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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…]


Australia To Provide $100m For APEC Bird Flu Measures

Australia is to provide $100 million for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics, including avian influenza.

The announcement of the aid came from the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the Australia Pacific Economic Co-Operation forum (APEC) in Busan, South Korea.

Text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

APEC 2005: AVIAN AND PANDEMIC INFLUENZA

I am pleased to announce Australian support for initiatives to combat avian and pandemic influenza and to further liberalise trade and investment.

Australia has played a leading role in developing a coordinated regional response to avian and pandemic influenza. In recognition of the threat, APEC leaders have made an unequivocal commitment to transparency and regional cooperation to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic.

Australia will provide $100 million over four years for initiatives to combat the threat of pandemics and other emerging infectious diseases within the region. [Read more…]


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.” [Read more…]


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.