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.

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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.

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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.