Question Time - 17/3/15 - Response to Cyclone Pam

  • Transcript, E&OE

Mr WILLIAMS (Hindmarsh) (14:10): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the additional emergency assistance that government is providing to Vanuatu and to other Pacific Islands countries in the wake of Cyclone Pam?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin–Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:10): I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question and note his deep concern about the aftermath of tropical Cyclone Pam. Over the last 24 hours, Australian teams in Vanuatu have been carrying out assessments in Port Vila and have formed a clearer picture of the needs on the ground. A priority is the Port Vila hospital, which has been seriously damaged by the cyclone, and it is clear that medical staff are currently overwhelmed, trying to meet the needs of those affected by the cyclone.

Today the Minister for Health and I announced further support to assist the Vanuatu government to get Port Vila hospital up and running. Specifically, we are deploying an Australian medical assistance team, including doctors and nurses, ready to provide urgent medical assistance. They will set up a temporary mobile ward within the Port Vila hospital complex and replace the capacity that has been reduced by the cyclone. That will bring to 27 the number of Australian health and medical personnel in Port Vila. In addition, we have deployed today a further urban search and rescue team to clean up and repair the Port Vila hospital. They will also provide assistance to the Vanuatu government to assess the damage and the potential recovery needs of other major infrastructure. This will bring to 56 the number of Australian search and rescue personnel in Vanuatu.

Five RAAF planes have already made the journey to Vanuatu, providing much-needed emergency supplies and humanitarian equipment and personnel, and three more military planes will depart today. This support is in addition to our initial package which I announced on Sunday, when we pledged $5 million in funds to go through Australian non-government organisations, the Red Cross and UN agencies, as well as distributing emergency shelter kits, supplies and personnel. We do have grave concerns, particularly for those on outlying islands where no communication is possible. The death toll is likely to rise and the casualty figure is yet to be determined, and until such time as we are able to reach those outlying islands, I will not be confirming the death toll. Yesterday, an Air Force Orion conducted aerial surveillance, particularly of these remote islands, and we are assessing the extent of the damage for further assistance.

The governments of Tuvalu and Solomon Islands have also requested assistance, and we have conducted such surveillance there. Thankfully the cyclone only caused minor damage in Solomon Islands, but Tuvalu was not so fortunate and suffered damage from storm surges and flooding. We have provided supplies and equipment to support Tuvalu's early efforts.

We continue to provide consular support for Australians in Vanuatu. Commercial flights have returned, but yesterday we provided assistance for military transport of 166 Australians, who have now returned home. The Australian government stands with our friends in the Pacific, particularly with Vanuatu, at this grim time. While the people of Vanuatu are of course resilient and resourceful and are already working through the challenges, the Australian government stands ready to support them at this time.

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