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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5277

Senator REID (2:05 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Will the minister inform the Senate of the latest information on Australia's efforts to assist victims of the Bali bombings and their families?

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —Australia's efforts to assist victims and their families are continuing unabated. Again we should acknowledge the efforts of our public servants, our police investigators, our medical specialists and our defence forces. In particular, I would like to note the DFAT consular staff in Bali, who have been working round the clock since the bombings on Saturday night, efforts that have been nothing short of remarkable. We are now hearing so many stories of the personal courage of civilians in Bali, both tourists and locals, who stepped in to give assistance when it was most needed. I think the unity that has been shown in response to this tragedy is the clearest message that we can send the terrorist perpetrators that their attacks will not defeat the spirit of free people.

I can provide some further information for the Senate on the Australian effort. As I mentioned yesterday, the Royal Australian Air Force had deployed flights to transfer injured patients from Darwin Hospital to specialist care facilities in the southern states. These were completed successfully. Foreign affairs officials have now confirmed that they have checked all hospitals in Bali and are confident that there are no injured Australians remaining in hospital in Bali. As we said yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has announced a $300,000 package of medical assistance for Bali in this time of need.

Unfortunately, the agonising wait continues for many Australian families still uncertain about the whereabouts of their loved ones. I understand that the hotline set up by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has now fielded more than 19,000 phone calls. Advice from DFAT indicates that inquiries relating to about 140 Australians have not been able to be resolved. Again, DFAT officials are working around the clock to assist these families. We must, however, confront the unpleasant reality that many of these missing Australians will not be found and that the death toll from this senseless attack will inevitably rise, and we must stand steady to assist the families of those who will not be found alive.

Australia has provided a team of specialists to help identify the remains of victims. As I said, the Prime Minister has announced that the government will pay for the entire cost of repatriation to Australia of the remains of all deceased Australians. We have engaged the services of an international disaster relief firm, Kenyon International, to assist with the preparation and repatriation of remains. We wish to ensure that this process is carried out both with compassion and with the greatest respect for the dignity of those deceased.

But we must also accept that this process could be a long and difficult one due to the force of the explosions and the intensity of the fires that they sparked. Many of the deceased will not be able to be identified by visual means. I inform the Senate that, where such identification is not possible, there is an internationally accepted protocol to establish identities. Australian experts on the ground in Bali have assessed that adherence to this protocol will be necessary to ensure that the victims are correctly identified. This will involve identifying victims by way of fingerprints, DNA checks or dental records. The government will meet any costs incurred in this process. We understand that any delays caused by this process will cause additional pain to the families involved, but our officials in Bali will do everything possible to ensure that this process is completed as quickly and as sensitively as possible.