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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4886

Senator HUTCHINS (2:10 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence and the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Faulkner. Can the minister advise the Senate of the assistance Australia is providing after the loss of flight CG4684 in Papua New Guinea?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —I thank Senator Hutchins for the question. Two evenings ago defence personnel and aircraft were deployed at very short notice on what we all fervently hoped was a rescue mission. As news of the tragedy of the crash filtered back from what is very thick and difficult jungle terrain, the imperatives of the mission unfortunately changed. Thirteen lost their lives, nine of them Australians. The government of course is determined to do everything it can to assist in the recovery and repatriation of the Australians.

ADF efforts will concentrate on supporting the work of the disaster victim identification team and the PNG authorities at the crash site and the recovery of those who were lost in the tragedy. Teams have begun cutting a helicopter landing pad close to the crash site. A three-man victim identification team is currently on-site, and a second three-man team and a supervisor will be winched onto the crash site this afternoon along with additional supplies and equipment. They will be sustained at the site by helicopters, including ADF Black Hawks. The remaining members of the disaster victim identification personnel are currently located in Port Moresby and they will be rotated through the crash site as required.

Senator HUTCHINS —Can the minister further advise the Senate on the deployment of other defence assets in this effort?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —Yes, I can advise the Senate that a C-130 Hercules, which transported a 16-member Australian Federal Police Disaster Victim Identification team, is now in Port Moresby. It is available for additional tasking. The remaining three members of the AFP Disaster Victim Identification team, and four members of the Australian Transport Safety Board, also arrived in Port Moresby by C-17 Globemaster overnight. The recovery of the Australians’ remains will be a priority once the victim identification team is in place. The Caribou aircraft which transported a Papua New Guinea Defence Force infantry contingent to Kokoda Village on 12 August is currently being used to transport people and equipment between Port Moresby and Kokoda Village.

Senator HUTCHINS —My final question to the minister is: how long is this task of recovery and repatriation expected to take?

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —Again, I thank Senator Hutchins for his supplementary question. Of course, we all want this recovery mission to conclude without delay, very much for the sake of the families involved. But I stress here that the site is very difficult. As I have said, it is very rugged terrain and it is also prone to bad weather. The duration of the operation will be better known as investigators assess the situation. Australia has personnel and equipment on hand for any change in contingencies and the government will constantly keep the operation under review. I want to take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to the Papua New Guinea government and security forces that are providing assistance to Australia in responding to the tragedy. I am sure I speak on behalf of all senators when I say that is very much appreciated.