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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I found the 10th anniversary of the massive Canterbury and, particularly, Christchurch earthquakes very emotional, so I’m just going to speak from the heart. Yesterday, I was honoured to be able to attend the 10th anniversary of the 2011 quakes on the 22nd of February. Along with me were Gerry Brownlee, who seemed to spend much of his Cabinet time dealing with and trying to resurrect Christchurch from not only the ashes but, actually, the liquefaction—an enormous contribution—Nicola Grigg and Matt Doocey were there, former Ministers Nicky Wagner and Kate Wilkinson were there. All were people who I well remember around the Cabinet table doing their very best for Christchurch.

I first visited the quake sites on 24 February 2011, two days after the quakes. For me, it was something that I returned to almost every week for months after that. It was horrific. I got to go home that night but the people who were living it did not—or were not to escape it anyway.

I well remember the young police officer who was assigned, because I was Minister of Police then, to take me around and to get me past cordons and through things. I asked him how he was and what happened with his house, and his house had been destroyed and he and his wife had had to go and shift in with family. Yet there he was at work, showing this Minister around. He took me to places like the CTV Building and the PGC Building, and there I met people who were removing bodies and who just occasionally were able to bring out someone who was still alive. It was horrendous, and, as I say, I got to go home that night and they didn’t.

Even now when we go back to Christchurch, there are drivers and other people who have been there for many years, and I often say, “And how are you today?”, and sometimes it’s not good. Sometimes people are still dealing with not only the physical scars but the mental scars, because, as we know—and we’ll just remind everybody—it wasn’t just a day of earthquakes; it has been years of earthquakes, and it only now seems to have settled down somewhat. Thousands of earthquakes and people had to keep living in it.

When I think about my colleagues who themselves had their houses destroyed and their families uprooted and they still had to go to work and do their best for others, I’m really proud to have been round that Cabinet table with them.

I also think of the next visit, which was to the morgue which had been set up at Burnham Military Camp. It was something that will live with me for ever. I went there with the Governor-General, Anand Satyanand, and my chief of staff, and we saw all these people working to reunite the deceased with their families, to work out who people were, to absolutely 100 percent identify people where when people say, “Oh, they could’ve shown us the bodies”, they couldn’t have shown the bodies—it was horrendous. Everyone was treated with respect. We saw just about every denomination it is possible to have from a religious point of view represented, and we saw everyone treated with respect. The people who came to help there were not only New Zealanders but people from all around the world and they came to help us in our hour of need and they came quickly and they came with the best intentions and the best skills. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a Kiwi receiving that.

The Australian Government—or their states, I should say—sent 400 police officers to help us. They sent 400 police officers to help New Zealand Police, and those police were sworn in as temporary constables by the commissioner at the airport. I’ll always remember them well for that.

It is really hard to think of all those people who died, but let us not forget that there are many people who survived. Yesterday, I was able to meet with the Quake Families Trust and to meet some of those people who had horrific injuries—their legs lost, back broken, just awful things, and they still live with this every day. What they want us to do is to remember them, as well, and that we can do things for them. So I hope that we will always try to remember that. They are still there, they have still survived, and they have been injured.

And, of course, the mental health issues that people suffered. Whether it’s the little children who grew up with this massive uncertainty, or whether it’s people who everything that they thought they had had been destroyed, what they went through.

So I was very humbled and grateful to be able to attend yesterday, to be able to pay my respects to people, and to remember all of those—all those emergency services—everybody who did their very best. Thank you, Mr Speaker.