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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2770


Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (14:09): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister please update the House on the government's disaster relief efforts in Vanuatu?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:09): I thank the member for Forde for the question. I know how concerned he is for Pacific islanders who are living in his electorate and who have family and friends in the Pacific. Since Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, last Friday and Saturday, the Australian government has responded rapidly. We are providing lifesaving supplies and equipment, humanitarian support, and experts on the ground. Eight RAAF transport planes have delivered necessary supplies, personnel and equipment. Three left on Sunday; two on Monday; three yesterday. Around 56 people from our search and rescue teams have been deployed, and around 27 in the Australian medical assistance teams. We are setting up a 40-bed ward hospital in the Port Vila hospital complex, also a pharmacy, and X-ray services. Around 30 consular humanitarian and other officials have also been deployed, and at any one time there are around 50 Australian Defence Force personnel on the ground.

Today our focus is on the southern islands to check on the whereabouts of Australians who may be living or visiting these more remote locations. Communications are difficult. It is difficult to land planes. The flooding and the impact of the storms is making that challenging for us. Our aerial reconnaissance to date has confirmed that there has been some significant damage, particularly to Tanna Island. We anticipate that about 80 per cent of the houses and buildings there have been damaged in some way and some have been completely flattened. We are establishing a presence in Tanna today with medical supplies. Our consular personnel and medical team will be there with relief supplies more generally. From Port Vila we have evacuated 227 Australians on four separate military flights. I am pleased to confirm that commercial flights are now operating out of Port Vila airport.

I have a word of caution for the Labor Party in relation to this matter. Yesterday, I note, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition put out a press release. The press release said:

We urge the Abbott Government to do more to help Vanuatu, immediately. Labor believes serious consideration should be given to deploying our expert Australian Medical Assistance Teams.

That is what she said yesterday. That is what I announced on Sunday. That is what occurred on Sunday. On Sunday our Australian medical assistance team landed in Port Vila.

Mr Perrett interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Moreton is warned!

Ms JULIE BISHOP: You have to give it to her: she is good! Two days after they were in Port Vila we have been criticised for not sending a medical team.

Mr Dreyfus interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Isaacs in warned!

Ms JULIE BISHOP: I know it is hard to slip anything past the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but reading press releases from last Sunday would be a good start.