Speeches

Motion Thai Cave Rescue

Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (11:13): I commend the member for Makin on those comments. I also rise today to support the member for Forrest, whose motion I wholeheartedly concur with. It is at times of great adversity that we're reminded of the true selflessness and compassion of the human race, and that was the case in July. Reports of the 12 young soccer players and their coach trapped in the flooded cave in Thailand saw the world transfixed and mesmerised by the life-and-death crisis and the unfolding miracle. The incredible story brought to the world's attention some amazing Australians who took part in the rescue. In particular, I want to acknowledge a South Australian with a rare combination of talents.

Dr Richard Harris, an anaesthetist from Adelaide with more than 30 years of cave-diving experience, was specifically requested to be part of the operation by British divers participating in the Thai rescue. With his diving partner, Western Australian Craig Challen, Dr Harris's unique set of skills set him to lead a team of eight Australians involved in the gruelling rescue in Chiang Rai Province, along with six members of the Australian Federal Police. They cooperated with experts from around the world—from Britain, Japan, China, Myanmar and Laos—and more than 30 US military personnel, who joined about a thousand Thai rescuers in the massive search and rescue operation. The combination of his medical knowledge and skills in cave diving—a perilous hobby in the best of circumstances—equipped Dr Harris for this dangerous and complex rescue operation. He risked his life to make the treacherous journey to the chamber where the boys were trapped underground for 15 days, and spent three days with them, assessing and monitoring their medical condition, before the rescue commenced.

Can you imagine the fear and trauma these boys had experienced: days and nights of pitch black, hungry and cold, huddled together and wondering if they would ever be found and be reunited with their families? Handprints found at the cave where the boys climbed deeper to escape the rising waters were amongst the first signs rescuers found showing where they were, how they had escaped the floods and the dangers the rescuers would face in the mission to save them. When the group was found by British divers, the world sighed in collective relief to hear all were alive and remarkably well, but now to get them out. The young boys were weakened and malnourished, with no scuba experience, so the expectations of success were not high. It was on the advice of Dr Harris that the first four boys were cleared to make the incredibly dangerous journey out of the flooded cave complex. It required his medical expertise to sedate the boys combined with his diving knowledge to help put in place the daring rescue plan. In the final day of the 18-day ordeal, the last person to emerge from the labyrinth of tunnels was Dr Harris, a true example of a great Australian, who sadly emerged to the devastating news that his father had passed away.

Here in Australia, we like to celebrate our heroes—there's nothing wrong with that and so we should—but I sometimes wonder whether others view our citizens in the same way. I can assure this parliament that, in this case, it is the reverse. Richard 'Harry' Harris is a rock star in Thailand. I was in Thailand recently and heard firsthand from the President of the Thai Senate how revered Dr Harris is in that incredibly grateful country. I applaud the role of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre. The centre is a key element of the Australian government's disaster and emergency medical response to incidents of national and international significance. The centre trains first responders and supports experts for global emergencies. Dr Harris had completed an Australian medical assistance team course and was on the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre database with up-to-date training. It was from these credentials the decision was made that Dr Harris was the man for the job.

While we saw how fast and effectively international cooperation can solve problems and save lives, we also remember the courage and selflessness of former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan, who died while volunteering in the rescue. Dr Harris and Dr Challen have been awarded the Star of Courage, the second-highest civilian bravery decoration in the Australian honours system. Six police and a Navy diver received the Bravery Medal. It is a time to be proud of our Australian heroes, but it's even more important that we celebrate our ability to work together in the common good.

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