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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11890

Mr NEUMANN (3:26 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Trade, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What is the government doing to assist the Australians affected by the disruptions at Bangkok’s two main airports?

Mr CREAN (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for Blair for his question. He has raised with me his concern in this area. He has had a number of families in his constituency asking about the circumstances of getting their families home. The government has become very frustrated with the consequences of the events that have occurred in Thailand but no more frustrated than those that are stranded there in Thailand and seeking to get home. Over the weekend, the Minister for Infrastruc-ture, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government contacted Qantas to see what could be done to ease the situation. I am pleased to advise that they are putting on a flight, which will leave very early tomor-row morning, through Phuket that has the capacity to bring 300 Australians back home.

At the embassy level, we have been very active in engaging. We have taken 3,000 calls from people wanting further information as well as canvassing the hotels in Bangkok seeking to establish the particular circumstances of Australians, and some 400 Australians have been contacted in this context. Of course, one flight is not going to be enough. We have had further discussions with Qantas and with Jetstar, and I am pleased to be able to also inform the House that just this afternoon Qantas has indicated it has scheduled a second emergency flight to leave early Wednesday morning, again through Phuket. Jetstar is also rescheduling its Melbourne-Bangkok flight through Bangkok. So between the three of these aircraft there will be something like 900 seats out of Thailand. I would like to place on record our appreciation to both Qantas and Jetstar for the effective and constructive way in which they have responded to the concerns of these families that have been expressed not only through the government but through the members of this House. I should also indicate that the two airports—the international airport, Suvarnabhumi, and the domestic airport, Don Muang—remain closed. This is disrupting many opportunities for people to get home.

We are concerned about the circumstances in Thailand and today we have reviewed and reissued the travel advice. Whilst the overall level of advice on Thailand as a whole has not changed, the level of advice for Bangkok has and we are recommending now that people reconsider their need to travel to Bangkok at this time due to the continued closure of the main airports and the limited availability of flights.

A final point I would make is that these demonstrations and protests are causing enormous damage to the economy of Thailand. It relies very heavily on the tourism market, but it is also a significant trading facility within the region. Our very strong urging, through the frustration that we are experiencing, is for the parties involved in this to resolve their differences and get the country back to normal. Its resolution is not only in the interests of allaying the concerns and frustrations of Australian families in terms of their loved ones but also, in this current global financial crisis, in bringing order, stability and confidence back where it is most sorely needed.