Private Members’ Business

Typhoon Haiyan

House of Representatives

18 November 2013

I rise today in support of the motion moved by the member for Chifley, and I commend him for bringing it to the attention of the House. In this place, he and I are privileged to represent the City of Blacktown, a city of over 300,000 people, nearly 10 per cent of whom have Filipino ancestry. In our respective electorates and beyond, the Filipino community is coming together to assist their brothers and sisters in the Philippines through many fundraising efforts, and I commend the work of everyone involved in that.

In the immediate aftermath of typhoon Haiyan, we have seen the tragic images of human suffering and devastation. As Tim Costello writes in today’s Age:

Typhoon Haiyan was more than a typhoon. In Tacloban, it was also a tsunami. Collecting so much water as it hurtled towards land, Haiyan formed an eight metre wall of water, smashing the city flat, drowning people even as they sheltered in their homes.

Philippine authorities and international aid agencies face a mounting humanitarian crisis, with the number of people displaced by the catastrophe estimated now at four million, up from 900,000 late last week.

As remarked by aid workers in the country, along with the elderly, young children are the most vulnerable at the present time. On our TVs over the past few days we have seen many images of parents with children. The sense of helplessness and human devastation is almost unbearable to watch. An assessment by the charity Save the Children suggests that some 3.9 million children are in the area devastated by the storm, and that is across a huge geographic area. They urgently need basic supplies and reaching them is proving to be more difficult than experts had initially assessed. I particularly want to bring to the attention of the House not only the magnitude of this disaster but the very disturbing issues that have been raised by the potential for profiteering by traffickers on the orphaned children of this terrible typhoon. I want to quote a section from agency Agenzia Fides, who have written the following article:

They are already called ‘orphans of Yolanda’ … There are thousands of children who have become orphans after the storm that struck the province of Leyte. And they are most vulnerable victims, as they find themselves alone, wandering through the rubble, looking for someone to take care of them.

These children are the main victims of jackals who seize them for child abuse or human trafficking. It is a horrible prospect, but it is extremely realistic in the case of natural disasters. ‘These children are in need of immediate attention, to be saved from the clutches of traffickers and paedophiles.’ This is the complaint launched by Fr. Shay Cullen, a missionary from San Colombano, who has been living in the Philippines since 1969, known for his social and pastoral commitment, especially for child victims of sexual exploitation. The missionary explains the phenomenon to Fides: ‘Under the pretext of saving or taking care of children, kidnappers traffickers kidnap them and sell them to paedophiles. Or they earn large sums of money by providing the children for illegal adoptions. Even worse, they introduce them into the world of prostitution, making them slaves of sexual exploitation.

So it is not enough that these defenceless victims lose their whole families and everything they own but they can potentially be condemned to a life of permanent misery.

In response to the disaster, Australia has provided a medical assistance team of professionals who have been working on the ground saving lives. I congratulate this government and urge them to continue this great work and also to implement a more long-term plan for the Philippines, which will continue to suffer not just in the coming months but in the coming years. They will need a long-term rebuilding plan for social services as well as for infrastructure. I will be making formal representations to the Foreign Minister regarding this. This is an issue that has been directly raised with me by Filipino Australians in my electorate over the last couple of days, particularly highlighting the concerns for the many orphans who have become victims of this tragedy.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the Philippines Ambassador to Australia, Ambassador Anota, who was visibly and understandably upset by what is happening in her homeland. She asked for all our thoughts and prayers during this time as did Consul-General, Anne Jalando-on Louise—one of the hardest working diplomats in Australia and someone with whom both the member for Chifley and the member for McMahon have a close working relationship with. We know that she will be doing her best to assist her country in its time of need.

In closing, I join with some 25,000 Filipino residents of the Blacktown government area and the wider community to grieve for those who have been affected that this tragic situation. And I urge anyone watching this or reading this transcript to donate to the cause through a variety of organisations including World Vision, Oxfam or UNICEF. I want to stress the importance of Australia needing a long-term role in rebuilding in our region. In conclusion, I offer my deepest sympathy and prayers to all the victims, all the families and all their compatriots of the Filipino community in Australia.