Howard Statement On Tsunami Anniversary

It is one year since the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated areas of the sub-continent and South Asia.

Around a quarter of a million people lost their lives in one of the most deadly natural disasters of recent times.

This is the text of a media statement from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE INDIAN OCEAN TSUNAMI

I invite all Australians to join me today in marking the first anniversary of the terrible events of Boxing Day last year, when the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami caused loss of life and property on an almost unimaginable scale. [Read more…]


Latham Statement Raises More Questions; Allows Time For Planning Transition To New Leader

The statement released this afternoon by Mark Latham resolves nothing and commits the Opposition Leader to nothing more than remaining leader for another thirteen days.

Mark Latham, Leader of the OppositionThe statement [see below] offers no commitment by Latham to remaining leader. It states ominously that “the news about my health has not been good.”

Latham expresses sympathy for the tsunami and bushfire victims. Over the past fortnight he has been criticised for his silence on the tsunami disaster.

He defends his stay at a holiday resort in Terrigal, NSW, and argues that the acting leaders of the ALP have expressed the appropriate sentiments over the past three weeks.

The media release is curious for what it doesn’t say. It is doubly curious for beginning with the health statement. It will do nothing more than fuel the leadership talk that began in earnest this week.

News reports today claimed that the shadow minister for Health, Julia Gillard, was making arrangements to cut short a visit to Vietnam and return to Australia. In the event of Latham’s resignation, it could be expected that his supporters would be opposed to former leader Kim Beazley (defeated by Latham on December 2, 2004 returning to the leadership he held between 1996-2001. They would also likely oppose the elevation of Kevin Rudd or Stephen Smith and could be expected to work to muster the caucus numbers for Gillard.

In this respect, Latham’s statement, whilst couched in terms of following his doctor’s advice and urging respect for his privacy, is designed to give his supporters time to plan for his departure.

There is a growing sentiment in media commentary and anonymous ALP sources that Latham’s leadership is now in terminal decline.

Television news reports tonight speculated on whether Latham’s pancreatitis is linked to a previous incidence of testicular cancer.

  • Listen to Deputy Opposition Leader Jenny Macklin comment on Latham’s statement.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is the text of a media statement from the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham.

The news about my health has not been good. I have been told to rest and not to work — advice I am trying to follow.

Over the past fortnight I have tried to take a total break, do a few simple things with my family and make the best recovery possible. Notwithstanding the obvious difficulties now, on the advice of my doctors and after consultation with colleagues, I will continue with this approach. I have spent this period with my family, including some time at Terrigal, where I was mostly confined to our unit.

Like all Australians I reacted with horror to the unfolding tragedy of the Asian tsunami. I feel great sympathy and grief for the victims. And I have nothing but admiration for the way the Commonwealth Government, the State Governments and the Australian people have responded. Australia’s response to the disaster has been magnificent.

The acting Labor Leaders, Jenny Macklin and Chris Evans, have expressed these sentiments on behalf of all our members, myself included.

So too, Labor expresses its grief and sympathy for the victims of the South Australian bushfires.

But in the circumstances I have been told to stay on leave and not return to work until my leave period ends on 26 January. I ask the media to respect my privacy and that of my family during this period.


Tsunami: John Howard Address to the Nation

Australia is playing a leading role in the one of the biggest humanitarian operations since World War II, according to the Prime Minister, John Howard, in his Address to the Nation tonight.

Howard’s address was broadcast at 7.30pm. In it he said “Australia, in its distinctive practical way, will remain in the forefront of helping those who have lost and suffered so much.” The emphasis on “practical” assistance is in keeping with Howard’s approach to issues such as Aboriginal affairs, preferring to downplay ideology whilst emphasising practical issues.

Howard said: “This catastrophe has brought the world closer together in a spirit of common humanity. It has been a brutal reminder of the force of nature but also of the inspiring capacity of mankind to ease the suffering of others in their hour of need.”

  • Listen to John Howard’s Address to the Nation.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is the transcript of the Address to the Nation by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Good evening.

Tonight I want to report to you about Australia’s response to the Asian tsunami disaster which has decimated the lives of so many people across the nations of our region.

More than 150,000 people have been killed, while millions more are injured or homeless. Whole communities have been washed away. And we are in a race against time to prevent further deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera.

This has been one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history. At this stage the final number of Australians who, tragically, have been killed or injured remains unclear. We are working as fast as possible with the identification of victims and to ascertain the whereabouts of those Australians originally reported as missing.

I know that the thoughts and prayers of you all are with those who have lost loved ones or endure the terrible agony of waiting for further news.

The response of the world community – and not least Australia – to this heartbreaking tragedy has been swift and generous.

Along with other governments, international agencies and non-government bodies, Australians are now playing a leading role in one of the biggest humanitarian aid operations since World War II.

I express the thanks of the nation to the many Australians working night and day to provide relief to victims. I especially thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, officers of the Australian Federal Police and their State colleagues, medical workers, staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and many other Australian Government departments and agencies who have come together in a great national effort.

This crisis has seen the Australian Public Service working at its dedicated and professional best.

Thanks also are due to the large number of Australians working for non-government relief organisations, often as volunteers.

The Government’s initial response was to provide emergency aid of $60 million and to send medical relief teams and defence personnel into badly affected areas, particularly Indonesia but also the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

A tragedy of this magnitude, however, requires a long-term commitment of resources if shattered communities are to be rebuilt and survivors provided with some hope for the future.

The loss of life and destruction in Indonesia, our nearest neighbour, has been truly staggering. At least 110,000 people have lost their lives in Aceh alone.

The recovery challenge facing this developing country is immense.

The Government has therefore decided to commit $1 billion over five years in both grants and highly-concessional loans to assist the Government and people of Indonesia in the mammoth task of recovery and rebuilding.

This will be the largest individual aid package in Australia’s history.

Under a plan to be called the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development, this $1 billion amount will go directly to areas of need through programs that must be approved by the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Government of Indonesia.

This process will ensure that resources go where they are most needed.

As well as being the right response to an immediate humanitarian crisis, this Partnership is an historic step in Australian-Indonesian relations.

Australians were the first foreigners on the ground in Indonesia after the disaster – a fact gratefully acknowledged by President Yudhoyono during our recent meeting in Jakarta. We will stay as long as we are needed.

Our nation will continue to help other affected countries. For example, Australian police officers are playing a leading role in identifying victims in Thailand and arrangements are in hand to send school teachers to the Maldives and scientific experts to help in repairing the damage to that country’s coral reef system.

The spontaneous outpouring of generosity from individual Australians in the last two weeks should be a source of pride to us all. Well in excess of $100 million has been pledged by individuals and companies in a great expression of the decency and good heart of the people of our nation.

The events of last Boxing Day and their aftermath have brought tragic loss and grief to many Australians. We have all been touched in different ways. Next Sunday, the 16th of January, will be a national day of mourning and reflection for the victims of the tsunami. I ask all Australians to mark this occasion in the way they think fit.

This catastrophe has brought the world closer together in a spirit of common humanity. It has been a brutal reminder of the force of nature but also of the inspiring capacity of mankind to ease the suffering of others in their hour of need.

Australia, in its distinctive practical way, will remain in the forefront of helping those who have lost and suffered so much.

Good night.


A National Day Of Mourning And Reflection

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has designated Sunday January 16 as a National Day of Mourning and Reflection for the victims of the earthquakes and tsunamis that devastated areas of South and South East Asia on December 26.

There is no precedent for a day of mourning in Australia, although it is common in many other countries.

The statement released by Howard is careful to allow for different faiths to mark the occasion on their normal days of prayer, as well as catering for the non-religious “who choose to observe this day of mourning in other ways”.

The introduction of the concept of a day of mourning is in keeping with a general trend by the Howard government to emphasise religious and moral values underpinning its political positions.

This is the text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

A NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING AND REFLECTION

I invite all Australians to observe, in their own chosen ways, Sunday 16 January 2005 as a National Day of Mourning and Reflection for the victims of the devastating earthquakes and resulting tsunamis in South and South East Asia on 26 December 2004.

All Australians are overwhelmed by the appalling tragedy that has claimed so many lives, not only of Australians but the citizens of our close neighbours and of many other nations.

Many Australians will attend religious services on this day and I encourage leaders of all denominations and faiths to include a reference to this tragic event and to those left bereaved and otherwise affected by this terrible natural disaster.

Respecting the fact that Sunday is not a day of religious observance for all faiths in this country, some may prefer to mark this occasion on their normal day of prayer.

For those Australians who choose to observe this day of mourning in other ways, activities already planned for Sunday should go ahead perhaps with the inclusion of a suitable dedication or act of remembrance.

On this day I ask that Australians observe a minute’s silence at 11.59 am Australian Eastern Daylight Time, marking the time at which the devastating earthquake which preceded the tsunamis struck. I am sure that television and radio services will mark this moment of silence in an appropriate way.

As a simple tribute to those who have died or who are injured or missing I encourage the wearing of a piece of wattle or similar native flora during the day as a quiet personal gesture of remembrance and reflection.

On Sunday 16 January the Australian National Flag will be flown all day at half-mast on all Commonwealth buildings throughout Australia and at our missions overseas. I encourage others to follow suit.

We are saddened beyond words by the loss of so many lives, particularly young ones. Our hearts and our condolences go out to Australians and those of other nations left grieving and especially those who wait for confirmation of news about their loved ones.

Let us all in our chosen ways find time on Sunday 16 January to mourn the tragic loss of so many and offer our prayers and hope for those still missing or recovering from this event.


HMAS Kanimbla Sets Sail For Banda Aceh

The Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has met with the Australian Defence Force contingent who will sail on board HMAS Kanimbla, taking relief aid to the Banda Aceh region of Sumatra, in Indonesia.

The crew of the Kanimbla will take the number of Australian Defence Force personnel to over 860 in the Indonesian region.

This is the text of a media release from the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill.

DEFENCE MINISTER VISITS HMAS KANIMBLA IN DARWIN

HMAS KanimblaDefence Minister Robert Hill today met with men and women from the Australian Defence Force contingent who will set sail on board HMAS Kanimbla this evening, taking much needed relief aid for the people of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Senator Hill said the number of Australian Defence Force personnel now in the Indonesian region had grown to over 460, and this number will increase by another 400 once the Kanimbla arrives at Banda Aceh.

“The Government is continually reviewing the ADF contribution to make sure it provides the most appropriate level of assistance to the people of Sumatra,” Senator Hill said.

“ADF operations staff continue to meet with their Indonesian, Singaporean and United States counterparts to make sure that military relief efforts are fully coordinated and delivered to where the needs are greatest”.

“ADF personnel are doing an outstanding job in delivering much-needed humanitarian assistance”.

“The arrival of the Kanimbla with her crew of 250 sailors and an engineer detachment of 150 soldiers with heavy plant equipment will further strengthen our relief efforts”.

“We already have Army engineers in Banda Aceh examining the area, identifying and prioritising the reconstruction requirements. The ADF engineering effort is likely to focus on repairing port facilities, clearing debris, and constructing camps and accommodation for displaced people.”

Along with much needed relief aid, HMAS Kanimbla will carry the following personnel and assets:

  • 250 Sailors;
  • Two Sea King helicopters;
  • Two landing craft (LCM8’s) capable of carrying 54 tons of cargo each and delivering supplies directly ashore without the use of wharf facilities;
  • an engineer detachment of 150 personnel;
  • Ten 4WD Unimog Trucks;
  • Six Mack trucks;
  • Four bulldozers;
  • Three front end loaders;
  • Twelve Land Rovers; and
  • Various other construction supplies.

Facts About HMAS Kanimbla

HMAS Kanimbla ships badgeThe HMAS Kanimbla was originally built for the United States Navy and acquired by the Royal Australian Navy in 1994. The ship has undergone extensive modifications for its new role as helicopter capable amphibious transport.

Its primary roles are to transport, lodge ashore and support an Army contingent of 450 troops, their vehicles and equipment. Kanimbla is fitted with helicopter hangers capable of supporting up to four Army Blackhawk or three of the larger Navy Seaking helicopters. Two helicopters can operate simultaneously from the aft flight deck, while a third can operate from the flight deck located forward of the bridge.

Two Army LCM8 landing craft can also be carried on the forward flight deck to provide ship to shore transport. They are lifted on and off by a 70 tonned crane. Accessed through a stern door, 810 square metres of storage space is available on the vehicle deck for Army vehicles and other large items of equipment.

For Army and Navy exercises the ship has additional operations and planning rooms that provide for both an Amphibious Group Commander and a Landing Force Commander. A comprehensive and modern array of communications equipment is fitted to support these joint operations.

Kanimbla is fitted with the largest and most comprehensive medical facilities in the fleet.

Source: Royal Australian Navy


No Role For United Nations: Howard

John Howard, Prime MinisterIt is not the role of the United Nations to oversee aid process in Southern Asia in the aftermath of the Tsunami, according to the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Speaking at a press conference after the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Jakarta, Howard said: “The UN for example won’t be overseeing the implementation of the partnership between Australia and Indonesia and that’s not meant disrespectfully of the UN. But it’s just not practical.”

Howard said his mantra “is what works and what works is Australia offers $1 billion over five years to Indonesia, we have a joint commission, we jointly approve the projects, we have people working within the Indonesian agency, the two governments work together, you don’t need that to be overseen by the UN, the UN’s aware of it and the UN will obviously take it into account in relation to the programmes that it puts in place. But it’s just unnecessarily bureaucratising the situation and also frankly unacceptably passing control of the Australian taxpayers’ money into the hands of others for us to deal with that on a bilateral basis.”

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Mulia Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Well ladies and gentlemen, the special meeting convened by the President of Indonesia has finished, it’s been an extremely successful meeting, called in very tragic circumstances, it had three main beneficial outcomes.

It’s confirmed and facilitated the need for co-operation amongst all of those countries and agencies that are contributing to the relief effort. I’m sure that it has both accelerated and lead to an increase in pledges and commitments made by countries and organisations. It has formally laid the groundwork for the establishment of an Indian Ocean tidal wave warning system which is obviously needed in the wake of this terrible disaster.

For me personally not only has it been an opportunity of course to finalise and announce on behalf of Australia the largest ever aid package, the $1 billion commitment we are making to the reconstruction of those parts of Indonesia and generally for Indonesia over the next five years a partnership of historic proportions in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia and as always at conferences such as this it’s been an opportunity to further confirm and renew bilateral links with leaders on a smaller level, but nonetheless of immense importance to the country concerned.

I’ve been able to confirm that Australia will provide between 10 and 15 school teachers to the Maldives to assist with the recommencement of the school year in that tiny country that has been so badly affected.

I’ve also responded positively to a request from the Prime Minister of the Maldives for assistance in relation to the ecological challenges that are now faced in relation to the reefs that surround that country and because of Australia’s experience and expertise through CSIRO and other organisations, which would be obvious to all of you, we’ll be able to provide assistance to that country.

I mention that as an illustration of the smaller yet nonetheless very important ways in which a country such as Australia can help and it’s only by actually being here and having a personal discussion with the prime minister of one of the smaller countries affected that we find out that we are able to help in these intensely practical ways.

And it’s been my mantra from the very beginning that Australia is in the business of helping in a practical way and to send volunteer school teachers to be able to help in the restoration of the reef, which is so important to that tiny country which depends so very heavily on tourism, that’s one side of it, the other side of it of course is the huge assistance package we’ve provided to Indonesia and it was also of course an opportunity for me to talk informally to the Prime Minister of Japan, the Prime Minister or Premier of China, the Prime Minister of Korea, the American Secretary of State and all the other leaders that were present, the British Foreign Secretary who I know well and the President of the Philippines.

It has taken a very tragic event to bring all of this about of course, we all would have hoped if we could turn the clock back it wouldn’t have been necessary, but the world has come together in a remarkably compassionate and effective way and we should all be very proud of the contribution that different people and different countries have made, not least of course the contribution that’s been made by Australia which has been widely applauded and respected as it should be because it does represent an extremely generous contribution from a country that has been blessed by providence and good fortune over the years and we’re in a position to help but it’s one thing to be in a position, it’s another thing to actually provide the assistance.

And could I just conclude my introduction by saying this, that I continue important though it is for Australia to help other countries, I continue as Prime Minister of Australia to have my principal thoughts for those Australians who are still going through the agony of not knowing whether their loved ones have died in this tragedy or not, in the human experience there is nothing worse than that and I would want those Australians to know that they are very much in my thoughts and in the thoughts of my wife and the members of my Government. Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, it’s one thing to pledge money, I’m not referring to Australia, it’s one thing to have pledged money but the other thing to go all the way, the UN Secretary General almost seemed to be saying show me the money.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that won’t be a problem with Australia. I think the world has been very generous and I have no doubt that, I mean obviously Australia will deliver every dollar of what it has promised and I believe that countries like the United States will, I mean I can’t believe that any countries will go back on their pledges. Can I just say that I think some of the criticism that has trickled out about the United States has been completely unreasonable, when it comes to the deployment of assets, of helicopters and men and materials to use an expression beloved of American English they’re second to none and I think it’s a pretty sorry thing that people use every occasion to have a swipe at them.

JOURNALIST:

Are you confident that the UN can oversee this process…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think it’s the role of the UN to oversee the whole process, I mean the UN for example won’t be overseeing the implementation of the partnership between Australia and Indonesia and that’s not meant disrespectfully of the UN. But it’s just not practical, my mantra Ian is what works and what works is Australia offers $1 billion over five years to Indonesia, we have a joint commission, we jointly approve the projects, we have people working within the Indonesian agency, the two governments work together, you don’t need that to be overseen by the UN, the UN’s aware of it and the UN will obviously take it into account in relation to the programmes that it puts in place. But it’s just unnecessarily bureaucratising the situation and also frankly unacceptably passing control of the Australian taxpayers’ money into the hands of others for us to deal with that on a bilateral basis.

JOURNALIST:

So would it be better if everybody was doing it on a bilateral basis rather then…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it varies a bit, it depends on the country, it depends on the situation, it depends on the need. In the case of Australia and Indonesia the way to do it is the way we have agreed to do it and I have don’t think it’s necessary to run that through anybody else and I think it works more effectively if we do it that way. But there will be other situations where UN involvement and UN agency involvement is the better way of doing it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you mentioned that you had talks with several of the leaders…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Did you talk with Kofi Annan and what did you discuss?

PRIME MINISTER:

Did I talk to Kofi Annan? Yes, I sat next to him at lunch and we had a very pleasant chat and he was very impressed, so he told me, with the contribution that Australia was making, it was a perfectly amiable discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any plans to contribute, he was calling today for a…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think, we have made a very big contribution and you know judge our contribution according to its quality and its size, not according to the bureaucratic process employed to provide it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in his speech to the summit meeting SBY made an interesting point, he said talking about the whole situation and the way that the countries have come together he said let’s not go back to business as usual, which I assume was a reference to petty differences or past differences between countries. Do you share that view?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly do. I mean there is no doubt that this tragic experience has brought Australia and Indonesia closer together. That’s not to say we were a long way apart. But when you go through an experience like this and when Indonesia knows and benefits from the fact that Australia was the first country to actually provide help, that I was the first foreign leader to speak to him, that we have offered this extremely valuable and supportive package. The experience of that adds value to the relationships. I think what he was really saying was that a tragedy like this and the unity it brings forth puts our differences into perspective and I think that’s a lesson that all of us can learn, that’s a point that was made by a number of people but I thought he made it most eloquently.

JOURNALIST:

The UN’s saying they’d like to see upwards of $1 billion in the bank this week. Do you think that’s possible?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look, I don’t want to get into you know analysing every single thing that the UN or anybody else has said. I know what we are doing, and I know that what we are doing is as speedy and as prompt and is as practical and effective on the ground as any contribution of any country. I also know that we’ve committed ourselves to an unprecedented level of assistance to the country that is worst affected. So I’m not going to start sitting in judgement on others.

JOURNALIST:

In the short term though do you think the world is doing enough to get the money in now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think the most important thing is to save lives and that is to get emergency relief into places like Aceh, that’s the most important thing at the moment, let’s not lose sight of it, let’s not get so obsessed with what I might call the aid politics of it to lose sight of that fact and no country has been quicker in providing that kind of assistance than Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you been given any information on the risks of disease, the second wave of disease (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think to some degree people are holding their breath about that but the early indications are that the medical help that’s been provided may have acted to prevent it but it’s probably a little too early to be completely confident about that.

JOURNALIST:

… some reports from Australia that Australia may considering taking some of the refugees that could be displaced…

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s not an issue that’s been raised. Look the most important thing that we can do for the affected countries is to rebuild the lives of people that have been shattered in the countries where they are. If you’re somebody who’s lost everything in Sri Lanka or Indonesia you want your country rebuilt and that’s the best thing that we can do.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, there were some concerns (inaudible) about Burma and exactly what the situation..

PRIME MINISTER:

About which?

JOURNALIST:

Burma.

PRIME MINISTER:

Burma?

JOURNALIST:

Yes, and exactly what the situation is there. Were you satisfied with their presentation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a presentation was made by the Burmese Prime Minister and I have no grounds on which to dispute it, equally I have no independent verification of it. The difficulty with a country like Burma is that it is a rather closed society and it’s inevitable when things like this occur that people will ask questions. But I’m not in a position to say to you that what we were told was wrong, equally I have no capacity to independently verify it.

JOURNALIST:

It seems a very low figure, a death toll of 39, given the loss of its neighbours (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not necessarily given the location of Burma, not necessarily wrong. I don’t know.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned of reports from Australia that Australian seismologists are perhaps (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Where are you, I’m sorry there you are.

JOURNALIST:

There were reports last night that Australian seismologists did have information about the tsunami and mistook it for I think a land earthquake rather than an undersea earthquake. Are you concerned that Australian scientists may have got that wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Can you update us on the death toll from Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t really add anything to what has been previously released, the figures of what some 13 confirmed or is it 16 and then there are others missing. I have no additional information, no I don’t.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister a couple of days ago said that talks were being held with the Australian Navy about the possibility of sending more assets, is there any…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we haven’t taken any decision to send more assets, we could but we haven’t in the last couple of days.

Okay. Thank you.


A Partnership Between Australia And Indonesia: Howard

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.

John Howard, Prime MinisterThank 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.

Thank you.


ALP Pressured Over Latham Illness, Welcomes Indonesian Aid Package

Senator Chris Evans (ALP-WA), Acting Leader of the OppositionThe Acting Leader of the Opposition, Defence Spokesman Senator Chris Evans, faced intensive questioning today about Mark Latham’s illness. At a press conference in Perth, Evans welcomed the $1 billion assistance package to Indonesia, but was repeatedly asked about Latham and the Opposition’s leadership arrangements.

Evans confirmed that he had only found out about Latham’s recurrence of pancreatitis on assuming the acting leadership last weekend. He said most shadow ministers probably found about Latham’s illness “in the papers”.

The handling of Latham’s illness is a political mis-step for the ALP. It will add to the pressure on the party’s leadership in the aftermath of the 2004 election defeat.

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chris Evans.

EVANS:

Firstly, on behalf of the Labor Party I’d like to welcome today’s announcement by the Prime Minister of the aid package to Indonesia. We think it is a very important initiative. Labor strongly supports the size and strength of the aid package and while we await briefings on the details our initial reaction has been positive and we’re keen to support the Government in providing whatever assistance it can to Indonesia and other countries affected by this terrible tsunami. And as I say we’ll have more to say when we see the details, but Labor welcomes the package and is very keen to see such a strong and positive responsive from the Government and we are supportive in whatever way we can in ensuring that aid reaches those affected by the terrible tsunami. On the other matter, I’d just like to say that there has been some interest in Mark Latham’s illness. Mark has suffered a recurrence of his pancreatitis problem. He’s on annual leave, away on leave but he’s been taken ill. I’m acting Leader this week and will continue to act in that capacity as will Jenny Macklin, on her return from leave. Mark is expected to make a full recovery. He’s waiting on some diagnostic tests and is consulting his doctors and he’s due back from leave on Australia Day and we have no reason to believe that he won’t be back by Australia Day. But it’s been a serious recurrence for him. I understand the condition is quite painful and that’s why he’s not been making any public statements. He’s been ordered by his doctors to have full rest and he’s taken those instructions. But Mark is expected to make a full recovery and we expect him back at work on Australia Day as planned.

JOURNALIST:

How long has he been ill?

EVANS:

I understand he’s been ill for about 10 days, but I don’t know the details of his condition obviously. But he was taken ill with the recurrence, as you might remember the cause of the pancreatitis was not able to be ascertained last time so he’s been having further diagnostic tests. And he’s awaiting those tests but his doctor has ordered complete rest, and that’s why he taken no part in public life. As I say, he was on annual leave anyway.

JOURNALIST:

When did you find out?

EVANS:

His office has been liaising with me for some time. The point is he was on leave anyway. I was acting Leader, but when there was some call for Mark to be publicly available we thought it best to release the information, the reason why he wasn’t appearing publicly was because of the illness. He’s obviously been, like everyone else very moved by the tragedy, but he’s under doctors orders to not take any public engagements and he’s taken that advice.

JOURNALIST:

But when were you told?

EVANS:

I was informed by his staff when I took over the Leader’s role that Mark was unwell —

JOURNALIST:

When was that?

EVANS:

I took over last weekend.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

(inaudible)

Mark was on annual leave anyway. Jenny Macklin, as deputy was acting, she’s gone on leave for a couple of weeks herself. I’m acting Leader for those two weeks but Mark is expected to make a full recovery and be back at work on Australia Day, but obviously Jenny Macklin will act in his position in the meantime and that would continue if there was a problem. But as I say, Mark’s expectation and our expectations is for Mark to return to work on Australia Day.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

My understanding is that Mark has been consulting with his doctor, having tests, but he’s resting at home. I also understand the condition is quite painful, so, as I understand it precludes you from doing a lot of things you might like to do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

My understanding is Mark will make a full recovery and be back at work on Australia Day. I don’t expect it to have any impact, politicians like everyone else are entitled to take annual leave and unfortunately get sick on occasions, but I understand he’s expecting a full recovery and the tests (inaudible) to identify what’s causing the problem which they haven’t been able to identify as yet but once that’s done the condition should be able to be managed. So, we don’t expect any longer term problems but Mark is unwell at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

But he could have least put out a (inaudible) statement.

EVANS:

The acting arrangements were already in place, if you like. Mark was on annual leave and it’s also fair to say none of us like having our personal, medical conditions discussed in public if we don’t have to. And I would be like that (inaudible) and you’d feel like that as well. The reality is, because of the interest in Mark’s condition, we decided, well he decided to go public, but obviously people prefer to have their medical conditions kept private and be allowed to deal with them in their own way.

JOURNALIST:

I meant a statement about the tsunami.

EVANS:

The statement about the tsunami has been made by the acting Leader at the time. Jenny Macklin made a statement when it occurred. She was Leader of the Labor Party at that time and we’ve been very active in getting briefings from the department. We wrote to the Government within a couple of days offering our full support. We’ve been very keen to be kept informed. Kevin Rudd, our foreign affairs spokesman has been briefed almost on a daily basis, he’s kept me and others informed of those briefings. We’ll be seeking a more formal briefing, a more comprehensive briefing from the Government in the next couple of days, particularly on the package and the longer term implications for Australian efforts in Indonesia and I hope to have that in Canberra on Monday. But Jenny Macklin issued a statement on behalf of the Labor Party, I’ve issued a statement yesterday on the (inaudible). We also welcome and we’ll be very keen to offer bipartisan support to the Government. It’s not a time to play politics, we were very keen to support the Government to welcome the initiatives and to express the solidarity of all Australians in a serious and coordinated effort to support those victims and survivors of the Tsunami.

JOURNALIST:

Should we contribute more?

EVANS:

I think all Australians are showing a magnificent response. I think the response was overwhelming. I know within days of the event, I was on holidays in the southwest of WA and the Red Cross ladies were around there with a table, within what seemed like a day or so and I know a lot of Australians have contributed magnificently. I’m also very proud of the contribution the Australian military are making in Indonesia already in terms of water purification and hospital and medical assistance and I think all Australians are going to make a contribution and I think are very keen to do what they can. So, I think the response of the Australian community has been most overwhelming and I think a credit to all Australians.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

Most of the frontbench colleagues are on leave at this time of the year. But the point is the acting arrangements were in place and so, Mark was on leave anyway, unfortunately his annual leave has become —
JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:
I don’t’ think it’s been an issue until recently but certainly the tradition is Mark was on annual leave, that was made public, it was known and all the arrangements for acting were in place. And because of the public interest in the last couple of days, we decided to that we would, if you like, make it public that Mark was actually suffering from an illness.

JOURNALIST:

Were the frontbenchers told at the same time as the public were?

EVANS:

Certainly the issue didn’t arise until yesterday in terms of any public awareness of Mark’s illness. He, I think quite rightly, didn’t seek to make it public before then. As I say, the acting arrangements were in place, he was on annual leave. Unfortunately he got sick while he was on annual leave. I think all Australians would take the view that Mark Latham is entitled to be on annual leave as anybody else.

JOURNALIST:

So the public were told yesterday, but when were other Labor Ministers told?

EVANS:

I suspect all lot of the Labor Shadow Ministers wouldn’t have known that Mark was ill until they read about it in the papers, so it’s probably right.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any indication as to why the condition has returned?

EVANS:

The simple answer is, I don’t know, but I do know last time they were unable to identify the cause. And I think that’s the purpose of these diagnostic tests that they’re actually trying to get to understand what the cause of the recurrence of the pancreatitis is. It’s my understanding that in a large percentage of cases they actually can’t find out what the cause is and certainly, so far, Mark is unaware of what the cause is and so they’re just working their way through those issues now.

JOURNALIST:

Is it a concern for you and your colleagues that he has been very seriously ill before?

EVANS:

It’s obviously a concern when any of your colleagues are ill. As I understand it, this is not a life threatening illness, there’s no suggestion that Mark won’t be returning to work. It’s an issue that can be managed with proper care and the difficulty for Mark has been they’ve just been unable to identify the cause. Those tests are now occurring again and hopefully at the end of that there’ll be a management regime put in place that allows him to live and work with that illness and that’s as I understand what generally occurs in treatment of pancreatitis. But I don’t pretend to be an expert either on the disease or on the details of Mark’s illness.

JOURNALIST:

Inaudible

EVANS:

Mark is confident of returning to work and he’s doesn’t believe it’ll have any long term effect on his health, we expect him back to work on Australia Day as planned.

JOURNALIST:

The fact that colleagues were kept in the dark (inaudible) disunity in the Party?

EVANS:

I don’t think that it’s fair to say that colleagues were kept in the dark. I certainly don’t ring all my colleagues when I’m taken ill…

JOURNALIST:

Yes, but he is the Party Leader.

EVANS:

Well, he is but I think it’s fair to say that if you’re on annual leave and you have a medical condition (inaudible) I don’t see a need for him to ring all his colleagues or to broadcast it to the public.

JOURNALIST:

Surely a disaster of this scale should be enough to bring the Leader of the Opposition back from annual leave if he wasn’t sick, (inaudible)

EVANS:

I think, first of all you’ve got to recognise that this is initially an issue for the Government and their response. Labor has very clearly said we’ve offered bipartisan support. We supported the Government in all its initiatives and the acting Leader has made statements to make that clear and we’ve offered that support and I think that’s the way we dealt with it and I think that’s the appropriate way of dealing with it. Now, you may want to argue that Mark should come back from annual leave, that’s become a bit of an issue. Our response to that is the reason he hasn’t come back from annual leave is because he’s been unwell.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

I don’t think I understand that question.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

I think you are having a third go at the question I’ve already answered twice. The answer is Mark is expected back at work on Australia Day. He doesn’t expect any long term impact on his health as a result of this illness. He’s awaiting the results of diagnostic tests and he’ll return from annual leave as planned.

JOURNALIST:

On the aid question again, the Prime Minister described it as a donation to (inaudible)

EVANS:

Certainly Labor has always argued that the relationship with Indonesia is very important. We’ve always argued for a closer engagement with Indonesia. They are strategically and politically a very important partner of Australia in the region and so we think the Government’s response is a good one. We think it’s important that Australia responds strongly and positively to their terrible disaster and as I say we’ve tried as much as possible to support the Government in that response.

JOURNALIST:

Is it responsible to commit (inaudible)

EVANS:

I suppose in the sense that Labor has welcomed the announcement and as offered bipartisan support, it indicates that the alternative government in Australia welcomes this sort of aid. As I say we haven’t seen the detail yet but we may want to respond to some of the details, but in terms of the size and the intent of the offer from the Australian Government, Labor welcomes it and supports the general thrust.

JOURNALIST:

Do you support the deployment of troops?

EVANS:

We certainly supported the deployment of military officers into the region to provide civilian aid. We think they have excellent skills, the water purification, the medical teams, they’ve all shown their worth in previous events of this nature. East Timor, the Solomons etc, we think they’ve done a magnificent job and I think all Australians take pride in the role they’re playing in helping those people who have been so severely effected by the tsunami.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you your reaction to the declining university enrolments?

EVANS:

I think it’s a disgrace that at a time when we try to be the clever country that we less people going to university than we have in the past. This is something that only second time in 50 years where university enrolments have declined. I think it’s a national disgrace and while we welcome any increase in TAFE and apprenticeships, it also important that we continue to grow the number of university graduates and I think it’s a real indictment on the Government that university numbers have fallen. It’s an indictment on their federal education polices that less Australians are attending university this year than last year.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

Obviously there’s a whole range of issues that go to the funding and to the fees that students have to pay. (inaudible) there are not enough university places and their failure means less Australians are going to university than there were last year and I don’t think that’s a good sign for the Australian economy. Also for young people who are seeking to get a proper education.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

EVANS:

The two years that it’s declined have both been in the last four or five years. They’re the only occasions in the last 50 years that there’s been a decline. It’s a sign of the federal government’s policies are having a detrimental effect on a number of young Australians who want to go to university. I don’t think that’s a good thing for the future.


Howard Heads To Jakarta For Aid Summit

The Prime Minister, John Howard, will attend an international conference in Jakarta aimed at coordinating the distribution of aid to tsunami-affected areas of South Asia.

Speaking at a press conference in Canberra, Howard said he would also meet with the Indonesian President Yudhoyono. It is expected that the two leaders will announce further aid measures.

  • Listen to John Howard Announce Day of Mourning for Tsunami Victims.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Listen to US Secretary of State Colin Powell comment on the Tsunami.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is the transcript of the press conference held by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Parliament House, Canberra.

John Howard, Prime MinisterGood morning ladies and gentleman. I thought I would say a couple of things shortly before leaving for Jakarta. As indicated yesterday the number of Australians confirmed dead remains at 12. There are grave concerns held for a further 72 and it’s not been possible at this stage to resolve 560 reports of Australians who’ve been in the affected areas. That does not necessarily mean that grave concerns are held for all of those but it does indicate that we’ve simply not been.. (interruption)

It’s not been possible at this stage to resolve reports of 560; that doesn’t mean that grave concerns are held for all of them. In some cases their absence was reported by people other than close relatives and friends. In most cases, however, the latter was the case. It will take some time before all of those people are, as it were, tracked down or not discovered and therefore the final number of Australians who’ve been affected remains unclear.

I’ll be attending a major international conference which brings together the leaders or foreign ministers of all of the ASEAN countries – China, Japan, Korea, Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the head of the World Bank, the head of the Asian Development Bank and the head of a number of the specialised agencies. It’s a very important conference. I hope the focus of the conference will include the importance of the coordination of the distribution of aid. It’s fair to say that the world has responded with remarkable generosity to what has occurred and many countries are to be complimented on what they have done. The important thing now is to make sure that there is the minimum of distributive gridlock and that the aid gets through as quickly as possible.

Whilst in Jakarta I’ll have another bilateral meeting with President Yudhoyono. I have spoken to him on the telephone twice since this disaster struck. I spoke to him the day after the disaster and I spoke to him again last Sunday night.

I think you will be aware of the extent and the speed and the effectiveness of the aid that Australia has already provided and continues to provide. I want to especially thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces, the men and women who comprised the medical teams that responded so quickly, and in that context, I would like to thank the State Governments and State Government departments for their marvellous cooperation. There has been a totally coordinated response across Australia and the close collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States has been a hallmark of the response. I’d also like to thank the men and women of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Federal Police. The police, along with their state colleagues, are doing incredibly important, but very distressing work in victim identification, especially in Thailand and the Foreign Minister had an opportunity yesterday of observing that.

The Foreign Minister will see me in Jakarta and I spoke this morning to the Defence Minister, who later this week will go to Indonesia to visit some of the Australian military personnel who are providing the assistance.

The other two matters that I wish to mention is that the Government will invite all Australians to mark Sunday the 16th of January in the way they choose as a national day of mourning and reflection for the victims of this terrible natural disaster. Many Australians will mark that by attending church services, others will choose to do it in different ways. I respect the fact that Sunday is not a day of religious observance for all faiths in this country and understandably people, for example of Islamic faith, would perhaps mark the occasion on Friday which is a normal day of prayers in the Muslim religion. It’s my intention as well as attending a Christian service that weekend to mark the occasion by a visit to a place of worship of other faiths, particularly having regard to the extraordinary number of people of the Islamic faith who’ve lost their lives in this terrible disaster and also our friends from Sri Lanka and India where other faiths predominate.

I’ll also be seeking from the Australian Broadcasting Cooperation the opportunity next Sunday evening to make a brief address to the nation on aspects of this disaster and Australia’s response to it. I conclude these introductory remarks by expressing my personal gratitude and admiration to all of the people of Australia for their incredible, spontaneous generosity. They have been truly impressive and all of the inherent decency of the Australian people has shone through on this occasion and I am just blown away by the great generosity of people and it shows what a fundamentally good heart the Australian nation has.

JOURNALIST:

To what extent is Australia’s military and aid contribution to Indonesia dependent upon the situation between the Indonesian military and separatists in Aceh?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not dependent at all. The only issue that that issue might give rise to is an issue of security of our personnel. We’re not in any way attaching conditions to the aid we’re providing. We have a single mission and that is to provide assistance to get it through in the most practical way possible and to give you an illustration of the practicality of Australian assistance. I was told yesterday that the only water purifier in the affected area, in Aceh is the one provided by the Australian Defence Force and a water purification plant is a more effective way of delivering fresh water to people in this situation than bottled water. I’m not criticising those who are proving water incidentally, I’m simply making the point that when it comes to providing immediate practical on the ground assistance it’s very hard to go past Australians.

JOURNALIST:

What Australian Government aid or assistance, will you be discussing with the Indonesian President at this summit…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I’ll be discussing with him and with others the provisions of further assistance. We will provide further assistance – I’ve made that very clear. What that assistance will be and precisely where, and in what, form is something to be further discussed and decided. In a situation like this it’s important that you provide generous immediate pledges of financial help but you provide immediate effective, on the ground assistance, and then as the extent of the disaster and the type of response needed crystallises then you provide further assistance and we have done that and done that very effectively.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) have a greater role or a more permanent role for Australian Defence Forces helping victims of the tsunami crisis in the region and how do you see the role of the United Nations? How does that fit in with the various bilateral arrangements and talks that are underway now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the role of the Australian Defence Forces is to defend Australia and to be involved in military operations that elsewhere, which are appropriate to the security interests of this country, and to the peace of the world. From time to time because of their expertise, Australian Defence personnel are involved in disaster and emergency operations, but it’s not something you permanently commit people to do. You have a capacity to provide it as it’s needed. Now the second question was?

JOURNALIST:

In relation to the United Nations, how do you see their role in this and how does that…..

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is a matter really for the United Nations. I mean this is a situation where what works should be supported. I have only one interest and that is getting aid through to people as quickly as possible and whoever can do that should do it, and whoever else should support what others have been able to do. I don’t think this is a question of who should be running it, it’s a question of what works. I mean clearly everything that we have done to date we have done bilaterally with Indonesia and different countries and I imagine that that will continue to be predominately the way in which we deliver assistance because it’s worked. We are still a world of nation states and a disaster of this magnitude drives that fact home because it’s only nation states that have the assets at their disposal to provide assistance. That is not in any way to denigrate the wonderful work of, particularly of non-government organisations such as Care and World Vision and all of those other organisations that do absolutely wonderful work but the reality is that it’s a government that can provide helicopters, it’s a government that can provide a water purification plant, it’s a nation that can provide these assets.

JOURNALIST:

Is the Australian Government aid likely to exceed $500 million dollars?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to put figures on anything, as we have announcements to make we will make them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister are you considering freezing debt repayments from affected countries?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve read some reports about that. We will consider any proposal that is put forward. I do, however, have some reservation about that and that is there’s no guarantee that if you do it, what is forgiven or what is the subject of a moratorium will end up going in aid because the debts are not normally owed by people who need the assistance. They’re usually owed by other organisations and you have no guarantee if you provide a debt moratorium or debt forgiveness that that money ends up where it should, so that is a practical reservation I have. My overwhelming preference is for Australian aid to be targeted and for Australia to have a clear role in where it goes and how it goes because we have a responsibility to those who are providing the aid, be it through donations or be it through the use of taxpayer’s funds to make certain that it gets where it should.

JOURNALIST:

In terms of the security situation in Aceh, are you concerned however that hostilities do appear to be continuing in certain areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are mixed reports. Obviously anybody would be concerned if hostilities continued.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) the support of George Bush senior and Bill Clinton to help out and advising on the aid effort, who are you taking advice from?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m taking advice from people I normally take advice from inside the Government. We have a different system of Government and the Americans handle these things differently. I don’t think they handle them any better. Australia’s response has been second to none around the world as far as this crisis is concerned and with all due respect to our American and other friends, I don’t think we have any lessons to learn in terms of the speed and the effectiveness and the practicality of our responses.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister at the recent surplus upgrade you indicated that we’re enjoying unprecedented prosperity, is there an argument that instead of tax cuts more money should go to long term integrated aid to this region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this is not an occasion to give a dissertation on the balance of fiscal policy Mr Metherell. This is an occasion to make sure that Australia’s response will be generous, effective, practical in its application and expressive of the desires of the Australian people and I can ensure you that is exactly what we will do.

JOURNALIST:

The flow on from all of this has been an opportunity perhaps for the United States to normalise its relationship a little bit more with Indonesia, is that something….

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to tell the United States how to conduct its relationship with Indonesia. The Americans are a very generous people and I think those who suggest otherwise are wrong and are gratuitous and don’t understand what that country has done in the past. My major responsibility is to help the people of our region, not only, but particularly, Indonesia because Indonesia is very close and has suffered so much and I want to see that Australia does what should be reasonably expected of it and I believe to date Australia has responded magnificently and I want to see that continue. That wouldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary generosity of the Australian public, the Australian public has been very warm hearted and I really am in awe of their speedy and effective generosity.

JOURNALIST:

What decisions do you hope to see come out of the summit on Thursday, out of your meeting with the Indonesian President?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the most important thing is an understanding broadly of who does what, so people don’t bump into each other, I think that is tremendously important.

Thank you.


Howard Announces $1 Billion Tsunami Aid Package For Indonesia

The biggest single Australian aid package worth $1 billion dollars has been announced by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

The aid package will be made up of $500 million in grants and $500 million in concessional loans. It will be administered by a joint commission overseen by Indonesian President Yudohyono and John Howard.

The aid is in response to the tsunami that devastated areas of South Asia on December 26. The Aceh region of Sumatra in Indonesia was particularly hit and will be a focus for much of the aid package.

  • Listen to Howard announce the aid package.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Listen to Howard Announce Day of Mourning for Tsunami Victims.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Listen to US Secretary of State Colin Powell comment on the Tsunami.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is the transcript of the press conference held by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Mulia Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia.

John Howard, Prime MinisterWell ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just had a meeting with President Yudhoyono, I took the opportunity to personally convey to him the condolences and genuine sympathy of the Australian people to the people of Indonesia for the appalling lose of life and the terrible suffering that follows from the disastrous impact of this great natural disaster. No country has suffered more than Indonesia, the lose of life will probably never be accurately calculated and it was an opportunity for me to personally convey to him on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia how much we had sorrow in our hearts for what had occurred to his people.

I’m able to announce arising from this meeting what is an historic step in relations between Australia and Indonesia in the wake of this terrible natural disaster which has inflicted such suffering and destruction on the people of Indonesia. I can announce an Australia-Indonesian Partnership for Reconstruction and Development. It will involve the largest single aid package in Australia’s history – $1 billion Australian dollars will be made available in an aid package to involve the reconstruction and development of Indonesia. It will be made of up of $500 million in grants and $500 million in concessional loans. The grants will be used for more short term restorative projects, the loans for longer term development projects. The programme will be administered by a joint commission which will be overseen by President Yudhoyono and myself. We will depute our foreign ministers and in each case an economic minister to ensure that the programme proceeds smoothly. There will be a joint secretariat which will comprise people from both countries. It will in every respect be a partnership between Australia and Indonesia. I think it is very important in the wake of all of the aid that is flowing into this country to remember that we are guests in Indonesia, that we are here to help the Government and the people of Indonesia and the ultimate responsibility for co-ordinating the provision of that aid naturally rests with the Government of Indonesia. But in so far as the Australian aid programme is concerned it will be a joint commission, we have in fact with the ready acquiescence and approval with the Indonesian Government entered into an arrangement where there will be Australian officials seconded to the Indonesian co-ordinating agency for this disaster, which I understand is called BAPPENAS, and in every way we’ll be working together as partners and friends to bring about the wise and valuable utilisation of this very significant commitment.

I want to make it clear that this 1 billion Australian dollars is in addition to existing Australian aid to Indonesia. It is completely over and above what we now provide and that will bring the provision of aid over the next five years to something in order of $1.8 billion Australian dollars and of course it is in addition to the resources that have already been announced by the Government, the commitment of $60 million and all the Air Force, all the ADF and other assistance that the Government is already providing.

It’s been said before but it does need to be repeated that this is a human tragedy on a scale that none of us in our lifetime have seen and it does require a response above the ordinary. I am very proud of the fact that Australia was the first on the scene amongst foreign countries helping Indonesia and that is something that is deeply appreciated by the Indonesian President without in any way of course denigrating the efforts of others, this is not an occasion to sort of get into meticulous comparisons, it’s an occasion of people of goodwill to work together but Australia has been in the forefront of countries expressing in practical ways that goodwill. As I said in Australia before I left that the response of the Australian people to this tragedy has been remarkable, and it’s demonstrated that Australia has a good heart and the people of Australia will always respond to a deserving cause in a very generous fashion and they’ve certainly done that. I believe that the decision that I’ve announced tonight, which I will report to the conference tomorrow, will have the overwhelming support of the Australian people. It expresses through the Australian Government the desire and the will of the Australian people to maintain a close and co-operative partnership between Australia and Indonesia. We see Indonesia’s need, we respond to that need but we respond to it in a way that respects the sovereignty of Indonesia and also respects the need for our two countries to work in partnership and the meeting I had this evening with President Yudhoyono had all the elements of two leaders wanting to work together as friends and partners in a time of challenge and distress for one of us. So I’m very pleased to announce this decision, I think it will place the relations between our two countries on an even firmer footing and it will echo I believe the desire of millions of Australians for our country to play a major role in rebuilding what has been destroyed and in the process laying the groundwork for a brighter, more stable and stronger future for the people of Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

What was the President’s reaction to Australia’s generosity?

PRIME MINISTER:

He said, if I can best paraphrase it, that he had been overwhelmed by it and he would never forget it.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what kind of projects do you see the short term grants going towards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it would obviously go towards rebuilding necessary infrastructure like schools. I don’t think at this stage I want to start giving you a list because the whole idea of having people on a commission from both countries is to work out what those projects are. But the whole idea is to rebuild what has been destroyed and in the process lay the groundwork for stronger, more effective governance and a greater capacity to deal, if tragically it should happen again in the future. Natural disasters perhaps not on this scale but of any kind of dimension which are always very destructive in countries that have poor infrastructure and a struggling standard of living.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, is there any timeframe for the work of this commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s over a period of five years, the money’s going to be provided over five years and I would hope therefore at the end of the five year period we could look back on five years of very solid achievement.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you think that this will also lead the way for other developed nations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t want to point the finger at other countries. Look the world has been very generous. My responsibility is to make sure that Australia’s generosity matches the need of those who are in distress. That’s my responsibility and I believe that I have discharged that responsibility but even more importantly than that I am proud of the fact that my fellow country men and women have done the same thing. The response of Australians to this disaster has been just been so overwhelming and so generous and so decent and so good that it makes you very proud indeed to be an Australian.

JOURNALIST:

Given the size of the donation is there any capacity for Australia to provide any money to the other nations…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have already done that and bear in mind that India and Thailand have said they do not want foreign aid. There will be through the money that we have donated to agencies and of course donations that individuals and corporations have made to agencies, there’ll be quite a deal of money flowing to countries such as Sri Lanka. Bear in mind that we have provided medical teams to Sri Lanka , through the World Health Organisation, and to the Maldives and I’ll be meeting representatives of those two countries tomorrow.

JOURNALIST:

How much did the idea of national security play into this, if at all, given that there’s talk of terrorists perhaps gaining a foothold in the…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the purpose of doing this is as I have explained it. There is an overwhelming humanitarian case…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No the idea of us providing this assistance is as a response to the need of a friend and a neighbour from a country such as Australia that is by the standards of the world fortunate, wealthy and able to help.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what do you want to see come out of the conference tomorrow from other nations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is really a matter for them. The response of the world as a whole has been very generous, I think the most important thing is to make sure that assistance gets through on the ground and obviously co-ordination is needed and obviously we are in Indonesia and the overall responsibility for co-ordination naturally in co-operation with the countries that are helping rests with Indonesia. And my view is that whatever works in a situation like this you adopt, you don’t sort of have some kind of golden rule about who does what, it’s just a question of making it work. I mean the good thing from our point of view is that we decided very early to send people in and they went in and they’ve been doing good work for a week or more and that’s terrific and my view is that whatever works ought to be embraced.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can you put the, is it possible to put the $1 billion in context? I mean does anyone in governments have any true idea about the amounts of money it will take to…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think, look it’s a very big contribution from Australia, so putting it in a context I think it is probably the largest single aid package in Australia’s history but you know it’s 1 billion Australian dollars. You’re asking me can I put a figure on the total amount that’s needed? No I can’t. I mean it’s obviously an enormous amount and it’s a lot more than $1 billion. But then there are other countries, there are international agencies, there’s the World Bank, or all sorts of organisations. But this is a bilateral arrangement between Australia and Indonesia, I want to make that very clear. And the only people who will decide how this money is spent is Australia and Indonesia that is how it should be because Indonesia is the recipient country and Australia is the donor country and the people of Australia would want it to be administered in the way that I have described.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what role then do you see for the United Nations in the overall relief effort?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that really is a matter for the United Nations. And my view David is that it’s a question of who and how you can deliver the help, who can deliver and how they can deliver the help the best, that’s what matters. I don’t think there’s any hierarchy of responsibility, I think it’s very unwise to sort of get, in a situation like this, to get caught up with saying oh well this really should be done in a particular way. I mean the only way that we can deliver this aid effectively is in the manner that I have explained and we’re not going to deliver it through an international agency, we’re going to deliver it directly in a bilateral basis. I said in Australia this morning that this crisis has reminded us again that we still live in a world of nation states and it’s only nation states that have at their disposal assets and have an executive capacity to speedily deploy those assets and to bring about results. Now that’s not meant critically of the United Nations and I respect their role and I respect the role of their agencies. But as somebody who is, as you know, interested in practical outcomes in all manner of situations it’s been the capacity of nation states and in the case of this nation state, Australia, being very close to the area most effected to deliver assistance immediately and directly through bilateral discussion and co-operation with the Indonesian authorities that we’ve been able to work in a very effective way.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you got any plans to visit Aceh or…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t have any plans at the moment to visit Aceh, I frankly think that at the moment the resources of the military and so forth in Aceh are better employed looking after the people who’ve been hurt, I don’t think I can add any value by going to Aceh at the moment, it would simply be to divert police and military and so forth away from their more urgent task. That’s my view.

JOURNALIST:

There are reports today that when Colin Powell visited the airport actually closed down for a couple of hours to fix an aircraft. Are you aware of that and do you think that was a waste of…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I’m not going to get in to talking about what other people have done. Look, you’re asking me what my position is, but I don’t think that’s a result of any particular decision that the Secretary of State took and knowing the sort of man he is I think he would have been as disturbed as anybody would be if there was any suggestion that resources had been diverted or the flow of things had been interrupted, that wouldn’t have been his wish I know, I certainly know that. But speaking for myself, I don’t think I can add any value at the moment, I’ve been briefed by people who’ve been there as part of the teams, I’ve seen them over dinner by a number of Australians who’ve been heavily involved in the effort over the past week and I don’t intend for the reason I’ve explained to visit in the next little while.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, the Opposition wants you to raise the situation in Burma at tomorrow’s conference, are you concerned that there is perhaps a bigger death toll there than we have heard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well look I’d be concerned, I hope that the representative of the Burmese Government will be forthcoming. We want to help, when I say we I mean the world wants to help, but you can’t, you know, there are limits to what one can do.

JOURNALIST:

When do you expect some of the money from the $1 billion package to start flowing through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well soon but I can’t answer the next question and that is when precisely is soon. But it will be soon.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, I hope this question hasn’t been asked but you talked about the concessional loans, can you give us some idea…

PRIME MINISTER:

40 years, no interest, no repayment of principal in the first 10 years.

JOURNALIST:

Will those grants in any way be tied to Australian companies or…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. They will be, they will only go to projects and activities jointly agreed upon by Australia and Indonesia. But we’re certainly not intending to say well you know you’ve got to involve Australian companies. I mean I think in the normal course there would be Australian companies involved because they’re competitive players in these things but that’s not the purpose of the aid.

JOURNALIST:

How did you arrive at this figure, was it during your talks with the Indonesian President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we had some discussions in Australia first and then formulated a proposal which I raised in outline with the President two nights ago, I rang him again a couple of nights ago and outlined the proposal to him and I then asked Mr Downer to talk in some detail about it today to Hassan Wirajuda and the economic minister and the Vice President and then the President and I talked about it again tonight and finalised the details.

JOURNALIST:

What was the reception from SBY?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

What was the reception from SBY when you mentioned it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he was very grateful. I think I may have said earlier that he expressed words to the effect that he’d been overwhelmed by the generosity of Australia, the speed of our response and it was something he would never forget.

JOURNALIST:

Was the US involved at all in helping Australia decide on…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it had no contact with or influence of any kind. No.

Thank you.