Tuesday, 7 February 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. In recent days, the world's been confronted with devastating scenes following earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria. Can the minister update the Senate on the situation on the ground, please?
I thank Senator Pratt for her question, and certainly, particularly overnight, what we have seen in Turkiye and Syria has been devastating. I know this is an issue that many colleagues in the chamber are concerned about, and they share Senator Pratt's interest and concern about this issue. I want to acknowledge that so many from the parliament and across the community have reached out to my office to express concern and to ask what they can do and what our country can do.
The true extent of this devastation is still emerging. What we do know is that at 4.13 am local time on Monday a magnitude 7.8 earthquake stuck Nurdagi, Turkiye, in the far east of the country near the border with Syria. Then, at 1.24 pm that afternoon, a second earthquake, of magnitude 7.7, struck Elbistan, which is 80 kilometres to the south. The affected provinces have been devastated by a series of 100 aftershocks. The devastation of the earthquakes span both Turkiye and Syria, and we know that these are extraordinarily vulnerable parts of the world—parts of the world which are already devastated by conflict and by disruption.
I'm not in a position to advise the Senate of verified numbers. What I can say is that media reports just before I came into question time put the number of those who have perished in these earthquakes at at least 3,800. This will almost certainly rise. Rescuers are still searching through collapsed buildings. Access to the affected areas is being hampered by damage to roads, collapsed buildings, severe weather, and traffic from those trying to flee. The extent of the impact in Syria is still emerging, and the affected areas are in non-government held territories, which makes information very difficult to verify. The government is monitoring the situation closely, and in subsequent answers I'll respond to what the government is seeking to do.
I know some MPs and senators have had Australians contact them about family in affected areas. Our diplomatic missions in Ankara, Beirut and Istanbul are working closely with local authorities to ascertain the welfare of our citizens. The Ankara post is following up on a small number of Australian citizens who may be in the affected areas. I'm not in a position at this stage to provide any further details.
Australians in need of emergency consular assistance should contact our 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre—that is, on 61262613305 and 1300555135. The latter number is for if calling within Australia.
Thank you, Senator Pratt. Prime Minister Albanese announced in the press conference held just over an hour and a half ago an initial commitment of $10 million in humanitarian aid to support the people of Turkiye and Syria—$7 million will be disbursed immediately, and $4 million of that will be delivered to support those affected in Turkiye, through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent appeal. These funds will support the delivery of food, shelter and basic aid items. We've also allocated $3 million to north-west Syria, to be delivered through UNICEF, to assist with immediate needs, with a particular focus on women and girls. An additional $3 million will be allocated as we work to understand needs on the ground.
This is obviously a crisis. It is a crisis that is affecting so many of our fellow human beings. We will continue to monitor the unfolding situation on the ground.
by leave—I associate the opposition coalition parties with the remarks made by Senator Wong and the government in sending our most sincere condolences to the people of Turkiye and Syria following yesterday's major earthquake and the events that have unfolded since. When we go to bed at night and tuck our children into bed none of us imagine that the homes we are living in will collapse upon us in the midst of the night. When I spoke with Turkiye's ambassador to Australia earlier today he recounted stories that he is seeing of those in the zone saying they now feel ashamed to go to sleep. There are difficulties: there's not just the human toll with the immediate loss of life—the many thousands who have lost loved ones, to whom we send our love, prayers and best wishes—and the thousands more injured but of course the ongoing humanitarian crisis that follows from a tragedy and disaster like this.
It is of course in these events that we see the best of humanity—rescuers working heroically, the international community responding comprehensively, and disaster and aid workers coming to provide assistance. Even Ukraine, which is fighting for its freedom, is offering to provide support. We acknowledge and thank the government for the support that they have announced and provided. We stand with the government in supporting that and in supporting the Australian Turkish and Australian Syrian communities in this time of concern for all of them.