforts of its passengers, who refused to allow the terrorists' plans to succeed. How many lives that were saved by that action is incalculable. Sadly, this horror killed nearly 3,000 people—mostly civilians, going about the normal beginning of just another work day. Office workers were killed as well as managers and chief executives, restaurant workers and cleaners, and emergency responders—firefighters, ambulance, paramedics and police—innocent people, all of them, murdered by extremists. And of course 11 Australians were murdered on that fateful day. People from 90 countries were killed on that day.

It is said that there are six degrees of separation in this world and in some way we are all connected to everyone else. September 11, 2001 touched us all because all of us seem to know of someone who lost a loved one or was connected to someone who did.

At the time of the first anniversary of this terrible event, I was in the middle of the Cunningham byelection, which was to be held on 19 October. My campaign team included Kirsten Andrews. Kirsten's close friend, Andrew Knox, was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center. It was a hard time on that first anniversary for Kirsten, and I want to draw people's attention to a very moving tribute that Kirsten wrote to Andrew, which was published on the 'The Drum' on the ABC website last week.

Even worse, not long after remembering the first anniversary, the second experience with a disgraceful terrorist bombing occurred a week before the Cunningham by-election in 2002. On 12 October next year Australians will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombing. Again, terrorist extremists claimed the innocent lives of 202 people: 88 Australians perished, as did 38 Indonesians. Two hundred and forty people were injured in those cowardly, murderous bomb blasts. A friend and colleague of mine, Tania Brown, was in Bali at the time. We were all touched in one way or another by terrorist activities.

In September and October 2009, as part of a parliamentary delegation to the United States, I had the opportunity to visit New York City. I have to say New York City is a fantastic place—it is indeed the city that never sleeps. I had the privilege of visiting the Tribute World Trade Center Visitor Centre located on Liberty Street. Across the street from the centre lay Ground Zero. Visiting the centre was extremely emotional.

Its exhibits were heartbreaking and initially I found it hard to convince myself to continue through the whole exhibit. At the beginning, there was an almost entirely melted aluminium window frame from one of the downed planes. There was a battered and torn safety uniform of a dead firefighter. There was a twisted steel beam, torn as if it were a piece of paper, from one of the World Trade Center towers. It all brought home just how devastating the collapses were.

The most haunting and emotional exhibition of all for me was the one showing the nearly 3,000 faces of the victims of September 11, 2001. I shall never forget the faces of those innocent people. I shall also never forget the cracking, emotional voice of Mr Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter and one of the founders of the Tribute World Trade Center Visitor Centre, as he told us the story of September 11 and his two firefighting sons. Both, as was their civic duty, risked life to try to help and save the lives of others. Both went into harm's way, into the burning, shattered and tortured World Trade Center towers. Only one son returned.

The other died, another victim of that day. I shall also not forget the last room at the centre, where visitors are given the opportunity to write down on postcards to display around the walls how they feel about the exhibits and their experience. I just want to mention one message left by an Indonesian man. He wrote the words 'war' and 'peace'. 'War' was written on the upper portion and 'peace' was written on the lower portion of his postcard. But he left the letter A out of each of them and an A floated in the centre of the postcard. The remainder of his message was simple but powerful. He had written, 'We have only one letter A. It is we who will decide where we will put it.' I can think of no better way to conclude that visit to the centre and to conclude my brief remarks on this solemn motion.

All of us, I am sure, prefer peace but sometimes we must fight a war against terrorism and all it represents to secure it. I will finish by saying that we should also take time today to pay our respects to those who have lost their lives in this battle and to their friends and loved ones as well.