JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. Our thoughts today are with the people of the Pacific who are facing the impact of Tropical Cyclone Pam. We are deeply concerned by reports that lives have been lost in northern Vanuatu. They are still unconfirmed but we are deeply concerned by those reports. The cyclone has hit Vanuatu. There are destructive winds, rain, flooding, landslide, sea surges and very rough seas and the storm is exceedingly destructive there. We also know that Tropical Cyclone Pam will impact on Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and Solomon Islands.
In relation to Vanuatu, Australia has a crisis response team ready to go to assist our High Commission in Port Vila. Our High Commissioner, Jeremy Brewer, has spoken to Prime Minister Natuman and offered Australia's assistance and that we stand ready to support Vanuatu in this time of need.
The travel advisory for Vanuatu has been revised to reconsider your need to travel. The airport in Port Vila is closed and communications are proving to be rather difficult. We have contacted our partners in the NGO community, Red Cross, our partner nation New Zealand and we stand ready to assist. We have medical and search and rescue teams on standby.
The Solomon Islands has requested some assistance in reconnaissance and gaining some post cyclone imagery and the RAAF has assisted in that regard with our PC3 Orion ready to continue to assist. We will be prepared to send people as and when required. We do have an Australian Civilian Corp working in the Disaster Management Office in Vanuatu.
JOURNALIST: Any Australians that you are worried about?
JULIE BISHOP: We understand that there are over 800 Australians in Vanuatu but at any one time there are probably 3,000 who would be in Vanuatu. About 800 are registered so we do suggest that anyone in Vanuatu who is concerned about their safety or the safety of someone else contacts our High Commission. We also have a DFAT emergency number for people in Australia to contact if they are worried about friends or relatives in the Pacific. That's 1300 555 135.
JOURNALIST: When you say registered, is that like people who are residents, or working there?
JULIE BISHOP: People who have registered with the High Commission that we know are there. There is about 882 but we estimate that at any one time there are probably 3,000 Australians in Vanuatu. We have not had any reports of concerns relating to Australian citizens.
JOURNALIST: You said the number of deaths is unconfirmed. Have you heard any estimates or anything like that?
JULIE BISHOP: There are is an estimate of around 40 but that is unconfirmed. We understand this would be in northern Vanuatu, perhaps north-eastern Vanuatu where the cyclone has been pretty severe.
JOURNALIST: With the crisis response team, does that include military assets?
JULIE BISHOP: At this stage we have not been requested to do so. We are still assessing the situation but we stand ready to assist any of the governments. We are a large aid donor in the Pacific. We are the principle aid donor to Vanuatu. We are already providing initiatives like an SMS system that is in use at present to contact people about the impact of the cyclone. So we stand ready to support with whatever is needed, working with our partners, New Zealand and other countries in the Pacific.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the cyclone here in WA? It seems like the banana plantations have been wiped out in Carnarvon. Is it likely those people would receive any assistance from the Government?
JULIE BISHOP: These are matters that Minister Michael Keenan will be addressing. I think he is overseas at present but he and his department will certainly be addressing that issue and make an appropriate assessment.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, do you know if the Prime Minister has spoken yet with the Indonesian President about Myuran Sukumaran…
JULIE BISHOP: I haven't spoken to the Prime Minister this morning but the last I heard he had not yet made contact with him.
JOURNALIST: On Chan and Sukumaran, I mean there was an art exhibition and auction in Bali that was cancelled overnight because of a flyer that went out that said it was in honour of Sukumaran. Do you have any thoughts on that? That it was cancelled by Indonesian authorities?
JULIE BISHOP: I think we all need to be very sensitive about the issue at hand here. I am hearing about the Indonesian Government's responses to various proposals via the Indonesian media. I think we all need to be very sensitive and appreciate that we are talking about the lives of two Australians who have been in jail for ten years. They have been rehabilitated, they are paying for their crimes and yet they are facing State-sponsored execution by firing squad. This is a very serious matter and it does have a lot of sensitivities around it. I think we should all be careful with the commentary that we undertake in relation to it.
JOURNALIST: Have you heard about just how long their execution may be delayed?
JULIE BISHOP: No, we haven't had any final details. I have heard through the Indonesian media various reports but I haven't had any formal indication. At this stage we understand that the legal proceedings are still underway and I believe it would be unthinkable for planning to proceed for these executions while there were still legal avenues open.
While Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran are still alive I will continue to make representations because there is always hope that our pleas for mercy, our pleas for forgiveness will be heard and we continue to appeal to President Widodo to show the same forgiveness for Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan as Indonesia asks other countries of their citizens who are on death row overseas. Thank you.
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- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555