Press conference - Parliament House, Canberra
JULIE BISHOP As has been reported, an Airbus A320, Flight 4U 9525 operated by Germanwings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, crashed on Tuesday 24 March at approximately 9pm Australian Eastern Time, 11am local time in France, en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf in a remote area in the southern French Alps near the town of Barcelonnette about 100km north of Nice.
There were 144 passengers and six crew on board, including 16 German schoolchildren on a student exchange.
Sadly, I can confirm that there were two Australian citizens on board, a mother and her adult son from Victoria.
It would not be appropriate to disclose further details of our citizens at this stage due to the privacy considerations of the family. We are seeking to identify whether there were any other Australian citizens, dual nationals or permanent residents on board that flight. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this shocking tragedy.
We extend our condolences to the governments of Germany, France and Spain and their people, who appear to have borne the brunt of this tragedy. It would be premature to speculate on what may have caused the loss of the aircraft. Lufthansa are working on the assumption that the plane crash was an accident but I understand that relevant authorities will undertake a detailed investigation.
If anyone has concerns for the welfare of their family and friends in the region I urge them to, of course, attempt to contact them directly but if you are unable to contact them and still hold concerns for their welfare, I suggest that they call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade emergency centre on 1300 555 135 if you are in Australia, or +61 2 6261 3305 if you are calling from outside Australia or SMS +61 421 269 080.
Early this morning I spoke to Australian Ambassador in France Stephen Brady. He is still establishing with the French authorities the process of the removal of bodies. There are legalities involved. Just prior to coming into this press conference Ambassador Brady called me back to confirm that French authorities have given permission for our consular officials to travel to a town called Gap where they will liaise with French authorities on the location of the recovery effort including where the remains will be identified and we will be setting up a mobile office at that location.
JOURNALIST What sort of consular assistance is being offered to people going over to the area?
JULIE BISHOP We will send a consular official there - to Gap - to work out the precise details of where the coordination centre will take place. I understand that the French Interiors Minister is travelling to the site tomorrow morning, as in French time, and they will be setting up an Incident Coordination Centre and we intend to be there. We'll set up a mobile office at that point and as many consular staff are as needed will travel there, but at this stage we have one consular official attending to liaise with the French authorities.
JOURNALIST Will there be any Australians helping out in the investigation and what actually happened?
JULIE BISHOP It is too early to say. At this point the French have the investigation underway. I understand that all possible resources are being applied to the crash site. There are helicopters there, there are people attending the crash site and we are coordinating with the French authorities.
JOURNALIST Minister, do you know if the family of the two victims have been contacted?
JULIE BISHOP Yes, they have been contacted. And it's premature for me to give any further details due to the privacy considerations of the family at this very difficult time so obviously I ask the media to respect their privacy.
JOURNALIST Are they dual citizens or Australians?
JULIE BISHOP They are Australian citizens.
JOURNALIST Are you able to say what State they are from?
JULIE BISHOP I said they were from Victoria.
JOURNALIST Are you able to provide their ages?
JULIE BISHOP No, not at this point. Further details as the family agrees to the release of those details will be made available.
JOURNALIST What message do you have to Australians who are still reeling after several plane crashes, high profile plane crashes, in the last 12 months or so? This news must be quite shocking to the public.
JULIE BISHOP Of course this is devastating news, a crash involving 150 people. It has been reported that there are no survivors. But when you think of the number of planes that are in the air at any one time around the world it is an extraordinary number of people who are travelling. And so Australians are inveterate travellers and we cannot be changing our behaviours because of what is apparently being treated as an accident. But we always must take care and ensure that we can be as safe as possible overseas. But if this is a tragic accident then that is what it is. It is what it is.
JOURNALIST I know you said that you were in touch with the Ambassador in France. Has there been any other contact on a government level with some of the countries involved here - Spain, Germany, France and are you planning to speak to any of your counterparts?
JULIE BISHOP Yes, I certainly will be speaking to my counterparts when further details are known. The King of Spain, for example, was in France on a State visit. He has now cancelled that - sorry, the King of Spain was in Paris for a State visit and he has now cancelled that visit and has gone back to Spain and I understand that Spain has declared three days of mourning. It is estimated that about 45 people from Spain were on board that flight.
The details are still being ascertained but Australia will do what we can to support Australian families affected by this tragedy and we will certainly be making contact at an appropriate time with the governments of the countries most affected and extending our condolences personally to those governments and the people of those nations. At this stage it appears Germany, France and Spain were the countries most affected.
JOURNALIST Minister, there is a lot of emotion in your voice. You have been in this position before where you have had to announce Australian fatalities in plane crashes. It must be quite hard on you as well?
JULIE BISHOP I don't think it gets any easier announcing the death of Australian citizens in a tragedy overseas. But we will provide all consular assistance, we will be involved in the recovery effort, we are setting up a mobile office at a location near the crash site - waiting on the French authorities for that detail. But our thoughts and prayers and support are with the family of the victims and we will continue to provide them whatever consular assistance they may require.
JOURNALIST Can we also just quickly get an update on what is happening in Vanuatu?
JULIE BISHOP In Vanuatu, I was there last Sunday, and Australia has provided a rapid response to the impact of the cyclone. We have about 600 Australian personnel on the ground including civilian and Defence personnel. HMAS Tobruk arrived recently carrying an additional 335 Defence personnel, engineers, technicians, people who will help in the recovery effort.
I visited the mobile hospital that our Australian medical assistance team had set up.
They had treated hundreds of people and they had been, including delivering babies. So we have had a significant impact on the medical care that has been required. I also saw our Urban Search and Rescue teams rebuilding schools, putting roofs back on houses, government buildings, so there has been a significant effort by Australia in assisting our close friend and neighbour.
The longer term recovery effort will be the subject of a United Nations coordinated effort. We will, of course, be part of that but I believe that the UN is calling a meeting in Port Vila at some time today and Australia will be there with other donor countries who have also been assisting - Great Britain, France, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand.
So the short-term recovery efforts are well in hand but the longer term recovery efforts, including restoring their economy, which has been so badly battered by the impact of this cyclone, will be the centre of discussions.
JOURNALIST Do you anticipate any further requests for assistance at this stage?
JULIE BISHOP We have already provided about $10 million in funding to NGOs, Red Cross, UN organisations. I have offered our assistance and made it quite clear to the Government of Vanuatu that Australia stands ready to assist should they need. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister expressed their deep appreciation for the rapid response from Australia and the extent and the breadth of the support that we have already provided and I have no doubt that should the Government of Vanuatu feel there is more we can do, they will ask us.
The people of Vanuatu also expressed their deep appreciation. I was told by many people that when the first Australian military planes - the C-17s and the C-130s flew over Port Vila and landed at the airport with the first supplies and provisions and personnel, there was a lot of clapping and cheering from the people on the ground that the Australians were here to help. So we are helping our neighbour in the Pacific and we will continue to do so as they recover from the ravages of this cyclone.
JOURNALIST Minister, will Australia be signing up for the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank this week?
JULIE BISHOP No decision has been taken on that.