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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 421

Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following the Minister's answer to a question last week on Australian aid to Vanuatu for airfield upgrading, I ask the Minister: Has the Government yet received a full assessment of the damage to Vanuatu caused by cyclone Uma earlier this month? What emergency aid has the Australian Government given to Vanuatu since the cyclone? Is the Government satisfied that Australia's contribution, along with other international assistance, is sufficient to meet short term emergency needs as well as preparing the ground for a full recovery?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Cyclone Uma, which hit Vanuatu on 7 February, caused very extensive and significant damage. Forty-five lives were lost and damage to property and infrastructure, including the essential and vital tourist industry, is still being assessed but will clearly run into many millions of dollars. Australia did act very quickly in response to requests for emergency assistance from the Vanuatu Government and to date approximately $780,000 has been committed. Royal Australian Air Force Hercules flights have been employed to carry emergency materials including shelter materials, communications equipment, food and medical supplies as well as personnel. Additional relief supplies were shipped on 13 February and are now available in Vila.

Our High Commissioner in Vila is in close contact with the Government of Vanuatu on relief and rehabilitation requirements. The Government of Vanuatu co-ordination authorities are still assessing reports from remote and outlying areas. With the exception of remote and outlying areas the Government of Vanuatu is now beginning to focus more clearly on rehabilitation requirements. We are currently considering recommendations made by the High Commission in Vila based on discussions with the Vanuatu Government concerning the form of Australian assistance in the rehabilitation phase. In this context, the Government's decision last week to provide funding for the upgrading of the main airstrip at Bauerfield in Port Vila is relevant. In providing the commitment of over $1m in additional aid funds for this purpose, which I mentioned here last week, the Government took account of the fact that the Vanuatu Government has maintained its priority for that project in the context of demands on its national resources caused by the cyclone.

I should say finally that the Government of Vanuatu has expressed its appreciation of the speed, effectiveness and generosity of Australia's response to the emergency. We are in close contact, through the High Commission, with the local Government's continuing aid requirements. Mr Hayden has approved arrangements to ensure that the flow of Australian assistance to Vanuatu continues as the Government of Vanuatu completes its assessment of remaining emergency needs and medium and longer term rehabilitation requirements. Australia will certainly respond to this further assessment sympathetically, quickly and, we hope, effectively.