Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia mourns for all those lost on the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft.

Australia mourns all those people lost on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, especially the Australian passengers, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told parliament.

With grieving family members attending parliament, Mr Abbott moved a condolence motion.

He said much debris had been sighted in the remote southern Indian Ocean, although bad weather had so far prevented any being recovered.

“We mourn all those 239 passengers and crew. We especially mourn the six Australian citizens and one Australian resident who must be presumed dead and we grieve with their families and loved ones,” he said on Wednesday.

Queensland couples Ian and Catherine Lawton and Rodney and Mary Burrows are amongst those missing, as are Sydney couple Yuan Li and Naijun Gu and New Zealander Paul Weeks, an Australian resident.

Mr Abbott said he met members of the Lawton and Burrows families, who were in the parliament gallery to see parliament express its condolence.

“I want to assure them that Australia will do all it can to recover what we can from the southern Indian Ocean so that they can have the closure and eventually the peace that comes with understanding more of what happened,” Mr Abbott said.

MPs and others in the House of Representatives chamber stood for a minute’s silence.

Mr Abbott praised the cooperation and professionalism shown in the international search effort.

“Meanwhile four Australian families have an ache in their heart. Nothing we say or do can take that ache away,” he said.

“Still, the knowledge that this nation, through this parliament, has paused to acknowledge that loss may be of some comfort in facing this terrible bereavement.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the fate of MH370 was a terrible tragedy, unimaginable a century ago in the days before commercial air travel.

“We do tend to assume that when we enter these aluminium tubes – powered by remarkable engines, crewed by remarkable staff – that our safety is a given,” Mr Shorten said.

The disappearance of flight MH370 is a reminder that nothing can ever be taken for granted, he said.

“I cannot imagine at the moment the grief which families are feeling.”

“I know on behalf of our nation that all of us are united in some small or big way with the grief that you are feeling today,” Mr Shorten said.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop added her voice to the tribute.