MH17 condolence motion

michael_and_carol_clancy.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:14): At approximately 12.15 pm on 17 July Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed from Amsterdam airport, due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur at approximately 6 am the following morning. I know the flight well. I have travelled on it many times myself. Tragically, the flight never landed, as we know. Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky in an act of terrorism and crashed near Torez in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast region, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. There were 38 Australian citizens and residents on that flight that morning. There were five victims from New South Wales and two from Kanahooka, a suburb in my electorate of Throsby. They were Michael Clancy, 57, and Carol Clancy, 64, both schoolteachers from the Illawarra. Both of them had dedicated their lives to helping young students get the very best start they could in their lives. Carol was a schoolteacher from Lakelands primary school and Michael, who I knew—although not well, but I did know him—had just retired as Assistant Principal at Albion Park school. Together the couple were taking their dream holiday and they were on their way home from a three week trip through Germany, France, Norway and Holland to celebrate Michael's retirement.

They will both be remembered fondly. After the news of the crash made its way through the Illawarra community, stories started to flow. In the passing week there has been an outpouring of love and support from the community, because both Michael and Carol are remembered as talented educators, loving parents and loyal friends and neighbours. A tribute from young Sharon, a parent of a student from Albion Park school, really has struck a chord with me. She says: 'He was such a wonderful man and deputy principal. My daughter still laughs about him using a hammer to put kids' stickers on the sticker chart and how the hammer was bigger every time she went into his office.' Hundreds and hundreds of stories like this came forth in the days and weeks after the tragedy.

Given the impact of Michael and Carol's contribution to the Illawarra community throughout their lives, there were a number of public and private ceremonies held in the district to honour them. The largest was held at the Albion Park public school, and I attended. This was the school that Michael worked at immediately prior to his retirement. Green and white balloons were released into the sky by hundreds of students, parents and teachers who had gathered on the lawns to pay tribute. It was a musical affair. It began with a few bars of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which was one of Michael's favourite songs—a song he liked to play for his students to help them settle at the beginning of the school day. A parent of a child in the school's special needs class—an area that both Carol and Michael advocated for in their work as teachers; it was one of his areas of specialty—sang the song To Sir With Love and there was barely a dry eye in the school ground. I joined with the principal, Glenn Daniels, who has done a fantastic job. I pause to pay tribute to the work that Glenn has done. I cannot begin to imagine how you explain to a young group of kids not only what has gone on in an international sense but how somebody they knew and loved very well has been ripped from their presence. It is difficult enough to try to explain this to adults, but to have to do this to young school kids is a very difficult task. So I pay tribute to the work of Glenn Daniels and all the staff at that school. The former principal and teachers all joined there on that day, together with the Anglican ministers from Albion Park, to pay memory and help the kids through that difficult process. The Monday after the crash was a cold, wet night. Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, who is with me in the chamber today, and I joined more than a hundred mourners who braved the terrible conditions to pay their respects to Carol and Michael in the Civic Plaza in Wollongong.

I was surprised but very pleased that Carol's children—Jane and Andrew Malcolm, and Andrew's wife, Yuliya—joined us on that day; I could have thought of nothing harder for them to do. Jane travelled down from Sydney to be with us. Andrew had prepared a statement, which was read on his behalf. They were joined by dozens of people from the teaching community, where they were well-known and respected, by civic leaders and plenty of other people who did not know them but wanted to show their respect and support for the family and friends who are grieving. Young school students, whose lives had been touched forever by the couple, were among those holding flickering candles. It was a very moving ceremony indeed.

I had the honour of speaking. I made the observation—because a number of religious leaders from all denominations had got up and paid tribute—that, when tragedies like this occur, we often look to the heavens in search of meaning, but with something like this, meaning does not rest up there; it rests among us down here on this earth. It is our obligation not to add to the volume of hate in this world, but certainly to seek justice and to ensure that tragedies like this are not visited upon innocent civilians ever again.

In closing, can I take the opportunity to thank Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and his team for their work, the Australian Defence Force personnel, the consular officials, the victim identification unit, the forensic experts and all the air safety investigators who are working alongside Dutch and Ukrainian forces in very dangerous and difficult circumstances to secure the crash site, to engage in identifying and recovering the remains of the victims and to help in bringing them back home.

I spoke to Carol's children, Jane and Andrew, yesterday afternoon and I asked them if there was anything that they would like me to say on their behalf; they said that they have said it all. They welcome the fact that the national parliament was going to be speaking on this motion. They did advise me that they are still waiting on the identification process as a necessary step before bringing their parents home and organising a funeral. I cannot imagine how difficult that is; on the one hand, relieved by the fact that there is so much community support and public interest in their private grief, but on the other hand, denied the essential closure of a funeral and enabling them to get their lives together and move on. My message to them is that, while your loss and grief is very private—and so it should be—you will be supported by members of this parliament and the community. To Michael and Carol, I can think of no better way to pay tribute to your life than through some of the words of one of your ex-students who had this to say:

I had the greatest pleasure in the world as a child as I got to be able to go to school every day and spend the most enjoyable time with Mr Clancy. I live by every thing he told me to work towards in life when I was a child and I wouldn't be half the person that I am today without his guidance. Rest in paradise.

This is nothing short of a tragedy, but I am certain, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there would not be a man or woman in this parliament who would not enjoy that sort of tribute being spoken in their favour after they have passed from this earth.