Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on Queensland flooding; Carnarvon flooding; Lake Clifton bushfires; and forced marriage

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turn­ing up. I just want­ed to make some remarks about the floods in Queens­land, the floods in Carnar­von, and also the bush­fires in Lake Clifton. Can I start first­ly with the floods in Queens­land and the tragedy overnight of the flash flood in Toowoom­ba and the Lock­y­er Val­ley. The Prime Min­is­ter dealt with this mat­ter exten­sive­ly ear­ly today.

I want­ed to focus now on the Aus­tralian Defence Force assets that are being cur­rent­ly deployed in the search and res­cue effort. Can I start though by express­ing my per­son­al con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies who have lost loved ones, and to fam­i­lies who cur­rent­ly have fam­i­ly mem­bers miss­ing in the Lock­y­er Val­ley. It’s a ter­ri­ble tragedy. 

I’ve just got off the phone to Colonel Luke Fos­ter, who heads up the Aus­tralian Defence Force Task­force, Queens­land Flood Assist and I can detail to you the Aus­tralian Defence Force assets that are cur­rent­ly deployed in the search and res­cue oper­a­tion in the Lock­y­er Val­ley. Can I start by say­ing that weath­er con­di­tions are very bad, very bad on the ground but also very bad fly­ing con­di­tions. And it has been dif­fi­cult in the course of the day to get heli­copter access into the Lock­y­er Valley. 

But effec­tive­ly as we speak there are two Sea King heli­copters which were rede­ployed from Roma and then to Oakey and sub­se­quent­ly to the Amber­ley Air Base this morning. 

The two Sea King heli­copters will base at Amber­ley for the present. They’ve been joined by two Black­hawk heli­copters which have been rede­ployed from Oakey to Amber­ley. And those Black­hawks will be based at Amber­ley for the present. And they’ve been based at Amber­ley because that gives them the eas­i­est access route to the Lock­y­er Valley. 

Cur­rent­ly those four heli­copters are engaged in evac­u­at­ing peo­ple from For­est Hill to an evac­u­a­tion cen­tre in Gat­ton. I’m advised that there are some 200 to 300 peo­ple in For­est Hill requir­ing evac­u­a­tion. So that effort, that res­cue effort, will cer­tain­ly take the rest of the day and prob­a­bly beyond. 

Ear­li­er in the day, efforts were made to utilise a num­ber of Army high-wheeled trucks to see whether it was pos­si­ble to deploy the high-wheeled trucks into the Lock­y­er Val­ley, but con­di­tions on the road ren­dered that unsuc­cess­ful. So cur­rent­ly we are rely­ing upon heli­copter assets for the res­cue mission. 

I’ve just got off the phone as well to the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Hous­ton, and I’m able to advise that as a result of dis­cus­sions between the Aus­tralian Defence Force and Queens­land Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty, that the Aus­tralian Defence Force will deploy addi­tion­al heli­copter assets to aid the Queens­land Emer­gency Man­age­ment author­i­ty in the search and res­cue effort. 

Two addi­tion­al Black­hawk heli­copters will be assigned and based at Amber­ley for the present, and four light heli­copters, Kiowa obser­va­tion heli­copters, par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed for obser­va­tion and search and res­cue, will also be deployed to Amber­ley. Sub­ject to weath­er con­di­tions, we expect that those addi­tion­al heli­copter assets will be avail­able for use from tomor­row morning. 

The Chief of the Defence Force has made it clear to Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty offi­cials from Queens­land, as the Prime Min­is­ter has made clear to Pre­mier Bligh from Queens­land, that if addi­tion­al assets are required, then obvi­ous­ly we would look very favourably and pos­i­tive­ly to deploy­ing addi­tion­al assets to help in what is a tragedy for Queens­land and a tragedy for the nation. 

Lat­er this after­noon I will trav­el to Bris­bane. I will fly to Bris­bane tonight and tomor­row I’ll meet with Colonel Fos­ter who’s cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing out of the Enog­gera Bar­racks in Bris­bane. I’ll also meet with Major Gen­er­al Slater who is now the head of the Queens­land Recon­struc­tion and Recov­ery Task­force. And if cir­cum­stances allow, I’ll vis­it the Amber­ley Air Base to thank the ADF per­son­nel who are assist­ing in the search and res­cue and recov­ery effort. So I want­ed to detail those efforts to you. 

Can I under­line that weath­er con­di­tions and fly­ing con­di­tions are very dif­fi­cult and at all times, of course, safe­ty will deter­mine the heli­copter assets made avail­able for the search and res­cue effort. And there is some sug­ges­tion to me that fly­ing con­di­tions may well dete­ri­o­rate. So we are lit­er­al­ly in the hands of adverse weath­er con­di­tions so far as effec­tive­ness of the effort is concerned.

Can I just deal very briefly with the floods in Carnar­von. As Act­ing Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, yes­ter­day I wrote to the Pre­mier of West­ern Aus­tralia indi­cat­ing to the Pre­mier for­mal­ly, as the Prime Min­is­ter had indi­cat­ed pub­licly last week, that it was open to the state of West­ern Aus­tralia to apply for max­i­mum grants of $25,000 under the dis­as­ter relief arrange­ments for pri­ma­ry pro­duc­ers and small busi­ness peo­ple in Carnarvon.

I wel­come very much the fact that yes­ter­day the Act­ing Pre­mier, Kim Hames, wrote to the Prime Min­is­ter request­ing that the max­i­mum amount be made avail­able to eli­gi­ble small busi­ness or pri­ma­ry pro­duc­ers from Carnar­von who have been adverse­ly affect­ed by the flood in Carnarvon.

The ini­tial approach from the state of West­ern Aus­tralia, as you would know, was for $15,000, $10,000 less than the max­i­mum amount avail­able. The Prime Min­is­ter has made it clear, as I do as Act­ing Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, that that appli­ca­tion will be con­sid­ered speed­i­ly and pos­i­tive­ly, and I hope in a mat­ter of hours and days there will be a pos­i­tive and speedy res­o­lu­tion to that issue. But I wel­come very much the fact that the Act­ing Pre­mier of West­ern Aus­tralia, Kim Hames, has for­mal­ly applied to the Com­mon­wealth seek­ing the max­i­mum pub­licly avail­able amount for pri­ma­ry pro­duc­ers and small busi­ness peo­ple adverse­ly affect­ed by the flood in Carnarvon.

Final­ly, can I just indi­cate as a West Aus­tralian, whilst we see both in the mid-west and north of our state floods, and in Queens­land we see ter­ri­ble dev­as­ta­tion and loss of life from floods, the great irony of our vast nation, of course, is at the same time we have bush­fires south of Man­durah, south of Perth.

So our thoughts are very much with the res­i­dents who have been adverse­ly affect­ed in the Lake Clifton area — homes destroyed, peo­ple evac­u­at­ed. And we com­mend very much the actions of the local fire fight­ers and the state author­i­ties who have been work­ing very hard over the last 24 to 36 hours to con­tain a very dif­fi­cult bush­fire. So our thoughts are also with the peo­ple adverse­ly affect­ed by the Lake Clifton bushfires.

I’m hap­py to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: Did the WA Gov­ern­ment botch its request for fed­er­al assistance?

STEPHEN SMITH: Look, at times like this, where on the east­ern seaboard of our con­ti­nent we’ve got a ter­ri­ble dis­as­ter where­fore the peo­ple Carnar­von, they have been very seri­ous­ly adverse­ly affect­ed, both in terms of their lives and their liveli­hood, I think the last thing I want to do is to make any pejo­ra­tive remarks about what has occurred. I sim­ply make a pre­cise state­ment of the facts. It was always open to the state of West­ern Aus­tralia to apply, as the Gov­ern­ment of Queens­land did, for a max­i­mum grant under the dis­as­ter relief arrange­ments of $25,000. That was on the pub­licly avail­able web­site. It is part of the long­stand­ing Com­mon­wealth-State arrange­ments in these mat­ters. For what­ev­er rea­son, the state of West­ern Aus­tralia applied for $15,000. I’m very pleased that they’ve now applied for the max­i­mum avail­able amount and as Act­ing Attor­ney-Gen­er­al I under­line that which the Prime Min­is­ter has stat­ed in recent times, which is that appli­ca­tion will be speed­i­ly and very favourably considered.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, you talked about the evac­u­a­tion effort. What sort of mea­sures are being put in place to — in terms of food deliv­ery? I imag­ine that’s where it becomes an issue?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think there are three issues. First­ly, the Queens­land Flood Assist Task­force was estab­lished on New Years Day and has been oper­at­ing through­out Queens­land, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the north of the state, in Rock­hamp­ton, and I won’t detail again what the Prime Min­is­ter has dealt with com­pre­hen­sive­ly over the New Year period.

What we’ve been faced with in the last 12 to 18 hours has been a ter­ri­ble flash flood in Toowoom­ba. So whilst we con­tin­ue our efforts in the north of Queens­land, our imme­di­ate focus is now on the search and res­cue effort in the Lock­y­er Val­ley and in Toowoom­ba. And I’ve detailed that, and detailed the addi­tion­al assets that will be deployed. And I’ve also made it clear that if we believe that there is a need for fur­ther assets, we will also make them available.

I think the third issue is the longer term issue which is the ques­tion or the issue of recov­ery and recon­struc­tion. Major Gen­er­al Slater, of course, we’ve made avail­able to head up the Queens­land Recon­struc­tion and Recov­ery Task­force and as the Prime Min­is­ter has indi­cat­ed, and as I am hap­py to indi­cate as Defence Min­is­ter, there may well be the pos­si­ble or the poten­tial for a role for the ADF in that recov­ery, clean-up and recon­struc­tion role. For exam­ple, in the past, where bridges have been destroyed by floods, the ADF, our Defence Forces, their engi­neer­ing capac­i­ty has seen the ADF con­struct tem­po­rary bridges to allow trans­port to resume.

So there are three phas­es. There is the response gen­er­al­ly to ter­ri­ble floods in Queens­land, the imme­di­ate response overnight and today and for the next few days in the ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances of the Lock­y­er Val­ley. And then the longer term clean-up, recon­struc­tion and recov­ery. And that longer term mat­ter will, of course, be sub­ject to the flood waters reced­ing and fur­ther adverse weath­er con­di­tions. At this time yes­ter­day, for exam­ple, I don’t think any of us were expect­ing to see the ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances of Toowoomba.

QUESTION: The Prime Min­is­ter talked about some New Zealand per­son­nel offer­ing to help. Can you tell us what they are help­ing with?

STEPHEN SMITH: Again, as the Prime Min­is­ter has detailed, we’ve had a num­ber of offers from oth­er coun­tries in our region and beyond for assis­tance. Act­ing on the advice of the Queens­land Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty and our own Com­mon­wealth Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty, the advice and the deci­sion to date is that we cur­rent­ly have suf­fi­cient — both civil­ian and mil­i­tary assets — to deal with the cir­cum­stances that we find. 

We have accept­ed a request from, an offer, sor­ry, from New Zealand for a num­ber of New Zealand Emer­gency Ser­vice per­son­nel to assist in Queens­land and that’s what they’re cur­rent­ly doing, but that’s the only offer that we have accept­ed to date. 

But we are, of course, very grate­ful for the offers that have come in from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, both in our region and beyond. But the New Zealand offer of a small num­ber of Emer­gency Ser­vice per­son­nel is the only one that we’ve tak­en up, and they’re cur­rent­ly work­ing in Queensland. 

QUESTION: [Inaudi­ble]

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, not just nations in our region, but inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions, the Unit­ed Nations, the Euro­pean Union. We of course are very grate­ful for that. Aus­tralia prides itself as being a good inter­na­tion­al cit­i­zen and in the face of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters and dif­fi­cul­ties in oth­er coun­tries in our region and beyond, not just the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment of the day, but the Aus­tralian pub­lic respond gen­er­ous­ly. And we have been very grate­ful for the gen­er­ous response we’ve seen from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. But we are a pros­per­ous coun­try. We’re a well devel­oped coun­try. And to date all of the advice and all of the view is that we can man­age through our own resources. We have, of course, tak­en up the New Zealand offer because they were able to get expe­ri­enced per­son­nel on the ground very quickly. 

QUESTION: Have you got fig­ures of the num­ber of ADF per­son­nel that are involved and their roles? 

STEPHEN SMITH: The orig­i­nal or ini­tial Queens­land Flood Assist Task­force was in the order of about 150 Defence per­son­nel, and they vary in loca­tion from Amber­ley to Enog­gera to Rock­hamp­ton, scat­tered around lit­er­al­ly parts of Queensland. 

As a result of the addi­tion­al assets that we’re deploy­ing, the addi­tion­al heli­copter assets, that will take the num­ber of ADF per­son­nel assist­ing on the Queens­land floods clos­er to 200 than 150. But because of the spe­cial and ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances of Toowoom­ba and the Lock­y­er Val­ley, we believed that that was a sen­si­ble addi­tion to the assets that we’ve made avail­able to help the peo­ple of Queensland. 

QUESTION: And is there scope to improve that number? 

STEPHEN SMITH: If there is a need then we will again respond favourably. The addi­tion­al deploy­ment that I’ve announced today is as a result of dis­cus­sions between the Defence Force and the Queens­land Emer­gency Man­age­ment author­i­ty. Those dis­cus­sions will obvi­ous­ly be ongo­ing as cir­cum­stances unfold and as cir­cum­stances change or develop.

QUESTION: [Inaudi­ble]

STEPHEN SMITH: No, they’re all ADF per­son­nel, and they’re all, I stand to be cor­rect­ed on the detail, but the two Black­hawks will come from Syd­ney and the four light heli­copters, the Kiowas, they will come from Oakey. So they’re all Aus­tralian-based Defence personnel. 

QUESTION: You’ve talked about the poor weath­er con­di­tions [indis­tinct]. Have you got any advice on whether that’s expect­ed to deteriorate?

STEPHEN SMITH: The only point I make is that in my con­ver­sa­tions with Colonel Fos­ter and with Chief of the Defence Force Hous­ton, who is, of course, him­self a for­mer heli­copter pilot, both made the point that fly­ing and weath­er con­di­tions are bad and they may well dete­ri­o­rate. But again, that is an hour by hour and a day by day propo­si­tion. But I do under­line the point that whilst the ADF and its per­son­nel and the Queens­land Emer­gency Man­age­ment Authority’s per­son­nel will do every­thing they pos­si­bly can, we can’t put heli­copters into the sky if it’s not safe to do so. We don’t want to com­pound the difficulty. 

QUESTION: Do these ADF per­son­nel have expe­ri­ence with [indis­tinct]…

STEPHEN SMITH: The ADF, in terms of the indi­vid­ual per­son­nel, some obvi­ous­ly would have pri­or expe­ri­ence, and for some of them this would be the first occa­sion they’ve assist­ed on a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter. But the ADF, the Aus­tralian Defence Force, has got a proud his­to­ry not just of armed ser­vice in the field, but of dis­as­ter relief, recov­ery, and recon­struc­tion. In the Aus­tralian con­text, that is often from floods but it’s also from bush­fires. And you would recall, of course, the con­tri­bu­tion the ADF made to the Vic­to­ri­an bush­fires a cou­ple of years ago. QUESTION: [indis­tinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Again, that will be a day by day judg­ment. It will depend upon con­di­tion of the roads, when the flood waters recede, and the reced­ing of the waters themselves. 

QUESTION: Can I just ask you in your role as Act­ing Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, forced mar­riages — do you know any spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als that the Gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing at the moment to crack down on forced marriages? 

STEPHEN SMITH: The Min­is­ter for Home Affairs, my col­league Bren­dan O’Con­nor, last year, late last year, I think in Novem­ber, issued a dis­cus­sion paper which he put out for con­sul­ta­tion into the com­mu­ni­ty and into a range of com­mu­ni­ty groups rais­ing ques­tions of sex­u­al servi­tude and forced marriages. 

The con­sul­ta­tion process fin­ish­es in Feb­ru­ary and when that con­sul­ta­tion process is con­clud­ed, he’ll make a judg­ment about the way in which the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment will car­ry for­ward that issue. And as Act­ing Attor­ney-Gen­er­al and as Act­ing Min­is­ter for Home Affairs for two or three days over the Christ­mas New Year break I would­n’t pro­pose to go into any more detail than that. 

But the con­sul­ta­tion peri­od clos­es in Feb­ru­ary. I know there have been a range and a num­ber of sub­mis­sions. That’s a good thing. And he’ll deal with that in Feb­ru­ary when the sub­mis­sions close. But we have in the past had exam­ples of sex­u­al servi­tude come to light where there’ve been pros­e­cu­tions, and the issue of forced mar­riage is an issue that has been raised in the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty from time to time in the past. 

All right? Thank you, thanks very much. 

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

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →