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Transcript of interview with Elenor Hall: The World Today: 30 September 2009: tsunami in Samoa.

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30 September 2009

Interview with Elenor Hall, The World Today

Subjects: Tsunami in Samoa

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, says the Federal Government is offering all the assistance it can to the Pacific Island communities.

Mr Smith spoke to me from Singapore a short time ago.

Minister, the death toll is rising from this large earthquake and series of tsunamis in the Pacific. What's the latest information that you have on the scale of the disaster?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm in transit in Singapore but this morning I've spoken to our High Commissioners in both Samoa and Tonga.

In Samoa, where we're now focusing most of our attention on, our most recent advice so far as Australians are concerned is that we think we've got seven Australians who’ve been adversely affected. Three of those we expect will be hospitalised overnight and we're giving them as much assistance as we can.

Unfortunately we are very concerned about the welfare of one Australian, a woman. One of the Australians who's been injured has reported a woman in difficulty and so we are very concerned for her welfare and we're working closely with the Samoan authorities to try and locate her.

Other than that, the most difficult issue for us is that the disaster has struck the south east portion of the island where we find a number of both luxury and budget accommodation resorts and we're concerned that Australians may have been there holidaying. It'll just take us some time to, together with the Samoan authorities, to ascertain that and track down the whereabouts of any Australians.

ELEANOR HALL: And is it only in Samoa that you're concerned about Australians?

STEPHEN SMITH: For a while we were concerned about Tonga, but I've spoken to our High Commissioner in Tonga and the level of damage there is such that we're not concerned at this stage about any Australians.

Other Pacific parts, or islands to which we were worried may have been adversely effected and Australians there, like Niue, Fiji, Noumea, Nauru, all the advice we're getting in is that

damage has been slight or there's been no significant adverse effects and that's our most recent advice for New Zealand as well.

So we're focusing our efforts on Samoa. We've determined already that we'll send a task force of Australian officials to give additional assistance to our High Commission in Apia, the capital. That'll be made up of both DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and Defence officials and so we're effectively sending reinforcements just to make sure we've got as many Australian officials on the ground as is required.

And we've also indicated to the Samoan Government that any assistance that they need in the face of this tragedy then Australia is ready, willing and able to provide assistance but, as you'd expect, the Samoan Government is not yet in a position to make a judgement about

what additional assistance it may require given that it's dealing with the immediacy of the problem.

ELEANOR HALL: And Minister, on the typhoon which has hit other countries in the region, there are reports today that the typhoon which killed 246 people in the Philippines has now killed more than 30 people in Vietnam.

What assistance is Australia providing in response to this disaster?

STEPHEN SMITH: I've already announced that we will provide $1 million assistance to the Philippines as immediate, urgent assistance, and we're also preparing ourselves for a further request from the Philippines Government and also the Philippines' non-government organisations like the Red Cross. And we'll do that as well in conjunction with the United Nations as required.

We're also, of course, concerned that the typhoon has spread to Vietnam and we're getting reports in of damage there and we will put ourselves in the position to provide assistance there as required. The Vietnamese authorities have not yet formally requested any assistance but they have asked neighbouring governments and NGOs to put themselves in a position to respond because the typhoon has now crossed the coast onto mainland Vietnam, about 80 to 100 kilometres south of Da Nang, then we're putting ourselves in a position to be able to provide assistance there as well.

ELEANOR HALL: Minister, thanks very much for joining us.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Eleanor.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, speaking to me from Singapore.

Media Inquiries: Foreign Minister's office (02) 6277 7500