Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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28 May 2024


LISA MILLAR: Let's get more on the situation in PNG. Australia will send technical experts to the scene as the PNG Government expresses fears that the death toll is said to rise significantly. Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, good morning to you.


LISA MILLAR: What's the latest that you're hearing about the situation on the ground in PNG? And I realise it is very difficult; the situation is so challenging for anyone trying to help there.

MINISTER CONROY: It's incredibly grim, and our condolences, our deepest condolences go to the people and government of Papua New Guinea. We've seen reports of anywhere between 700 and 2,000 fatalities. Six villages were wiped out at 3 am in the morning by this landslide in Enga Province, it's an incredibly isolated part of Papua New Guinea.

At the moment I'm advised access, it can only be achieved through helicopters, so the search and recovery efforts are very, very challenging, and we've immediately made offers of assistance which the Papua New Guinea Government have accepted, but it's a long road, and we won't know the true death toll for a long time unfortunately.

LISA MILLAR: So what is Australia able to do at this point?

MINISTER CONROY: So, we've provided an immediate logistical help, the Australian Defence Force, transported PNG officials to the sites to commence assessments. We've announced an initial   and this is only an initial package   of $2.5 million of assistance.

That will include a Disaster Assistance Response Team, that will arrive in Papua New Guinea this afternoon. That's made up of teams from Queensland Fire and Rescue, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the National Emergency Management Authority. That will have the ability to do incident control, geohazard assessment and we'll have drones for mapping the site.

We're also providing humanitarian assistance such as shelters and sanitation kits for displaced villagers, particularly women and children, and we're providing more logistical support through the Australian Defence Force. That's the initial assistance. Obviously more will flow based on requests from the Papua New Guinean Government.

LISA MILLAR: Do we really have a sense yet of the extent of it?

MINISTER CONROY: No, to be quite frank, we don't. The Papua New Guinean Government has asked the UN agencies to coordinate partner countries, and those assessments are going on right now, but this is an incredibly inaccessible part of Papua New Guinea, and it's a really challenging process for everyone involved.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. And you're speaking to your kind of colleagues in PNG? How does it work? How does Australia understand what it can do and what's possible?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we're going in at all levels, so immediately after the landslide our High Commissioner contacted both Prime Minister Marape and the Governor of Enga Province and offered assistance. The Australian Defence Force contacted their counterparts and people from Minister Wong, Deputy Prime Minister Marles and myself have been engaging as well, and it's all hands to provide assistance, and we just stand ready to support Papua New Guinea in any way they need it.

We're the closest of neighbours and the dearest of friends, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their assistance in our floods, our bushfires, obviously, World War II and the Kokoda Track, and we'll do anything that they need to support them in this disaster.

LISA MILLAR: And that could be a long stretch of help that's required with something like this?

MINISTER CONROY: Oh, absolutely. The logistical support to obviously assess the site, clear the mud and soil and debris, hopefully rescue people, obviously recover bodies and support the thousands of people who've been displaced by these landslides.

LISA MILLAR: Minister, can I turn to another subject today that has caught the world's attention and international condemnation, which is what's going on in Gaza, and the words from Benjamin Netanyahu that it was a terrible mishap, a tragic event; is that not another clear sign of the desperate need for a ceasefire?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we're incredibly concerned by what we saw in Rafah, and that's why we've been continuing to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, we've also called for immediate return of all hostages that Hamas have taken, and the immediate opening of access so we can get massive amounts of humanitarian support into the Gaza.  

So immediate humanitarian ceasefire, release of hostages and immediate flow of aid is critical. That's the Australian Government's position, and you're absolutely right, what we've seen overnight, or over the last 24 hours only reinforces the need for those three things.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. I understand the word "concerned" that you're using, and your colleagues have been using, the French President, Emmanuel Macron said he was "outraged" by the blast and said there had to be full respect for international law. Does this action fall under international law?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we've also been calling for respect for international law and the protection of civilians of both sides, and I'll leave it to others to comment more fully on it, but it was obviously incredibly concerning scenes that we've all witnessed over the last 24 hours.

LISA MILLAR: Pat Conroy, thanks for your time this morning.

MINISTER CONROY: Thank you, Lisa.

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