The special ASEAN Leaders’ meeting in Jakarta, convened to discuss the aftermath of the Tsunami, has been addressed by John Howard. The Prime Minister told the gathering that “by the middle of January we will have something in the order of 1,000 personnel, military, humanitarian and otherwise assisting the affected countries.”
Howard cited Australia’s rapid response to the natural disaster and referred to his announcement of a $1 billion aid package for Indonesia: “It is a partnership between our two countries, it is a token I hope of the compassion and concern of the Australian people and a desire as a regional friend to work closely with the appalling challenges that the people of Indonesia have in the years ahead.”
This is the transcript of the statement by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Special ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on the Aftermath of the Tsunami at the Jakarta Convention Centre, Indonesia.
Thank you very much Mr President. I can confidently say that no natural disaster in my lifetime has moved and touched the people of my country as much as the disaster which has brought all of us together. And this in brief intervention I know that I speak on behalf of the 20 million Australians in conveying to you in particular and to all of the other leaders who come from affected countries the condolences of my fellow country men and women.
The personal response of Australians to appeals in relation to this disaster has far exceeded their response to any previous domestic or international event. Australia’s response has been at three levels. Because of our geographic proximity and our recent experience in disaster response we were able to get people on the ground very speedily, and I’m very proud that Australians were amongst the very first in relief efforts into Aceh and into other parts of the affected region. And by the middle of January we will have something in the order of 1,000 personnel, military, humanitarian and otherwise assisting the affected countries. We’ve already deployed six civilian medical teams to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. And we’re working very closely with the Royal Thai police on the difficult job of disaster victim identification, and I want to record my particular gratitude to the personnel of Commonwealth and State police from Australia and other disaster victim identification personnel from different countries and also of course the Royal Thai police. It is difficult, meticulous, stressful work and the people concerned have our particular gratitude.
Secondly, we responded in an immediate sense with a contribution of $60 million Australian dollars for relief to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, other affected countries, including the Maldives, and money to the Australian Red Cross and other Australian non-government organisations. But in addition to this I can report to this meeting that last night you Sir as President of the Republic of Indonesia and I reached an agreement whereby over the next five years Australia will provide $A1 billion by way of bilateral assistance to Indonesia, $500 million of that will be in the form of grants and the other $500 million will be in the form of highly concessional loans. This money, which will be overseen, the dispersal of which will be overseen by a joint commission headed by the President and myself, will be devoted to both short and long term relief in the reconstruction challenge that Indonesia faces.
It is a partnership between our two countries, it is a token I hope of the compassion and concern of the Australian people and a desire as a regional friend to work closely with the appalling challenges that the people of Indonesia have in the years ahead. We approach this as equal partners, it will be over and above the aid we currently provide on an annual basis to the Republic of Indonesia and it would be devoted very much under the surveillance of the commission towards long term reconstruction.
Can I say finally Mr Chairman that this terrible human tragedy has brought us all closer together, it has reminded us of the fragility of our existence, it has reminded us of the imperative of goodwill and decency between people as well as between nations. The hearts of 20 million Australians do go out to those who’ve lost and suffered so much. I don’t of course downplay the losses of my own country men and women, which although significant are dwarfed in numbers by the appalling losses of the people of Indonesia and the people of Sri Lanka and of India and of the Maldives and of Malaysia and of Thailand. And can I say that in conclusion Mr President that the response of the people of Australia to their friends and neighbours in the region is the response of 20 million people who want to help, who want to come closer to the region and want to play a true partnership in rebuilding the lives and the futures of so many people that have been abruptly affected and altered forever.