Interview with Jane Norman, ABC World Today

  • Transcript, E&OE
20 March 2015

JANE NORMAN:Minister, we have 19 young people stuck on two remote islands off Vanuatu. Australian consular officials were able to evacuate five overnight, how are they doing?

JULIE BISHOP: All are well. They are in contact with their families and we remain in regular contact with the organisation these young people were associated with as well as their families. As you said we were able to evacuate by helicopter five young people from Pentecost Island yesterday – two were Australian – and we hope to evacuate the remaining eight volunteers on Pentecost Island and the six young volunteers – including three Australians – who are located on another island and we will be doing that today.

Overall we are working to confirm the safety and welfare of about 50 Australians and Canadians who remain unaccounted for. So we are focussing our efforts on contacting and confirming the safety and welfare of those on the outlying islands of Vanuatu.

JANE NORMAN:Just returning to the volunteers who are remaining on those two remote islands, what has been the hold-up in evacuating those people?

JULIE BISHOP: The difficulty has been landing on the island, but all are safe and well and have been able to speak to their families. We were able to evacuate them by helicopter so it was a matter of getting a helicopter into the island and we have now done that.

We are increasing our response to our aid mission to Vanuatu. HMAS Tobruk has left overnight for Vanuatu with about 335 personnel on board and a helicopter also. So we will be in a better position to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance and assistance on these outlying islands.

JANE NORMAN:A number of the volunteers are Australians, have you been in contact with any of their families?

JULIE BISHOP: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been in regular contact with the association – the organisation with whom they were working – and they wanted to be in touch with the families. But we have also been in contact with their families.

JANE NORMAN:What is Australia's main role in Vanuatu? As you mentioned, we have increased the number of resources going there, what are they doing there?

JULIE BISHOP: We have almost 200 Australians deployed to Vanuatu – specifically 192 will be there, will have been deployed today – and we are working with Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office coordinating the overall response. So we have medical teams who have set up a 40-bed ward in the Port Vila Hospital complex, we have a pharmacy and xray facility, we have an urban search and rescue team helping people who have lost houses who are seeking shelter, we have a humanitarian team who are handing out supplies, we have got a team who are helping to clean up and begin early reconstruction, of Port Vila Hospital in particular.

So we have got a lot of people doing consular work, all up we have assisted about 240 people to return to Australia via Australian Defence Force military aircrafts – the commercial flights are now operating – but we are continuing to assist with consular concerns.

JANE NORMAN:And is Australia at this stage planning on giving any more money in aid? We have already given $5 million to Vanuatu, $1 million to Tuvalu, now that the scale of this is becoming better understood, is more money needed?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that is why we are sending people to help assess the longer term response. Clearly we are working closely with the Vanuatu Government to ensure that we are responding to their needs and their priorities. But we will continue to work closely with the Government as it begins the long road to recovery. Our immediate concern was the humanitarian lifesaving response and now we are focussing on the welfare of those on the outlying islands and we are also ensuring that the longer term recovery efforts can be assessed at this early stage.

JANE NORMAN:Given the number of Australians the Government has needed to help get off the islands of Vanuatu, are there lessons to be learnt for future people needing to leave these areas when such a large Cyclone is approaching?

JULIE BISHOP: There are always lessons we learn from each disaster. Sadly natural disasters will continue to occur in our part of the world. But we learn each time how things can be done more effectively, more efficiently. Australia has supplied an SMS warning system to Vanuatu, so SMS text messages were being sent, whether people responded to them is another question. So we will continue to learn the lessons of our response to this disaster, sadly knowing there will be future occasions when we will need to be called on again.

JANE NORMAN:Minister just moving to one other issue, has the National Security Committee given the green light for Australia to join the China Bank?

JULIE BISHOP: I do not discuss matters that come before the National Security Committee.

JANE NORMAN:What would be the benefit of Australia joining this bank?

JULIE BISHOP: Well there are a number of benefits to be involved in institutions that are providing support for infrastructure. The G20 recognised there was a great need for infrastructure funds in our region. Globally there is a demand for productivity enhancing infrastructure. So the concept, of course, is one that is very desirable at this particular time in the economic cycle.

JANE NORMAN:You have previously expressed some reservations about Australian joining this infrastructure bank, so what has changed your mind?

JULIE BISHOP: Well who said my mind has changed? I'm not discussing the detail on a matter that is before the National Security Committee. I think these details would be best left to the Prime Minister should he propose to make an announcement about it.

JANE NORMAN:Well, have you changed your mind on this issue?

JULIE BISHOP: On which particular issue?

JANE NORMAN:On the issue of Australia joining the China Bank.

JULIE BISHOP: My position remains as it was and that is there are certain governance standards which would need to be met before Australia could join as a member of the bank. But at present the question is whether or not we would negotiate for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding. So there are several steps in the process and the first needs to consider whether Australia would sign up to the Memorandum of Understanding to negotiate membership of the bank.

JANE NORMAN:Fairfax is reporting this morning that the National Security Committee has signed off on this for Australia to join. Are you concerned that this is being leaked from such a powerful committee?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it is not an accurate representation of what went on so it is obviously not an accurate leak.

JANE NORMAN:So when you say the first step is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, the Prime Minister said last week that the Government would be making an announcement about this soon. Is that the first step that the Government would be announcing?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'll leave that to the Prime Minister, it is an announcement the Prime Minister would make.

JANE NORMAN:Thank you very much for your time this morning.

- Ends -

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