Interview with Luke Grant: 2GB, Ben Fordham Live

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australians affected by White Island eruption.
11 December 2019

Luke Grant:

Two more Australians have been confirmed dead in the wake of the volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand. Earlier this afternoon we received heartbreaking news which was the identities of the first two Australians killed in this tragedy. They are Brisbane mother Julie Richards and her 20 year old daughter Jessica. Now we’ve learned that the body of 53-year-old missing Adelaide man Gavin Dallow has been found. His stepdaughter, 15-year-old Zoe Hosking, is presumed dead with her body on White Island. Gavin’s wife and Zoe’s mother Lisa Dallow is alive and in hospital in the New Zealand city of Hamilton. Six people have died and many more are presumed dead after the eruption. Of course, it took place while 47 people were in the vicinity on tours.

New Zealand authorities are desperate to get back onto the island to retrieve the bodies, but they simply can’t because of the chance of another eruption. That chance being too high. We know Australian burns units are on standby, and a Defence Force plane is headed to New Zealand to pick up injured Australians. And of course, there’ll be countless investigations into this disaster.

I’m conscious of the fact that I have the Foreign Minister on the line. I’ll share that statement from the Dallow family after I finish my conversation with Marise Payne. Minister, good afternoon.

Marise Payne:

Good afternoon Luke.

Luke Grant:

And this afternoon we've had confirmation of the deaths of two Australians; Brisbane mother Julie Richards and her 20 year old daughter Jessica, and now of course the news of Gavin Dallow, and it seems stepdaughter Zoe Hosking. When I saw you and the Prime Minister speak earlier in the week you did warn us that the news would get worse, and we've had that happen today.

Marise Payne:

Luke, we can say, particularly also following the announcements made by the police and authorities in New Zealand today, that we're operating on the basis of there being 13 Australians in hospital and 11 Australians missing presumed dead, and that 11 includes tragically those people that you've just spoken about. And really, our hearts just go out to their families, so devastated by these awful events.

Luke Grant:

Minister, I don't understand how a family copes with, well, frankly any loss, but particularly something like this. What assistance does government provide? Family members here in Australia who've lost under these awful circumstances other family members in New Zealand, what do we do to help them?

Marise Payne:

It's extraordinarily difficult, Luke. I think you and I find it hard to contemplate as you say, but we have a range of medical professionals and providers with whom we work regularly through our consular service and of course families often prefer to select their own medical professionals as you might understand. But we're able to provide advice about the sources of support which might be helpful or appropriate in these circumstances. And it is a very long and difficult process. Our relationships with many people after they've been through a traumatic event like this go on for a very long time.

Luke Grant:

And there's I think an Australian Air Force aircraft on its way to New Zealand. Do we expect therefore that there'll be Australians repatriated back home to have their burns taken care of here? Do we know that?

Marise Payne:

Yes, Luke. This is a very important step this afternoon. A C130 Hercules has left RAAF Base Richmond this afternoon, and two of our C17 Globemasters have left from RAAF Base Amberley to Christchurch as well. They've taken a team of specialist aircrew and of course highly sophisticated medical equipment on board to begin a process of medical transfers. We've activated what is known as a formal repatriation plan to transfer, we think, up to 10 of the injured to New South Wales and to Victoria starting within the next 24 hours. Now, all of this depends entirely on medical decisions and medical advice from doctors that it is safe and appropriate and in some cases necessary for treatment services to move the patients. Our focus, as is the New Zealand Government’s, is absolutely on providing the best possible care. So we work closely with the New Zealand authorities, with the medical professionals, and of course with the families of the injured to put this in train. It does require a huge contribution from state government agencies and we are very, very grateful for that. And can I say from my previous portfolio experience, the defence professionals who also support this process are very important and exceptional to effecting it in the right way.

Luke Grant:

I'm speaking to our Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Can I ask you about the retrieval of bodies - and this is a really tough area, I reckon, you probably know the right things to say and the right answer, but you can't help but think can you, Minister, that there would be people on that island and we don't want to rush the whole thing, we know there’s an ongoing risk for rescue crews, and we’ve got to balance all this out. But the heartbreaking notion that there might have been people who were injured and unable to be retrieved - that is just- it's awful whichever way you look at it, but surely it can't get worse than that.

Marise Payne:

Yes, it is a set of very tragic circumstances. We know that there are people who went above and beyond superhuman efforts to rescue people who were on the island and to remove them to vessels that were available in the vicinity. And we know that there was extraordinary efforts made to land helicopters in the face of those volcanic eruptions, which is enormously dangerous. So, every effort that could be made by people was made. But a number of people will of course- have been very traumatically injured and passed away as a result of the explosion. The aim now is, when it is safe to do so – and bearing in mind the nature of the volcanic events are very, very unpredictable, but when it is safe to do so – of course to support those families by seeking to return their loved ones, initially back, of course, to New Zealand.

Luke Grant:

And final question - will Australians play any role in the retrieval? Will we send experts over there to assist, or is this a New Zealand operation?

Marise Payne:

Well, at the moment it's a New Zealand operation but we are working closely with them both through the Australian Federal Police, through their disaster victim identification experts, through our usual authorities and consular engagements that happen country-to-country in these circumstances. We just will defer to the New Zealand Government for the management of the recovery, of course, but they are regularly assessing that, and if there's anything that we can do to support it, we will. And Luke, I really just wanted to reiterate the outpouring of support and sympathy from Australia for these Australian families who have been impacted and New Zealanders and others who were travelling is overwhelming. It's what Australia does. But it's so immensely powerful and important at this very, very difficult time for so many Australian families who've been caught up in this tragic event.

Luke Grant:

Yes. Yeah, well said. Thank you for your time very much, indeed, appreciate it.

Marise Payne:

Thank you very much, Luke.

Luke Grant:

All the best. Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne.

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