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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7835

Mr GIBBONS (2:18 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister advise the House on the assistance being provided by Australia and the ongoing support being provided to the families of passengers aboard Airlines Papua New Guinea flight CG4684?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for his question. Can I start by associating myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Our thoughts and prayers and our hearts go out to the families, who, of course, in the last 24 hours, have suffered a terrible shock and a terrible loss. But in very many respects now the most difficult period is ahead.

As the Prime Minister indicated, we have now moved from a search and rescue operation to a recovery, identification and return of loved ones to Australia operation or process. And this presents very difficult moments for the families concerned and difficult moments for Australia’s officials. Australian consular officials in Canberra have been in constant contact with the families. All of the families were contacted again this morning, and that close and regular contact will continue.

In the meantime, of course, there is now a meticulous, complicated and complex process which will occur so far as recovery and identification is concerned before one can think of the return of loved ones to Australia. In addition to the legal requirements of Papua New Guinea, there are, of course, international protocols which need to be met. There are also Australian requirements and Japanese requirements. This process always takes much more time than the families would want—much more time than the families would want—and we understand that and should appreciate that from this moment. But this complicated and complex process is required, to meet international standards, so as to ensure that in the end there is no doubt about these circumstances when loved ones are returned to Australia. So our officials will continue to be in very close contact with the families. This morning, explaining the detail of this process to the families commenced.

Some of the families have indicated that they may wish to travel to Papua New Guinea at some appropriate moment, and we will, of course, provide all of the necessary facilitation for that and provide every assistance on the ground in Papua New Guinea if they choose to do so. But we will continue to be, through our officers in Canberra and in Papua New Guinea, in close and regular contact with the families, as we do everything that we can to make this very difficult time for them as smooth as humanly possible, as they now are forced to wait some time before their loved ones are returned to them.