Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What is the Australian government’s response to the tsunami that struck off the coast of West Sumatra, including the safety of Australians in the region? What are the broader arrangements that Australia has with Indonesia for response to such disasters?
I thank the member for Fremantle for her question. The events off the west coast of Sumatra yesterday, Australian time, are a stark reminder to the House of the impact of natural disasters on our region, the frequency of those disasters, the possibility of them resulting in huge losses of life and the necessary arrangements which we have to have in place to help our friends and partners in the region in dealing with these challenges. In recent years, after the tsunami of 2004, we have had the major earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006, followed by major earthquakes in West Java and West Sumatra in 2009.
For the information of honourable members, the most recent quake struck at 1.40 am yesterday, Australian Eastern Standard Time, 78 kilometres off the west of South Pagai, one of Indonesia’s remote Mentawai Islands, west of Sumatra. According to Indonesian authorities, the resulting tsunami wave was some three metres tall. So far, we know it has affected 10 isolated villages and we have seen reports that up to 100 villagers have lost their lives. We are still seeking to ascertain the final death toll and injury toll. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta is working with our friends in Indonesia to ascertain the degree of damage and loss of life, and we have instructed our ambassador in Jakarta to offer the Indonesian government all forms of appropriate assistance.
On the question of the safety of Australians, which goes to the other part of the honourable member’s question, as the Prime Minister indicated in her statement earlier today in question time we have been apprised that no Australians died or have been injured as a result of this earthquake and tsunami. However, we have positioned a consular official on the ground at Padang who is liaising with local authorities to make absolutely certain that is the case. The Prime Minister indicated before what occurred in relation to the vessel Southern Cross, and we are pleased that those young men have been located safe and sound. I thank our consular emergency centre for the good work that they have done.
I should also alert the House to what happened with other Australians when this tsunami hit. I am advised the wave tore two charter boats, with Australian surfers on board, from their anchorages at the Macaronis break on Pagai. The boats then collided with a vessel, the motor cruiser MV Midas. It burst into flames, forcing eight Australian surfers from the Gold Coast and a New Zealander to leap into the water. Some of the men were reportedly swept some hundreds of metres into the jungle by the tsunami and they were forced to cling to trees until the surge subsided. Consular officials are now assisting with the provision of emergency travel documents for these Australians.
This is a stark reminder for Australians travelling in the region about the impact of these disasters and how that can affect them, and the importance of maintaining a proper system of registration with Australian embassies abroad for Australians travelling.
The honourable member also asks about our broader cooperation with Indonesia. I would remind honourable members of what we have been doing through the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction. Between 2008 and 2013 we will be investing $67 million to enhance Indonesia’s overall capacity to respond to natural disasters of this type. We also support a program called Build Back Better to assist villagers and other centres to recover from natural disasters. We believe this is the right thing to do with our friends and partners in Indonesia. The Prime Minister will visit there soon. This is an important relationship for Australia, and helping on these occasions is important as well.
Mr Speaker, on indulgence: I associate the coalition with the remarks of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, particularly the support our embassy is giving the Indonesian government at this time.