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Sky News - Five Live -

View in ParlView

PM: Thank you very much for coming to a press conference at what I understand is an unusual time of
day to have one. I've just got a brief statement to make about circumstances in Egypt, and then
I'll be very happy to take a few questions.

As Australians know, the Government has been monitoring the situation in Egypt very closely.
Yesterday, I advised Australians that we had moved our travel warning to do not travel. We had
advised Australians and we continue to advise Australians in Egypt to travel out of Egypt if it is
safe for them to do so.

This afternoon, I have been briefed by relevant officials and talked to relevant ministers.
Following those discussions, I have determined that we will make available an evacuation flight for
Australians from Egypt.

The flight will be a Qantas plane that the Government has chartered.

The evacuation flight will be available to take people from Egypt on Wednesday.

The circumstances in Egypt are that we are saying to Australians to travel out of Egypt. As a
result of that advice, many Australians have already made arrangements, commercial arrangements, to
leave Egypt, and they have confirmed commercial bookings.

Cairo airport is still operational, and commercial flights are leaving Cairo airport, but there is
significant pressure on commercial flights, and some disruption and delay. In these circumstances,
I have determined that the best course of action is to make this assisted evacuation flight
available to assist Australians to leave Egypt.

This flight will be made available at no cost to Australians who travel on it. The flight will
return to either London or Frankfurt. Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will
be available to meet people who come off the flight to assist them with making their further
arrangements for where they wish to travel to next.

Obviously, a number of Australians would have airline tickets that they can change bookings in
relation to. A number would have travel insurance. A number would have been stopping off in Egypt
on their way to further locations, but officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
will be available to assist people, and obviously to provide assistance if there are cases of
particular hardship and Australians need assistance to move from either Frankfurt airport or London
airport.

My highest priority is the safety of Australians. Australians will have seen the circumstances in
Egypt and in Cairo and would have recognised the dangers that are there. As a result of those
dangers, that is why we did move the travel advisory, and I do want to stress it remains do not
travel to Egypt, and that is why we are making these special arrangements to assist Australians to
move out of Egypt.

We will obviously monitor demand for this assisted evacuation flight and, depending on demand, we
will make further flights available as necessary.

Now, I'm conscious that it is morning in Egypt and there would be a number of Australians who are
trying to work through their travel arrangements and work out how they are going to get out of
Egypt, so if I can take what is a bit of an unusual course in a press conference but advise people
of the right telephone numbers to ring.

For people who are in Egypt, the number that they can contact is our embassy there. The number
there is 202 2575 0444.

For Australians who want to ring in to the DFAT consular emergency centre here in Australia that
number, ringing from overseas, is 61 2 6261 3305.

For Australians who are ringing in Australia but want to contact the number on behalf of family or
friends, they should ring 02 6261 3305.

We now have operational a calls arrangement so calls will be answered 24/7 both in Cairo and in
Canberra using those numbers.

I'm very happy to take any questions that people may have.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how many people can get on board this flight, and how do they get a
ticket?

PM: Well, they ring those numbers.

We know that there are around 1,100 Australians registered with our embassy in Egypt. We anticipate
that there are more Australians in Egypt than that, but the only hard number I can give you is the
number registered and that's the 1,100. We know a number of those Australians would have confirmed
commercial travel arrangements, so that's why we're making the flight available.

It's a 747, so obviously it has a large number of seats, as big planes do, and we will monitor
demand, and if it is necessary to make a further flight available then we will.

JOURNALIST: One class of seat?

PM: Oh, look, I can't give you all the details of the configuration of the aircraft. We've urgently
this afternoon sourced a Qantas plane that we can charter for this purpose. It's coming out of
Europe, so I'm not sure we had every choice in the world about its internal fittings and fixtures.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how concerned are you about the safety of people in Egypt, given that
you've it to do not travel, but how concerned are you as a Government about the situation in Egypt?

PM: Well, we are very concerned and we wouldn't be taking these steps if we weren't concerned. The
highest travel advice we can give Australians is those very plain and simple words - do not travel.
That's our highest travel advisory, do not travel, and so we have issued that deliberately because
we do not believe that it is safe for Australians now outside Egypt to travel into Egypt, and at
the same time we gave Australians the advice for them to travel if it's safe to do so, and
obviously with disruption on the streets people will need to take account of the circumstances that
they find themselves in.

So, we do want people to be safe. It's my highest priority that we keep Australians safe, and
that's why, as a Government, we have determined to take this decision and to make available this
charter flight to assist with evacuations.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can this be taken as a signal, Prime Minister, from your intelligence
or whatever, that the situation in Egypt's about to deteriorate significantly, this (inaudible)

PM: People should take this on face value for what it is. People will have seen on their TV screens
very significant disruption on the streets. That's not only been in the form of mass
demonstrations. That is also in the form of looting and crime, so in those circumstances I just
think, as a matter of commonsense, people can work out that it would be very easy to be caught up
in a situation where people could be subject to violence, and we want to avoid that.

Highest priority - keeping Australians safe. I've talked to officials this afternoon. We took a
step up in the travel advisory yesterday, and today we're taking this further step of assisting
with the evacuation.

There is significant pressure on commercial flights, and that is what is causing the disruption and
delays at the airport.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what level of concern is there about the protection and security of
Australian officials in Egypt, and has there been any consideration of evacuating Australian staff,
Government staff?

PM: At this stage we are staffing, and indeed have increased resources so that we're in a position
to provide consular assistance to people in these circumstances.

Now, we are going to monitor this closely, day by day, indeed, hour by hour, and if we think any
further action is required, then we'll take it and we'll certainly advise people of it publically,
but people should take the message from this announcement that there will be staff at the Cairo
embassy who can assist them, that there will be people to answer their telephone calls both if they
ring the Cairo number or if they ring the Australian number, and that, in addition to normal
commercial travel arrangements, people who have confirmed commercial bookings, there is now this
assisted evacuation flight available.

JOURNALIST: Have you sent other staff from other posts in the region to Cairo?

PM: Look, at an earlier point in time we did increase resourcing because we recognised that there
would be a number of Australians who would need assistance in these circumstances.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you confident that Cairo airport will remain open, and does the
Government have contingency plans in case it closes, given reports of violence and rioting near the
airport?

PM: We're continuing to monitor the situation, and if we form any view about a change to the advice
that I've just given people, then we will obviously update about that advice, but at the moment the
advice to me is commercial flights are flying. Cairo airport is open. There is significant pressure
on it, and consequently significant delays, but if people have confirmed commercial bookings and
they believe they're in a position to access those bookings, then that is one way to leave Egypt.

Obviously, another way to leave Egypt is to use the numbers and information I've just given people
and to register for the flight which will go on Wednesday.

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify, Prime Minister, if you have a commercial booking and there's a big
flood of people going there, will you be able to get on the Government flight instead, or will
there be a priority given to people who haven't been able to get on-

PM: -Thank you for that, and that's an important clarification.

People will not be refused access to this assisted evacuation flight because they have a commercial
booking.

Having said that, if people have a confirmed commercial booking, and it is going soon and they
believe that they are in a position to access that flight, then that is going to work for them as a
way out of Egypt, so I am not suggesting to people that they cancel commercial bookings that they
believe they can safely go and access, but I'm also not saying that if you cancel a commercial
booking you will be denied access to this flight.

I think in these situations where, clearly, you know, our highest priority is the safety of each
individual, we've got to show some flexibility and generosity and make sure that we're assisting
the maximum number of Australians. At the same time, I think if someone can travel, say, today, and
they've got a confirmed commercial booking to do so, then there is no reason to delay their
departure until this flight is available.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, apart from those Australians who've officially notified the embassy
that they're there, have you got any, are your officials making any estimate of how many
Australians, unregistered, might actually be there?

PM: Look, we do have estimates, and they are in the numbers like 2,000-3,000, but we can't be sure.
The number we can be sure about is the number who are registered with the embassy.

JOURNALIST: What's the cost of this exercise, and have you given thought to recovering some of the
cost through claims on their travellers' insurance?

PM: On the question of cost, obviously, there is a cost associated with chartering an aircraft, but
we are going to bear that cost in order to put the safety of Australians first.

We are not seeking, we will not be seeking, cost-recovery arrangements for people who fly on that
flight.

Other nations are also making available planes to take people from Egypt. The United States, for
example, has announced an arrangement today. Their practice is to have a cost-recovery arrangement.
It's not our practice, and there won't be a cost recovery arrangement for accessing this flight.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, has the Government received any advice about the reports of Egyptian
police and Egyptian internal security forces redeployed onto the streets in the next day or so?

PM: Look, I'm not going to go to intelligence reports, but the situation is as people have seen it
on their TV screens. It's a situation which people can be caught up in dangerous situations, either
because of street demonstrations, reaction to street demonstrations or associated crime whilst
there is such significant disruption on the streets. You would be aware there's been reports of
looting, crime, gunfire, and in those circumstances it's, you know, very easy for someone to end up
injured or something worse, and that's why we have advised do not travel why we are advising, if
you are in Egypt, to travel when it's safe to do so.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given what you've just said about gunfire, will it be necessary for the
embassy to organise buses or convoys or anything like that to make sure Australians get safely to
the airport?

PM : Well, the best thing, the best advice I can give people now, is contact the number, register
for the flight. DFAT officials will work it through with people, where they are, how to get to the
airport. I mean, the airport, we just do need to remind ourselves, the airport is still
functioning. People have been travelling to the airport and getting on flights and they've been
doing that in circumstances where they've been making their own way to the airport, so the best
advice I can give people is ring these numbers. We are monitoring the situation day by day, hour by
hour. The travel arrangement we'll make for Australians to get on the flight will obviously be
appropriate to keep people safe in the circumstances of getting to the flight on Wednesday, but,
you know, let's just deal with the fact as we know them know - as we know them know.

People have been travelling to Cairo airport, which is open, and they have been accessing
commercial flights.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, is it the Australian Government's position that President Mubarak should
stand down?

PM: Look, the position of the Australian Government is the one I spoke about a little bit earlier
today. We understand the aspirations of the people of Egypt for freedom, for democracy, for the
kind of things that in Australia we largely take for granted. We have said that the Government of
Egypt should recognise these legitimate aspirations by the people of Egypt; that the future
government of Egypt is in the hands of the people of Egypt.

It is not for me to determine what should happen. The essence of people being able to participate
in a democracy and to have the benefits of the kind of freedoms that we take for granted here is
that the people of Egypt need to shape their future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you received a briefing today on the threat to the Queensland
coast of Cyclone Yasi?

PM: I'm continuously receiving updates, and I've also been contacted by Premier Anna Bligh, so
amongst other things we are very closely watching that weather formation and staying in very close
touch with the Queensland Government about what it could mean for the people of Queensland.

Thank you.