I rise here today to remember the atrocity when four planes were used in a terrible terrorist attack in several cities in the United States and to pay tribute to the victims. Collectively, we know these events as S11 or September 11 and they are forever etched in the consciousness of all Australians.
The terrible atrocity involved four planes, including two which flew into the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center in New York, a separate plane which hit the Pentagon and a further plane which crashed into a field near Shanksville in Pennsylvania. Collectively, these attacks led directly to the deaths of 2,996 people—this included the 19 hijackers. Of the 2,753 victims who died in the World Trade Center, tragically 343 of them were firefighters who were called to work that day to try and rescue people trapped in the building. Another 60 police officers and eight private emergency medical workers were killed, and a further 184 people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
The south tower of the World Trade Center burned for 56 minutes—nearly an hour—before collapsing on itself while the north tower burned for a little over 100 minutes before collapsing. We are told that fires in the buildings are estimated to have reached a temperature of over 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The site itself is now known as Ground Zero for good reason—it continued burning for over 99 days. Over 1½ million tonnes of debris needed to be removed from Ground Zero as a consequence of the attacks, and it took over nine months for the air quality around the Twin Towers to return to pre-9-11 levels. Over 2½ thousand contaminants, including carcinogens, were released in the debris from the collapsing and burning buildings. Many of the rescue workers who were involved survived but—and this is often forgotten—now suffer debilitating illnesses in the aftermath of that terrible attack, and 75 of the rescue workers have since been diagnosed with blood cell cancers which are thought by experts to have been caused by exposure to the toxic air around the crash site. Over 422,000 New Yorkers are estimated to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks.
Ten Australians are known to have died as a result of the attacks.
From New South Wales were Alberto Dominguez, 66, from Lidcombe; Yvonne Kennedy, 62, from Sydney; Craig Neil Gibson, 37, from Randwick; Steve Tompsett, 39, from Merrylands; Elisa Ferraina, 27, from Sydney; and Lesley Anne Thomas, 41. From Victoria were Leanne Whiteside, 31, from Melbourne and Peter Gyulavary, 44, from Geelong. From Queensland was Kevin Dennis, 43, from the Gold Coast. There was also Andrew Knox from Adelaide, a man known to me, who died tragically at the age of 29.
I was talking to my colleague, the member for Kingston, before I rose to speak, as Mr Knox—'Knoxie', as we knew him—was also known to the member for Kingston. I first met Knoxie in around 1994 in Brisbane, where he had moved for work. He was the sort of guy who blokes like me at that time hated to run into at a party, because he was tall, handsome, very funny and incredibly intelligent—in fact, he had it all. Whenever Knoxie walked into a room, all the good-looking women immediately gravitated towards him, and he would charm them with his great sense of humour, his wonderful wit and his intelligence for the duration of the party. He has a tremendous bloke with a great sense of social justice. He spent several years working for the Australian Workers Union. He had taken leave from the Australian Workers Union to work in the United States and was employed as a building worker when he was trapped in the World Trade Center and killed on 11 September 2001. He is survived by family and many friends. I knew him dearly though not well, and I use this opportunity to pay tribute to the life of Andrew 'Knoxie' Knox, who died too young.
As other speakers have said in this debate, we will always remember hereafter where we were when we found out that the planes had hit those towers. I was in the Czech Republic with my wife of only a few months, and we received an SMS message from my sister-in-law in London, who I had left just the previous day. The reason she called us was that we were due to fly into JFK airport that day. Of course, the flight never departed, but our sacrifice was completely insignificant compared to the sacrifices of the victims to whom we pay tribute today. Like every Australian who watched in horror as that act unfolded, I will have the image burned in my memory forever. I hope that we are able to hold onto that memory so that the hate, the fanaticism and the diabolical distortion of religion that led to that terrible attack on that terrible day 10 years ago may remain repellent to us for evermore.
I pay tribute to the victims.