Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Opening Statement of Press Conference

Transcript, E&OE

Main Topics: Plane crash in PNG, Pakistan floods, Deaths in Hebron

1 September 2010

STEPHEN SMITH: Can I first deal with the very sad news – the loss of three Australian lives in an air crash on Misima Island in Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. I've just got off the phone from our Acting High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea, and am in a position to give an up-to-date report.

Firstly, I'm not in a position to identify the three Australians who have been killed in this crash. Next of kin have been advised, but there are further formalities to be attended to, so I'm not in a position to identify the Australians concerned. But, of course, we extend our sympathy to the families of the deceased, to their friends, to their employees and their workmates.

This will also be a very sad reminder to nine Australian families. It follows on very closely from the first anniversary, of the Kokoda air crash. So this will be painful, not just for the families of the three involved, but also a painful reminder of Kokoda air crash, which occurred just over a year ago.

The three Australians are all men: one from New South Wales, one from Queensland, and one from Western Australia. One was a pilot employed from Trans Air; one was a marine pilot employed by Australian Reef Pilots; the third was a passenger on the plane.

I am advised the plane was a twin engine Cessna jet that overshot the runway in poor visibility and heavy rain in the dark.

This morning Australian officials arrived from Port Moresby. We have three Australian officials on the ground, including a medical officer from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. They will remain on the ground until such time as the injured New Zealand citizen and Australian permanent resident, who survived the crash, has been transported back to Port Moresby, and the bodies of the three Australians have been repatriated.

The two others involved in the crash were New Zealand citizens. One died in the crash. The survivor is a New Zealand citizen who has been badly bruised; I'm advised he has a broken leg, but is in a position to be transported, on medical advice, back to Port Moresby. And I'm advised that will occur in the course of the day. There will then be a need to Medivac the injured New Zealand citizen and Australian permanent resident to Australia for further medical treatment. I'm advised he has heavy bruising and a badly broken leg.

As I say, Australian officials will remain on the ground until the bodies have been repatriated to Port Moresby and from there subsequently to Australia.

The Australian Acting High Commissioner tells me that everything that Australian officials can do is being done, both on the ground itself in Misima, as I've outlined, but also in Port Moresby itself, working closely with PNG authorities but also working closely with New Zealand authorities.

The plane, which carried the Australian officials to Misima this morning, was accompanied by the New Zealand High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea and a medical team as well.

And we of course extend our condolences and sympathy to New Zealand and the family of the deceased New Zealand citizen.

We regrettably have a lot of experience with plane crashes in Papua New Guinea, and we have in the past, and expect on this occasion to work very closely and successfully with PNG officials. The crash has of course occurred in Papua New Guinea airspace.

The formal investigation of the crash will be a matter for Papua New Guinea authorities. But in the past, Australia has provided technical assistance from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, and that offer is on the table to Papua New Guinea but that, of course, will require a formal investigation of the cause for the crash.

I'm advised that the site has been secured and the black box recovered from the plane.

We will, of course, keep the Australian public informed of further events as they unfold. But we, as I said at the outset, extend our sympathy and condolences to the families of those involved.

Before taking your questions, can I just make a couple of remarks about two other foreign policy matters.

Firstly on Pakistan. You would of course be aware that Australia has made a substantial contribution in the aftermath of the terrible devastating floods in Pakistan. We've contributed $35 million and we've also undertaken to provide a medical team in Multan, Kot Addu near Multan.

The plane carrying the first wave of the medical team will land in Multan later this morning and travel tomorrow to Kot Addu to start providing medical assistance to Pakistanis very seriously adversely affected by the floods. That, of course, is in addition to the contribution that we've made, which I've previously outlined.

Finally, can I condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal killings of four Israelis by terrorists in Hebron on 31 August. Hamas has claimed responsibility.

This is clearly an attempt, an effort to disrupt the resuming of peace process talks which commence tomorrow, Wednesday 2 September, in Washington.

Australia welcomes very much the resumption of the peace process with direct talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, but we condemn absolutely the senseless slaying of four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, by Hamas in Hebron on 31 August clearly aimed at seeking to disrupt the resuming peace process talks. Australia of course has been a longstanding supporter of the peace process.

Finally as we are in caretaker mode, can I just indicate that in terms of the Australian response to the plane crash in PNG, and our efforts in Pakistan, they have both been subject to consultation with the Opposition through my counterpart, and of course Australia has a longstanding bipartisan approach to supporting the peace process in the Middle East.

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