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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7833

Mr CHEESEMAN (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the actions taken by the government following the plane crash near Kokoda?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Corangamite for his question. Yesterday I informed the House that there had been no survivors from Airlines PNG flight CG4684, which crashed in heavy weather and rugged terrain near Kokoda on Tuesday. The nation’s shock at this grim news continues to reverberate today. A plane crash is always a tragedy. A plane crash which affects so many people, including so many of our young people embarking on what has become a national pilgrimage, is an even deeper tragedy.

The task for the government and for our partners in Papua New Guinea has shifted from the intensive search efforts that took place yesterday, and today the focus is on the process of bringing loved ones back home. I spoke around noon today to Australia’s High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea, Chris Moraitis, who briefed me on the efforts going on right now, and I bring them to the attention of the House. There are now seven Australian officials at the crash site, some 1½ kilometres from the village of Isurava on the Kokoda Track. The deputy high commissioner, John Feakes, our consul-general, David Poulter, and the ADF doctor, Lieutenant Commander Simon Winder, arrived at the site yesterday. These officials hiked into the site; they had no alternative. They got there late yesterday after a trek of three to four hours and camped there overnight. They were joined this morning by three AFP officers and one Defence officer. These Australians are assisting the recovery operation that is now underway, an operation that is made more difficult by the rugged terrain and changeable weather conditions of the Owen Stanley Range. Four more AFP officers will arrive at this site this afternoon. The high commissioner has told me they will be winched in from a Black Hawk helicopter, weather permitting. To assist in moving other personnel to the site, a helipad is being cleared by a team from the PNG police, assisted by local villagers.

A large number of officials are now involved in the Australian effort in PNG dealing with this tragedy. Some 48 staff of the Australian High Commission are currently working on the crisis. The AFP has deployed 18 additional staff from Australia, and the ADF has deployed around 50 personnel. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has deployed four staff. Centrelink has deployed two counsellors. Emergency Management Australia has deployed an officer as well.

The following Australian government assets have been deployed in support of this effort and are available to assist the recovery efforts that go on from day to day: the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Dornier 328 search and rescue plane which helped to locate the crash site yesterday; the ADF Caribou aircraft which carried a PNG Defence Force search and rescue contingent and high commission staff to Kokoda village yesterday afternoon; an RAAF C130, equipped with retrieval equipment, is in Port Moresby; and an RAAF C17 aircraft arrived in Papua New Guinea yesterday with ADF, AFP, air transport investigators and two Black Hawk helicopters on board. The Sea King helicopter aboard HMAS Success has now departed Port Moresby since the Black Hawk helicopters have arrived.

In all that is going on we are working closely with our partners in Papua New Guinea. I spoke again yesterday afternoon with the Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, and we agreed to continue the close cooperation between the Australian and PNG governments during the recovery phase. He passed on his condolences to the families of the Australians who have been lost in this tragedy. We also pass on our condolences to the families and friends of those citizens from PNG and Japan who lost their lives on that flight.

The deep emotion felt in this chamber yesterday—on both sides of the House, government and opposition—was palpable. That emotion is now felt right across the country as we are all touched by what has indeed been a national tragedy. Uppermost in our thoughts, still, are the families and friends of the nine Australians who have lost their lives. For them the days that lie ahead will be very hard indeed, and I am sure all Australians, particularly those who come from the communities from which they come, will be extending every possible and practical means of comfort and support to them at this most difficult time.