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Handover of South Australian ambulances for Maldives: speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs: 27 June 2005.

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27 June 2005

Handover of South Australian Ambulances for Maldives

Speech by The Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs at handover of South Australian Ambulances for Maldives, Fulham, South Australia June 27 2005

Well thanks very much, Lea and Ingrid Marshall, the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the SA Ambulance Service, and local Member for Colton and members of the Ambulance Service and ladies and gentlemen. It's with great pleasure that I accept this key because I think this is a tremendously exciting and impressive project on the part of the SA Ambulance Service and the South Australian Government. I don't want there to be too much apparent collaboration between the Federal and the State Government, but this is a great example of that collaboration.

Yesterday, as I think you'll all know, was the six-months anniversary of the tsunami and there's been a little bit of discussion about it in that light and some rather heartfelt interviews that I saw yesterday of people who were affected by the tsunami and who are still trying to rehabilitate their lives. And I don't think any of us should underestimate how long it's going to take to rebuild these communities in obviously Indonesia, and Aceh province, in the north of Sumatra, through to Thailand and to the Maldives, India, right across to the African coast.

The last part of the tsunami-affected Indian Ocean region that I visited was in the southern part of India about two or three, I suppose it's three weeks ago now, 2.5 weeks ago, and I must say, looking at the devastation of the waves there reminds you of how long it's going to take to rehabilitate all of these communities.

For our part, the Australian community were exceptionally generous in the way they responded to the tsunami and that definitely includes South Australians. Overall, Australians have contributed about $313 million to assisting people affected by the tsunami. Federal Government made an initial contribution of $60 million to emergency relief as well as providing the resources of the Australian Defence Force, which particularly operated in Aceh, not exclusively, but in particular focused on Aceh. In addition to that, the Australian Government's committed a further $8 million to Sri Lanka and also $1 billion, but over five years, for what's called the Australian-Indonesian Partnership for Reconstruction and


Now, I noticed some people say, why hasn't all of this money been spent already? If we had spent all of this money already, that is the Government, the non-government organisations and so on, then we would have wasted it. The fact is that there were essentially two functions, not one function.

The first function was immediate emergency relief - just trying to save people, and the medical team Lea spoke of is an example of what we've been able to do at that very initial phase. And Australia would have spent somewhere in the vicinity - Australian Government would have spent somewhere in the vicinity - of $60 million on that emergency, immediate emergency phase.

And then some of our State Governments, such as the South Australian Government, have made a contribution in that phase and our non-government organisations - organisations like World Vision and Care Australia, Community Aid Abroad, OxFam and so on - they've all made a contribution in that phase.

But the second phase is really the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase. This will not take weeks, this will not take months - this will take years, and our non-government organisations and our Government, our Federal Government, have set money - and a lot of money - aside to spend through that period.

Now, we have just begun that process with the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development. We have just begun it, and over the next five years we'll be spending a total of a billion dollars.

Not all of that money will go to Aceh - some of it will go to Indonesia more generally, for example providing scholarships and the like, helping with the improvement of economic governance in Indonesia, because there's no doubt that the tsunami hasn't just had a devastating human effect, it has had a significant economic effect as well, and that will have to be rectified in terms of the Indonesian economy as best that that can be done. So, as far as the non-government organisations are concerned, they've spent 20% of the money they've raised.

Contrary to some of their critics, I think that 20% is a good proportion. I'd be appalled if they'd spent 80% or 90% because it's clear that if they'd spent all that money, they couldn't have spent it properly. I think it's appropriate that they've spent approximately the amount they've spent, give or take - it doesn't matter, but that is a good dimension and I think that they're behaving very responsibly and very effectively in terms of rolling the programs out over a period of time.

I have instituted an arrangement with the non-government organisations that they'll produce a quarterly report on how they're spending the money and what the administrative costs are, and we've had the first of those quarterly reports a couple of weeks ago and, well, obviously in three months' time we'll produce another one and so on.

So, I think our response is rolling out effectively and what we're seeing here today is, I think, a very nice additional touch. The Maldives has been absolutely devastated. The islands that are affected averaged a height above sea level of only 1.5 metres. A large number of people were

killed in the Maldives. Their tourism industry, which is the backbone of their economy, was devastated by the tsunami, as you can imagine, on such low-lying islands, and health and emergency services were of course crippled as well.

So, to provide these four very good quality, as-new, as they say, ambulances, rehabilitated, serviced, so everything in good shape - I think that's a great gesture. I think it's a really nice thing to have done, and I'd just like to thank again the South Australian Ambulance Service, which does such a wonderful job around the State in any case, and the South Australian Government for this gesture.

And I look forward to getting pictures of the ambulances - well, in fact, I'd very much like to go to the Maldives, I haven't been there - but if I can't go myself, seeing pictures of the ambulances in the Maldives, and I think we would all like to see those pictures here in South Australia courtesy of our very fine media and the Adelaide Advertiser.

So, with those few words, let me say it's been a great pleasure to be part of the ceremony today and again, thank you to the South Australian Ambulance Service and to the Minister, Minister Stevens. Thank you.

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