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Opening of Samoa's Volunteer Emergency Response Team, Samoa

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The Hon Richard Marles MP Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

Opening of Samoa's Volunteer Emergency Response Team


Apia, Samoa

8 October 2010

Prime Minister, Members of Cabinet, Australian High Commissioner Matt Anderson, NZ High Commissioner, CEOs of Government ministries, volunteers from Samoa's new emergency response team, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Can I say how pleased I am to be back in Samoa for a second time but for the first time as the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. I'm here on a first journey through the Pacific soon after the formation in Australia of the Gillard Government to say how much the Pacific matters to Australia and how much Samoa matters to Australia. We value very greatly our relationship with this country.

Samoa and Australia are true friends and being here at this point in the new Government is about saying to Samoa how greatly we respect you and how much this country means to Australia and how much we value our partnership. And in saying that, I bring greetings on behalf of the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Prime Minister and now Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd.

I'm especially pleased I can join the Prime Minister today to launch Samoa's first ever Volunteer Emergency Response Team, established to respond to natural disasters and emergencies.

Australian funding of $1.4 million tala (A$700,000) has provided the specialised equipment, technical training and assistance to establish this initiative.

This group will play a critical role in search and rescue, recovery, sea patrols, water-based medical evacuations and provide first aid support in the field.

This is an idea whose time has come.

The creation of a local volunteer emergency response capability for Samoa has stemmed from the lessons learned in responding to last year's devastating tsunami and the likelihood of future natural disasters, such as cyclones and bushfires.

Following the tsunami, I'm told the role the volunteers played was nothing short of remarkable. Whether it was in this fire station sorting food and clothes for affected families or down on the south coast searching for the missing, the contribution that the volunteers

offered - with little or no training other than a willingness to help - was enormous.

Australia, too, regularly suffers from major natural disasters, including bushfires. Volunteer networks are a critical part of providing an immediate and effective response to those events.

And the efforts of those volunteers on the 29th September was the difference between life and death for many caught in the tsunami. In the days and weeks that followed, they continued to be a workforce that made a major difference.

Harnessing this willingness to help has provided the catalyst to form a home-grown first responder capability.

Today, a concept borne from tragedy, sees the formation of Samoa's own well-prepared, well-trained and well-equipped volunteer response team that can quickly swing into action and support the emergency services when required. This new expertise will be critical in ensuring that lives are saved in emergency situations.

Over the last few years, Samoa has endured numerous local natural disasters - from cyclones and tropical storms, bush fires, to storm surges, flooding and missing fishermen. Your new home-grown emergency volunteers will now be able to help the police and emergency officers respond to these disasters.

And, as we head into the wet season, and with it, the risk of cyclones and flooding, there's never been a better time to have a team of well-trained and well-equipped local volunteers ready to respond.

Australia too responded quickly and generously after the devasating tsunami last September. Our $24 million tala (A$12 million) in grants and support helped initially with the emergency response and then reconstruction of housing and vital infrastructure like roads, seawalls and schools, as well as the restoration of power and water to tsunami-affected areas.

Australia's tsunami assistance, and that of our annual $80 million tala (A$40 million) aid program to Samoa, really does reflect the warmth of our enduring friendship with the Samoan people. It also reflects a genuine commitment to both Samoa and her neighbours that Australia stands ready to assist our Pacific friends whenever and wherever there is a need.

Last year's tsunami was one of the most significant disasters felt by the region. As Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific, it is a source of great pride to me that Samoa and Australia have worked together both to identify and heed the lessons of that tsunami.

In establishing the Volunteer Emergency Response Team, I'm confident Samoa's wonderful band of volunteers will be better trained and better equipped in the event of future natural disasters. And through this ongoing service, it is the Response Team and its volunteers who will ensure the lives lost on 29 Sepetmber last year were not lost in vain. Thank you. I really

look forward to returning to Samoa sometime soon.