Media conference – Humanitarian assistance to the Philippines

Parliament House

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

11 November 2013

JULIE BISHOP: This morning Prime Minister Abbott wrote to President Aquino in the Philippines to pass on the condolences of the Australian people, and our thoughts and our prayers to the Philippine Government on the disastrous consequences of the typhoon known as Haiyan or Yolanda. The loss of life, the damage to property and homes has been absolutely devastating and reports continue to come in that this is a disaster on a massive scale.

We have offered further assistance to the Philippines Government, as and when required, but in the meantime the Australian Government responded on the weekend by providing about $400,000 worth of supplies that were available immediately including sleeping mats and mosquito nets and health and humanitarian supplies in a variety of areas.

In addition to that assistance we have also despatched two disaster experts, and they are already on the ground in the Philippines, and a third disaster expert is on his way.

Further, this afternoon I'm announcing that in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, I have approved a $10 million package of humanitarian assistance. This comprises the urgent deployment of an Australian medical assistance team, that's at a cost of about $1 million, $3 million to be deployed through Australian non-Government organisations, $4 million to the United Nations flash appeal, $1 million for additional food items – non-food items, should I say, which includes the funding already announced, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, water containers and the like, and $1 million to the Red Cross to assist in their disaster response efforts.

We have already been working with the Philippines Red Cross, the announcement on Saturday was in conjunction with the Philippines Red Cross to get urgent supplies to people on the ground as soon as possible. We will continue to closely monitor and consider our assistance to the Philippine Government and to the people of the Philippines to this tragic event.

The reports are still coming in as to the extent of the loss of life, and so we will monitor the situation very carefully.

Reporting remains exceedingly difficult due to the impact on some areas, some of the worst affected areas, it's very difficult to have communications, but available reporting indicates that the damage is exceedingly significant and widespread: flooding, landslides, power outages and wind damage.

I've just spoken to our ambassador in the Philippines and he has described the damage as being on a massive scale, as has the United Nations.

You may well be aware that the Government of the Philippines has already accepted an offer of international assistance from the United Nations. We are going to continue to work closely with our partners, including the Philippines Government to obtain more information on the impact of the typhoon and we will, as I say, provide assistance if required.

We are providing consular assistance to the family of a 49-year-old Australian male who died in the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan. But in respect to the family's privacy I'm not providing further information at this time. And we also pass on our deepest condolences to the families of the people in the Philippines and elsewhere who have lost loved ones as a result of this typhoon.

Any Australians who are concerned for the welfare of family or friends in the region should first attempt to contact them directly, but of course those who are unable to do so, and those who still hold concerns for the welfare of their family and friends should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

We have a 24 hours consular emergency centre and the number is 1300 555 135. We have been taking a number of calls over the weekend and again today, so if there are any concerns, any issues, people should ring that 24 hour consular emergency centre, 1300 555 135.

Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Do you know how many Australians are in the damaged area at the moment? Do you have a rough figure on that and are there any injuries?

JULIE BISHOP: We only have reports of the one Australian male that I mentioned who tragically died in the typhoon in the Philippines.

We have a register of Australians in the Philippines, but at this stage, the reported male is the only report of a death and we've not had any requests for assisting people for injuries from Australia.

But this is a situation that is ongoing and we're obviously monitoring the situation very closely. But the ambassador informs me that at this point there have been no requests for consular assistance beyond inquiries from Australia.

JOURNALIST: On the scale of the money that you're giving, 10 million, does seem a bit piddling given the reports are of horrific damage. Will you scale up that potential aid to the Philippines?

And on a second question, an unrelated, can you confirm that Indonesia has asked us – has denied requests to take two more boat loads of people that were intercepted on the weekend?

JULIE BISHOP: On the Philippines, in fact, the $10 million has been gratefully received in the Philippines, and this comes on top of money that we provided quickly in response to the earthquakes in middle of October, when we provided $2.1 million initially and then another three-quarters of a million dollars shortly thereafter. This $10 million is on a scale with other countries.

We will obviously stand by ready to support the Philippines in whatever way we can, but indeed it's considered to a substantial package from any country. In relation to Indonesia, I'll leave those matters to the Minister for Immigration.

QUESTION You're on the NSC however, you would be aware as to the reports coming through on the weekend, two more boats intercepted. What's being done with those two boats?

JULIE BISHOP: These are matters that I'll leave to the Minister for Immigration. As a member of-

QUESTION But we have done that in the past and you know, we don't want to have to wait until Friday. Do you think you could tell the Australian people what's happening with those two boats?

JULIE BISHOP: I'll leave these matters for the Minister for Immigration. I'm here to talk about the assistance that we're giving to the Philippines Government, but if you would like more information on that matter I suggest you contact the Minister for Immigration.

JOURNALIST: Just more broadly, the Indonesians and the reports out of Indonesia today saying they're not going to allow any more people to be transferred back to Indonesia.

Has that been conveyed to you officially? Is that your understanding?

JULIE BISHOP: No that has not been conveyed to me officially.

JOURNALIST: Can we ask what your-

JOURNALIST: So what reason did Indonesia give last-

JOURNALIST: Can we ask what your understanding is, with regard to returning rescued asylum seekers to Indonesia at the moment? Is there an agreement, a standing agreement in place?

JULIE BISHOP: These have been the subject of a number of discussions with a number of ministers over time.

I had discussions with Foreign Minister Natalegawa last week, but on issues more generally – we didn't get into operational matters, and nor will I get into operational matters today.

JOURNALIST: What reason did Indonesia give for refusing to accept that boatload last Friday?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not discussing operational matters and those matters were not raised with me in Indonesia last week.

JOURNALIST: Minister can you clarify why there was a difference between the number of boats that have been- that Australia has asked Indonesia to accept, and the number that Australia says it's asked Indonesia to accept? Indonesia says six, and Australia is saying only four?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly these are all details that the Minister for Immigration will be able to provide you. They're not matters that were discussed with me last week in Indonesia. They are operational matters, and I believe that the Minister who has responsibility for this area is best placed to answer them.

Are there any more questions in relation to the Philippines, because I have an ambassador waiting to meet me at 2:15pm?

JOURNALIST: Minister just on another matter, there was a plane load- there was a BBJ VIP flight that was used to ferry a group of West Australian politicians to Canberra over the weekend.

Given that the Government is looking at cracking down on expenditure at the moment in all areas, is that an appropriate use of taxpayer resources to be using a RAAF flight for those sort of trips?

JULIE BISHOP: As I understand it, it's a long standing practice of Governments of both sides to assist Western Australian members of Parliament and Senators to travel to Canberra. I understand it's a long standing practice. Karen.

JOURNALIST: Sorry. On the Philippines, are you envisaging that you might need to send military assistance? In the past we've done that with [inaudible] when there's been a disaster [inaudible]. Is that on the cards?

JULIE BISHOP: That's why the Prime Minister wrote to President Aquino to say that we will be providing an aid package. We announced an immediate on-the-ground humanitarian package on Saturday that was able to be deployed immediately. We are now announcing this $10 million package, but our offer to President Aquino stands that if more assistance is needed, and in what form, we are certainly ready to assist.

They are all possibilities, but we want to work in conjunction with our partners, the Red Cross, with the Philippine Government, to ensure that we are able to get assistance where it's needed, when it's needed. And so we stand ready to assist.

JOURNALIST: So sending ADF troops would be a possibility if the Philippines were to ask for them?

JULIE BISHOP: We haven't been – we haven't been asked to provide that, and the reports are still coming in as to how widespread the damage is. The United Nations is putting together a response team. We could be part of that, I don't know.

At this stage it's too early to say what's required, and we're still to hear from the Philippines Government in response to the Prime Minister's letter, but I can assure you that our ambassador and our mission in the Philippines has been in constant contact with the Philippine Government and the Philippine authorities ever since this typhoon struck last week.

So we've been working closely with them, and we've responded to the suggestions to date, hence the $10m package, which is as I've said, considered to be substantial. And we stand ready to assist if more is required.

JOURNALIST: Would you envisage needing to help Vietnam, have you had any dialogue with Vietnam yet about the situation that's unfolding there?

JULIE BISHOP: Obviously we're working with our mission in Vietnam in relation to the path of the typhoon, and Vietnam again is a close friend and country in our region, and we would have, would of course support if the requirement is there.

The Philippines, I reiterate, is a very close friend of Australia, it's a country in our region, it's a country in need. Australia has responded, and we stand ready to respond further if that be required.

JOURNALIST: Will you be raising the issue of human rights, or even getting some assurances from the Sri Lankan Government that they are treating their people people with respect?

JULIE BISHOP: I have been having ongoing discussions with the Sri Lankan Government, and I have encouraged all member nations of the Commonwealth to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to engage with Sri Lanka on these issues, rather than isolate Sri Lanka.

It's been an ongoing discussion, and I'll continue to work purposely with the Sri Lankan Government in relation to matters that the have arisen as a result of the end of the 30-year civil war some three years ago. Progress has been made but there's clearly more to be done.

I visited Sri Lanka earlier this year, and I look forward to visiting again to see what progress has been made since my last visit.

Thank you.

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