Interview with Jon Faine, The Conversation Hour

  • Transcript, E&OE
20 March 2015

JON FAINE:Foreign Minister for the Australian Government Julie Bishop is on the line. Ms Bishop, good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP:Good Morning Jon and thank you for this program to focus on the plight of the people of the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu. I thank you very much for this.

JON FAINE:What more can we do?

JULIE BISHOP:The Australian Government has been responding with humanitarian and lifesaving supplies and equipment. We now have about 200 Australians deployed to Vanuatu in response to Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Our consular officials are currently focused on making all possible efforts to contact and confirm the safety and welfare of those in the outlying islands of Vanuatu. We were able to evacuate by helicopter a number of young volunteers from one of the islands yesterday and that evacuation will continue today. We have determined that all the young volunteers are safe and well and have been able to speak to their families.

The Australian Defence Force has increased its response to the Australian aid mission. We have ensured that supplies are still on their way in RAAF aircrafts. To date it has delivered eleven loads of emergency relief supplies and personnel, more are on their way. HMAS Tobruk has departed overnight for Vanuatu, there are 335 personnel on board as well as a helicopter and other necessary equipment. I'm hoping to be on board one of those transport planes that leaves this weekend so I can see for myself the extent of the damage and devastation.

You will be aware that we have provided funding to partners on the ground, including the Red Cross and other United Nations agencies. So we are providing supplies, equipment, personnel.

Importantly, our medical assistance team of 28 people is providing lifesaving medical support. They have established a 40-bed hospital ward, a pharmacy and x-ray services and the like and Australian clinicians, health and medical practitioners are working in the Port Vila Hospital and have seen well over 100 patients already. So we are now also helping with the immediate clean-up and early reconstruction focussing first on Port Vila Hospital.

There is so much to do Jon so we are in here for the long haul but standing side by side with the Government of Vanuatu to provide whatever assistance we can.

JON FAINE:And I hope to be able to get through to the Prime Minister of Vanuatu shortly, but in the meantime, Australia really it is up to us to take the lead it seems in our region. We are now very much the guardian angel.

JULIE BISHOP:Jon, you are absolutely right. This is our neighbourhood, this our region, I have always said that Australia has a responsibility in this part of the world. That is why I have focussed our aid program very deliberately, unapologetically, on our region. We are there to assist our friends, our neighbours, our dearest colleagues in the Pacific and Vanuatu needs us at this time.

We have also been working with the Government of Tuvalu, in fact, I spoke to the Prime Minister of Tuvalu yesterday. They have also been hit by this storm – not to the same extent as Vanuatu – but we have provided the humanitarian supplies. I have also confirmed with the Prime Minister that we would provide $1 million for reconstruction efforts and he was very grateful for that. But we stand by, ready to assist as the long term recovery effort becomes more apparent.

JON FAINE:There's been some criticism that aid agencies are fragmenting their efforts. Can we in some way play a coordinating role?

JULIE BISHOP:Yes we are seeking to do that. I had seen the concerns expressed by the Prime Minister. We are seeking to coordinate that. We did provide funding for a number of NGOs to ensure that they could get on the ground immediately. So what we are seeking to do is ensuring that it's all worked and coordinated through the Vanuatu Government.

We have been working closely with Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office to coordinate the response. We have Australian personnel working in that office, in fact, somebody had been seconded there earlier so we know the system, we understand their needs, we understand how they work. So I encourage everyone to coordinate their efforts through the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office, where Australia is providing significant support.

JON FAINE:Thank you, just before I let you go, Malcolm Fraser's passing this morning has been announced and that is a man who has been described universally now as a genuine statesmen, a man who was very strong in principal. What did he mean to you Julie Bishop?

JULIE BISHOP:I was saddened to learn of his death earlier this morning. He was a giant in Australian political life and with the passing of Gough Whitlam, it really is the end of a political era in Australian history.

He was very kind to me, he met with me on a number of occasions when I was Shadow Foreign Minister and again as Foreign Minister to discuss foreign policy. He made a significant contribution to Australia's foreign policy during his prime ministership, particularly in relation to Africa and he was always available to give advice. He didn't always agree with the Government of the day but nevertheless he was very forthright in his views and I appreciated the time he took to meet with me. So he will be missed and I certainly extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

JON FAINE:Thank you indeed for your announcements this morning and we look forward to more announcement perhaps after you've been to see for yourself. Thank you for your time today.

JULIE BISHOP:Thank you Jon.

- Ends -

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