1 October 2009
Interview - 2UE
Subjects: Fallout from the tusnami in the Pacific and the earthquake on Sumatra.
STEVE PRICE: Foreign Affairs Minister is in his hometown of Perth. He's on the line. Thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure, Steve.
STEVE PRICE: We had to deal this time yesterday with what was unfolding in Samoa, and it was very difficult to get information through. We now have a situation unfolding to our north in Indonesia. Could we start there? Are you aware of how bad this is?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think the same difficulty we had yesterday when the Samoan tsunami first struck is going to be the same difficulty that we'll have in the first instance this morning.
The earthquake struck about quarter past eight last night Sydney time, and the reports coming in do really make it clear that we've got a very serious natural disaster; there are going to be significant fatalities. Our hearts go out to Indonesia and the Indonesians who will be adversely affected. It will take a bit more time before we get a proper handle on it.
In the meantime, of course, our concerns are to make sure that no Australians have been caught up in it. And other than one Australian who's asked for a bit of assistance overnight, we're not aware that any Australians have been caught up.
But obviously we are in close contact with the Indonesian authorities, and we're going to have to follow this one very carefully in the course of the morning and the course of the day.
STEVE PRICE: Part of that island of Sumatra, as I understand it, is where we have a couple of those popular surf camps where Australians go to. So I suppose anyone listening to me who has friends and relatives who are on a surfing trip, they should, what, contact Foreign Affairs?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they should in the first instance try and make contact with their family member or…
STEVE PRICE: Themselves, yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: But if they're worried and they can't get in contact with the person direct, then they should ring the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular number, 1300 555 135, and that's at a cost of a local call, so 1300 555 135. But they should try and make contact with their family or friend first.
As I say, other than one request for a bit of assistance, we haven't had any reports of Australians in difficulty, but we will, we are and will continue to be in very close contact with the Indonesian authorities.
It'll take a bit of time before we see what the scale is, but obviously it's a very serious earthquake, and we will be there rendering assistance to Australians and also assisting the Indonesians if and when they need some help.
STEVE PRICE: To Samoa now and I'll talk in a moment to Kenny Lester, a journo from AAP. He was one of the first on the scene. I'll talk to him in a second. What assistance are we rendering the Samoan Government at the moment?
STEPHEN SMITH: In the last half an hour, I got off the phone to our High Commissioner in Apia, the capital of Samoa. He had spent the morning doing an inspection of the south-east corner of the island where the worst occurred, and he was literally on his way to a meeting of the Samoan Natural Disaster Team, which will be chaired by their Prime Minister, Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
The advice we have from him and generally is that we've got three Australians who are confirmed dead, one New Zealand citizen who was also a permanent resident of Australia also confirmed dead. We're very gravely concerned about one other Australian, and very concerned about that Australian's welfare.
We've still got about six Australians who have not yet been accounted for. At this stage, we're proceeding on the basis that that will be communication difficulty, because there's no indication of their presence either in hospitals or in other places where people are gathering.
So we hope that they'll be okay. We're obviously following that up in the course of the day, but we're very concerned about one Australian. And as we speak, of course, the death toll amongst Samoans continues to rise. We've expressed our condolences to them, and our High Commissioner will do that again this morning personally to the Samoan Prime Minister, Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
STEVE PRICE: Defence is sending an aircraft out of Richmond, I understand, within the hour.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things: a plane, a chartered plane left Brisbane last night at about 2 o'clock Brisbane time, Sydney time. That arrived early this morning. That carried about 25 Australian officials variously from Foreign Affairs, AusAID, Defence, and the Emergency Management Authority.
It also had doctors and medical specialists onboard. That was very much welcome reinforcement so far as Australians and Samoans generally were concerned in Samoa.
This morning, mid-morning, from Richmond, an air force C-130 Hercules will take off. That will be loaded up with medical supplies and emergency equipment and emergency supplies - tarpaulins and temporary accommodation and the like. That will arrive in the course of the day. We've also got another one on stand-by should that be required.
But we're obviously doing this in very close coordination with not just the Samoan Government, but also we have a disaster relief management arrangement with New Zealand and also with the United Nations. So given the scale of the disaster, these things are now falling into their proper coordinated role.
STEVE PRICE: Appreciate your time very much. I know how busy you are. Thanks a lot.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Steve. Thanks very much.
STEVE PRICE: Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith.
Foreign Minister's office (02) 6277 7500