Mr Speaker, as New Zealand woke on the 15th of March 2019, none of us could have imagined the horror and terror about to be unleashed on our way of life and on our people.
As mums and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in Christchurch went to work, or to school, or to prayer on the 15th of March 2019, none of them thought for a moment that they would return home that night changed forever.
For 50 of the worshippers who entered Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre for Jumu’ah, or Friday prayers, in Christchurch, it would be their last day in this world.
These New Zealanders had their lives ended and all of ours changed forever. For some, New Zealand had been their home for a long time.
They had made their lives here, working in our businesses, going to our schools, living in our rich and diverse communities and espousing everything good about New Zealand. For some, New Zealand was somewhere they found solace in a world full of hate.
New Zealand was, for them, a new opportunity. The chance to live in a country which embraced tolerance, respect, compassion, opportunity and the freedom to be who you want to be.
It was, for them as it is for us, the best country in the world. We let them down. And for that we are sorry.
The unimaginable hurt that our Islamic community is feeling is shared amongst all New Zealanders. Because I know every New Zealander feels this wasn’t just something targeted at our Islamic community, or just to Christchurch.
Over the past four days, there’s been a lot of soul searching, reflection, sadness, anger, and shame across New Zealand, and around the world.
On Saturday, I was honoured to join the Prime Minister and other party leaders in Christchurch for what was a day of anguish and tears. It was moving, it was uplifting, it was tragic and it was humbling.
I was privileged to meet with the Christchurch Islamic community and the many people who came to support them.
I came away realising we all have a choice following the violence that tore through their community. To choose fear, hate or anger. Or to choose compassion, love and forgiveness.
Martin Luther King put it so well. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Our strength as a nation is our compassion and our welcoming of diversity. It has been a hallmark of our culture for hundreds of years. This will not change us. Because at times like these we do not consider ourselves Christians or Muslims, Sikhs or Jews. Or Maori or Pakeha, Chinese, Pacific Islander, Indian or any other ethnicity.
Today and forever we are all New Zealanders.
In recent days I have visited mosques in Auckland and Hamilton, adding my support to the voices and prayers of hundreds of thousands of others.
They welcomed me in, as they are welcoming their wider communities with open arms. Dr Asad Mohsin from the Hamilton Mosque told me yesterday that he chooses love over hate.
We will choose love too.
However, because our peaceful existence is so treasured, hard questions will need to be asked about how this could occur here.
Why are small networks of hateful people able to congregate online and elsewhere, and attempt to sow disharmony?
How can these hateful people then take tangible steps to carry out evil acts?
Do our Police and Intelligence Services have the people, the resources, the legislation and the technology to seek out and prevent such acts?
While these heinous acts were carried out by an individual, there can be no doubt that he had sympathetic associates – certainly online, and probably offline. How do we combat this in an age of social media and increasing technological challenges?
These questions and others need to be asked of Government agencies, individuals, companies, public commentators and numerous other groups.
National will play a constructive role in this and in overhauling New Zealand’s firearms laws. No-one can understand why anyone needs military-style semi-automatic weapons for recreational use.
In addition, I would like to see New Zealand re-evaluate the boundaries of acceptable social and political discourse.
Our resolve now should be to take every opportunity to push back against extremism.
To call out hate and fear when we see it. And to stand up to the vile ideologies that exist to spread hate, fear, mistrust and lies.
What we say has the ability to influence the actions of others. Because everything changed on Friday the 15th of March. It showed the fragility of the peace we’ve come to treasure.
The National Party looks forward to learning more in the days ahead about what form this examination of the events that occurred in Christchurch will take. The formal investigations into these events needs to be thorough, open and honest.
As is always the case when tragic, evil acts occur, we see an immediate counterweight of bravery and compassion. Christchurch has been no exception.
Both civilians and law-and-order professionals immediately showed superhuman courage in the face of rapidly unfolding, extremely frightening and unprecedented events. Medical professionals have worked non-stop since to save lives in truly horrific circumstances.
I want to pay tribute to the New Zealand Police, the Ambulance services, the Red Cross, our Defence Force, healthcare workers, and the vast range of volunteers who have done some much to try and soften the blow since Friday.
While I was in Christchurch I met with a young Policeman. I know his family well.
He was one of the first responders on the day of the shootings. He was emotional as he told me about what it was like that day. He’s been a policeman for six years but said that no amount of training or experience could have prepared him for what he and his colleagues faced that day.
No one could be.
All of those who were working that day will never forget what they saw. To everyone who has responded on the ground in Christchurch – thank you. You are heroes.
New Zealand owes you a debt of gratitude.