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Transcript of press conference: Blue Room, Parliament House, Canberra: 27 November: Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan; Mumbai attacks.



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Prime Minister of Australia

Interview

Press Conference Blue Room, Parliament House, Canberra

27 November 2008

Subject(s): Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan, Mumbai Attacks

E&OE

PM: I’m deeply saddened today to hear of the death of an Australian soldier this morning in Afghanistan.

On behalf of the Government, I wish to extend my condolences to the family of this soldier.

The soldier’s name has not yet been released but he was serving with the Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of all Australians when I say that our deepest sympathies are with this young man’s family, his friends and his colleagues.

Two of his fellow soldiers were wounded in the same engagement - thankfully, their wounds are not serious.

I ask all Australians to remember the families of these soldiers and to hold them in their thoughts and in their prayers at what is a very difficult time.

Sadly, as a result of this incident today, seven brave Australian soldiers have now been killed in Afghanistan fighting Taliban insurgents.

Our troops in Afghanistan are engaged in dangerous work. They are engaged in important work. And they perform their role with distinction and with dedication, with bravery and with professionalism.

They perform their work in the best traditions of ANZAC.

I have said before that there is no higher call for any person than to wear the uniform of Australia. And today we are tragically reminded of the risks that come, the terrible risks that come with that calling.

Again I would say our prayers and thoughts are with the family, as they are with this brave man’s fellow soldiers on duty in Afghanistan.

If I could add also to my earlier statement in the parliament today on the tragic events today in Mumbai.

As I said earlier today in the parliament, the situation in Mumbai continues to be fluid and ongoing and the exact number of casualties remains unclear.

We understand from latest reports that up to 101 people may have been killed and 200 injured. We understand that the situation is still unfolding and that attackers may still be present in hotels.

There are reports of hostages being held in various locations across Mumbai including hotels. Some media have reported that those detained at the Taj Palace Hotel have been released. We are seeking to confirm that.

The Australian Government is urgently seeking to confirm the safety and welfare of Australians who may be affected.

At this time, as I indicated in the parliament, we can confirm two Australians have been injured. The Department has been in contact with their families in Australia and is providing consular assistance in Mumbai.

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For privacy reasons, we are unable to provide further details at this stage.

I have been further advised of one fatality and the possibility of more.

Our staff in Mumbai have confirmed the death of one Australian. Again, privacy considerations prevent us from releasing further details at this time.

This is a terrible unfolding tragedy. We need to make sure that we thoroughly check any further reports and we’ll make further public comments when appropriate.

As I indicated again in the Parliament, I would draw all Australians’ attention to the travel advisory, urge them to read it, and urge them to follow that advice.

I’ve just again also spoken with our High Commissioner in Mumbai and discussed with him the situation on the ground.

I’ll take your questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, can you give us any details of the deceased, of the circumstances, or of the hotel or -

PM: I’m sorry, at this stage we can’t go further than I’ve just indicated. This is unfolding and fluid and as I’m sure you’d all be familiar, having seen developments unfold on your television screen, chaotic on the ground.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with this latest death in Afghanistan, are you considering increasing our troop numbers?

PM: Our position hasn’t changed. I’ve said before that we believe that our current troop numbers in Afghanistan is about right and we have no plans to increase that deployment.

JOURNALIST: On Mumbai, how many more fatalities might there be - you used the word ‘more’ as opposed to another, because there’ve been reports of two fatalities. Have you identified all, or has Australia identified all Australians in the region?

PM: Obviously, given the number of Australians registered in the region, we have not been able to do that. Furthermore, the Australian diplomatic and consular staff are working around the clock at present to seek to confirm the presence of all registered Australians and others.

In terms of the numbers themselves, I would rather be absolutely cautious in everything I say, and do so on the strictest advice from our officers in the field and as I said before, we’ll make further statements as appropriate on this matter.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us an update on the support we’ve provided to the Indian authorities (inaudible) Has that been (inaudible) yet?

PM:My direction earlier today following a meeting of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, just prior to question time in Parliament, I directed the government, through the Prime Minister’s Department to advise the government of India through the High Commission here that we would provide any form of assistance, AFP, non-AFP, that may be required or of assistance to our Indian friends at this terrible time.

The response to that, I’m uncertain of at this stage. My overwhelming concern was to make sure that that extension of an offer of assistance was made across the board, and early. Our friends in India have an enormous challenge on their hands. Any unfolding operation of this nature is massively complex.

The purpose of the decision and the direction taken to the National Security Committee of Cabinet was to make sure that should external assistance be required that our friends in Delhi would know that we would be prepared to provide anything that would be of practical use now.

Thank-you.

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