Questions without Notice - Tropical Cyclone Winston

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:05): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Will the minister update the Senate on the situation in Fiji, including Defence's contribution to the Australian government's response?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Defence) (14:05): I thank Senator Reynolds for her question, which follows up a question earlier in the week when the crisis first began. I particularly note the senator's longstanding interest in defence and her longstanding service in the Australian Army, in particular. Our thoughts continue to be with the people of Fiji, who really are facing a very significant humanitarian crisis. There are 36 confirmed deaths and there are approximately 35,000 displaced people in evacuation centres. I am pleased to say that Defence has been able to respond quickly to requests from the government of Fiji, and we are working closely with our international colleagues and other Australian government agencies to ensure the coordination of those efforts.

We have established Operation Fiji Assist 2016. Since I updated the Senate on Monday, four ADF C17 Globemasters have landed in Fiji. They are carrying helicopters, personnel and around 19 tonnes of humanitarian relief stores in support of the government of Fiji's efforts. The stores include over 1,500 hygiene kits, 10 cartons of water purification tablets, and almost 600 tarpaulins and shelter kits for about 9,000 people. We have also taken in a six-person Australian medical assistance team, which includes doctors, nurses and paramedics. They are assisting the government of Fiji's efforts in assessments and delivery of medical assistance as required. The ADF flights into Fiji have also been able to carry support staff from the departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Immigration and Border Protection. Those staff in Immigration and Border Protection are involved in the process of assisting Australian travellers to depart from Fiji via commercial means and return to Australia.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:07): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer. I ask whether she can provide further information to the Senate about the ADF assets and personnel that are currently on the ground in Fiji and how they are assisting the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort on the ground?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Defence) (14:07): In response to requests from the government of Fiji we are conducting daily C17 Globemaster flights from RAAF Base Amberley to deliver equipment, support personnel and supplies. We have established a joint task force, which consists of members from the Navy, Army and Air Force elements based in Suva, which is coordinating that surveillance activity and humanitarian assistance. We currently have 32 ADF personnel working in Fiji assisting with the relief efforts. There has also been an exchange of liaison officers to better facilitate effective coordination between the government of Fiji and Australia. Finally, our first of the MRH90 helicopters is expected to commence its operations in Fiji tomorrow, and it is assisting in the delivery of personnel and supplies, particularly to remote and very-difficult-to-access locations.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister also advise the Senate what additional Defence planning is currently underway to support the government of Fiji as the impact of the disaster becomes clearer?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Defence) (14:08): Again, I thank Senator Reynolds. There have been two recent further requests from the government of Fiji for additional support. Yesterday, the government of Fiji requested the deployment of HMAS Canberra to assist in the relief operation. The ADF is undertaking some quite detailed preparations to deploy HMAS Canberra, and she is anticipated to arrive on or around 1 March. It is worthy to note that there is a cyclone of varying degrees between us and Fiji still, so that is a detailed process. This would be the first deployment of HMAS Canberra in support of a humanitarian and disaster relief operation overseas. Following a further request from the government of Fiji, a P3 Orion surveillance aircraft has now also been tasked to assist in the damage assessment. I refer to the work of the New Zealand Defence Force and one of their Orions earlier in the week. And, of course, we stand ready to respond to any further requests for assistance. (Time expired)

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