Australia — Minister for Defence on Japan, Libya, Christmas Island

TOPICS: Exten­sion of ADF assis­tance to dis­as­ter relief in Japan, Libya, Christ­mas Island.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turn­ing up. I just want­ed to announce today that this morn­ing I have agreed that Aus­tralia should extend by a week the assis­tance that we’re giv­ing in Japan through one of our C‑17s, enti­tled Oper­a­tion Pacif­ic Assist. The request for an exten­sion of the use of our C‑17 air­craft- which has been con­duct­ing togeth­er with the Unit­ed States and Japan­ese forces heavy air­lift capa­bil­i­ty mov­ing food, water, per­son­nel and vehi­cles through­out Japan to assist in the after­math of the ter­ri­ble tragedy- this morn­ing we’ve received a request from the Unit­ed States and Japan to con­tin­ue that, so I’ve autho­rised today an exten­sion by a week, to next week­end, next Sun­day.

We’ll keep it under review and sub­ject to any fur­ther requests, and with the ongo­ing need, we’ll of course make all the deci­sions in that respect. But in the midst of a very seri­ous tragedy, this has been a very good oper­a­tion, so far as Aus­tralia is con­cerned. It again under­lines the great util­i­ty we get from our C‑17 heavy air­lift air­craft. It has under­lined the very close rela­tion­ship between Aus­tralia and Japan.

It has also under­lined the tri­lat­er­al strate­gic rela­tion­ship that we have for­mal­ly with Japan, the Unit­ed States and Aus­tralia. And so this oper­a­tion, work­ing close­ly with Unit­ed States Air Force Com­mand in Japan, work­ing close­ly with the Japan­ese Defence author­i­ties, has been, amidst this ter­ri­ble tragedy, a very good oper­a­tion so far as Aus­tralia is con­cerned. And Aus­tralians are enti­tled to be very proud of the high praise that the Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel are receiv­ing for the work they’re doing in Japan in these ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances.

As I’ve made the point pre­vi­ous­ly, our C‑17 is of course oper­at­ing con­sis­tent with tak­ing every pre­cau­tion so far as the nuclear pow­er sta­tion is con­cerned, and fol­low­ing very close­ly, abid­ing very close­ly, by the 80 kilo­me­tre exclu­sion zone. So every pre­cau­tion is being tak­en in that respect.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter- news today of a sur­vivor being pulled from the rub­ble. What’s your response to that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I agree [indis­tinct] with not just our own emer­gency res­cue author­i­ties who are on the ground, but also from the Japan­ese res­cue author­i­ties, which is that we should nev­er give up hope, that we should con­tin­ue until the very last [indis­tinct], indi­vid­ual sur­vivors.

The expec­ta­tion at this stage is that our emer­gency res­cue team will be there also for the fol­low­ing week, and in due course we’ll make announce­ments about that team return­ing to Aus­tralia. We’ll almost cer­tain­ly do that util­is­ing the C‑17. Again, we’ll take that step by step, but there’s an expec­ta­tion at this stage that in the course of the com­ing week that the emer­gency team will return to Aus­tralia.

But to all emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel, whether it’s in Aus­tralia, whether it’s over­seas, is that they should nev­er give up hope. It’s always great to see when it’s unex­pect­ed, and to see indi­vid­ual peo­ple sur­vive when it’s against every expec­ta­tion.

JOURNALIST: How many peo­ple does Aus­tralia have in Japan at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in terms of Defence Force per­son­nel, oper­at­ing the C‑17 and pro­vid­ing assis­tance, we’ve got between 35 and 40. We have over 200 diplo­mats and civil­ians ren­der­ing assis­tance and help­ing through our Embassy in Tokyo. And at last count this morn­ing, there were 10 Aus­tralians unac­count­ed for. They are of course Aus­tralians who we have every rea­son to believe were in the adverse­ly affect­ed area when the tsuna­mi struck, and we haven’t been able to make con­tact or com­mu­ni­ca­tions with them. But our offi­cials are work­ing con­stant­ly through that. And I’m sure you can appre­ci­ate that in the last four of five days that num­ber has fall­en from 140 to 10 today, but our offi­cials have been very assid­u­ous in that respect, but they’ve also been tak­ing all nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions, as has been the case from day one.

JOURNALIST: [indis­tinct] What is Australia’s human­i­tar­i­an con­tri­bu­tion to Libya at present, and will it be upgrad­ed?

STEPHEN SMITH: Two points on Libya- I’ll deal with the human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance first. First­ly, the For­eign Min­is­ter has over the last week or so announced a range of finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions from Aus­tralia. Now, from mem­o­ry, more than $11 mil­lion that goes to the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross and to Unit­ed Nations agen­cies. So, a sig­nif­i­cant finan­cial con­tri­bu­tion from Aus­tralia. And the For­eign Min­is­ter has made it clear that fur­ther finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions will be kept under con­sid­er­a­tion. I’ve made the point in recent days and it remains the case that we are giv­ing con­sid­er­a­tion as to whether there’s a need for us to sup­ply a C‑17 for human­i­tar­i­an pur­pos­es, either for the deliv­ery of equip­ment or for evac­u­a­tion pur­pos­es. We have made that point clear to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. We con­tin­ue to be in close con­sul­ta­tion with them. At this stage there has not been a request from our inter­na­tion­al part­ners for the use of a C‑17, but we’ll keep that under review.

Sec­ond­ly on Libya, we warm­ly wel­comed yes­ter­day the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Council’s res­o­lu­tion to effect a no-fly zone over Libya, to also make the point that the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians is para­mount and utmost in the Secu­ri­ty Council’s mind. And that’s clear­ly the aspi­ra­tion of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. As I indi­cat­ed ear­li­er, Aus­tralia won’t be mak­ing a mil­i­tary or defence con­tri­bu­tion to the no-fly zone, there’s no expec­ta­tion that we would do that. The expec­ta­tion is that would come from con­stituent coun­tries in the region- NATO or con­stituent coun­tries.

And I just won’t be drawn on any oper­a­tional aspects of that. But so far as Colonel Qaddafi’s com­ments through his For­eign Min­is­ter overnight that he would imme­di­ate­ly abide by the cease­fire, I think the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty and Aus­tralia is enti­tled to take that, frankly, with some scep­ti­cism. Para­mount in our minds is the pro­tec­tion of Libya’s civil­ians. So I think the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty will take this very much step by step, and want to see con­crete, real, prac­ti­cal out­comes and improve­ment on the ground rather than sim­ply tak­ing Colonel Qaddafi at his word. So I’m sure the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty will have as its start­ing point some degree of scep­ti­cism about that under­tak­ing from Colonel Qaddafi.

JOURNALIST: [indis­tinct] on Christ­mas Island, will there be any Defence [indis­tinct] will there be any Defence inter­ven­tion?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. Well, yes­ter­day the Min­is­ter for Immi­gra­tion made it clear, as did I, a num­ber of things. First­ly, the Min­is­ter for Immi­gra­tion has effect­ed an inquiry or a review into the cir­cum­stances, a very sen­si­ble thing to do, and that will give us lessons for the future so far as Christ­mas Island is con­cerned. It will also I sus­pect give us some lessons for secu­ri­ty arrange­ments in oth­er deten­tion cen­tres.

The Immi­gra­tion Min­is­ter has made it clear to me that the lessons learned from Christ­mas Island will of course be applied to Northam, and he con­tin­ues to say pub­licly that Northam will be the sub­ject of appro­pri­ate, tight secu­ri­ty arrange­ments, and that it will be run in con­sul­ta­tion with the local author­i­ties and also with the state. So far as Defence assets are con­cerned for Christ­mas Island, oth­er than the obvi­ous Defence assets, aer­i­al and naval that we have in terms of coop­er­a­tion with Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion for sur­veil­lance, there’s no inten­tion to utilise Defence Force per­son­nel on Christ­mas Island in the face of the dis­tur­bances that we’ve seen.

In the first instance, it’s entire­ly appro­pri­ate for Immi­gra­tion and its con­trac­tors to deal with those mat­ters, and when they’re not in a posi­tion to do that as we’ve seen over the last 24–48 hours, then a very strong Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police pres­ence is appro­pri­ate, and that’s what we’re see­ing now. And there’s no inten­tion, now or in the future, to utilise Defence Force assets for that pur­pose on Christ­mas Island.

JOURNALIST: Sor­ry, just com­ing back to Japan, of those ten Aus­tralians that are still unac­count­ed for, do you know how many- if any- of them are from WA?

STEPHEN SMITH: No I don’t, you’d need to chase DFAT for that infor­ma­tion.

Thanks very much.

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia

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