New Zealand High Commission Canberra, Australia

Departure of AFP Contingent to Christchurch

On 25 February, 2011, a contingent of Australian Federal Police personnel left Canberra to support recovery efforts in Christchurch, New Zealand, following the devastating earthquake on 22 February.

The contingent were farewelled by Acting New Zealand High Commissioner, Vangelis Vitalis. The Acting High Commissioner's speech follows:

E nga mana, e nga reo, raurangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

It is impossible to make sense of the tragedy that is unfolding in the city of Christchurch.

Buildings are just buildings, and roads are just roads.

But people, people are not replaceable. The death toll in Christchurch is rising and these deaths are our greatest loss. Our people are irreplaceable.

Rescue operations to locate and rescue those trapped in collapsed and damaged buildings in Christchurch remain a top priority and the Government is going to do everything it can to support the recovery and rebuilding of Christchurch

Our Prime Minister has called these days - our darkest days. They are.

In those dark days, there has been one small silver lining: you - our brothers and sisters from Australia.

New Zealand is deeply grateful for the generosity of spirit - let’s call it what it is: mateship that Australia has shown in our hour of need.

With typical open-handed unstinting generosity, Australia has stepped up for us.

Last week I had the privilege of watching your Prime Minister become the first foreign leader to address the New Zealand Parliament. She said - our two countries have many other relationships, agreements and partnerships. But the one between us is different. “We are,” she said “family.”

Our Prime Minister and other Ministers, including my own, Minister McCully have been in daily contact with their counterparts here.

As with the New Zealand response to the Queensland and Victoria flooding, Australia didn’t need to be asked to help, it just has.

I can’t begin to tell you how important the sympathy and messages of support have been to our Government, to me personally and to my country at this our darkest day.

The States, and the Federal Government, have all offered to provide anything New Zealand needs. Already there are Urban Search and Rescue teams from Australia on the ground working with our New Zealand teams, saving lives in dangerous circumstances.

Literally hundreds of Australian police officers are being deployed to back up their New Zealand counterparts, as well as medical assistance teams and a field hospital.

In want to thank you personally for being here today about to depart to Christchurch to help your brother and sister officers in New Zealand.

Living and working conditions will present challenges and will not be without risk for you - but I know that the training and professionalism of the Australian Federal Police will equip you well for what is ahead.

I have no doubt that during your time in Christchurch, you will come across incidents and scenes that will remain with you for the rest of your lives. You all know this and therefore to be willingly drafted to be part of this emergency response team says everything anyone needs to know about your commitment and dedication to seeing this task through.

And the Australian Government has demonstrated further generosity by announcing a donation to the Red Cross Appeal. This donation will support those in Christchurch who are most in need.

For me perhaps one of my most moving moments here as Acting High Commissioner during this crisis - a moment that told me everything I needed to know about Australian generosity - was an Australian woman who rang me last night to say she had some spare rooms in her house in Melbourne. She said that if anyone from Christchurch needed a place to stay, she looked forward to seeing them. She offered to pay their airfare and anything else they needed. She said “I’ve got a big garden for the kiddies to play in.”

Words failed me then. They fail me now.

I want to thank you personally today for standing up to be counted and to be there with your brothers and sisters in Christchurch. Thank you. What you do is dangerous but critical work - I appreciate it, my country is grateful.

Let me just say, you’d expect no less from us if the situation was reversed, and nor should you. But don’t think for a moment that we take this for granted.

This devastating event marks the start of a long journey for Christchurch. It will be a difficult journey, but the great city of Christchurch will not need to walk it alone. Christchurch will rise again.

Safe travels to my country and to a city on its knees, but as you will see for yourselves, it is a city unbowed.

As we say in New Zealand: Kia Kaha - stand strong, travel safely. Thank you

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

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