Thank you very, very much and thank you for locating a lectern!

I thought that we were going to make do with crates; I would have happily made do with crates!

Thank you very, very much and to Fire and Rescue New South Wales, it’s wonderful to be here with you.

Can I also start by adding my acknowledgement of country.

Can I acknowledge Commissioner Morgan, Deputy Commissioner Finney, Deputy Commissioner Newton; our international visitors, including the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group reclassification team; the members of the AUS-2 Disaster Assistance Response Team, drawn from State Fire, Health and Police services; other guests; ladies and gentlemen. 

I am delighted to be here to thank the teams from the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group – not only for your work here this week, but for your ongoing endeavours to raise the standards of search and rescue in responding to natural and manmade disasters around the world.

On behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to thank Fire and Rescue New South Wales for all the wonderful work that you do.

I know that you have worked very, very hard to make AUS-2 a world-class search and rescue team and to meet the UN international standards.

Now, we know that you will find out about the results of your classification assessment later today.

But I am sure, we all have every confidence that you will continue to be a great credit to yourself, your team, our state and to our nation.

Search and Rescue is a critical component of Australia’s emergency response capability, both within Australia and internationally.

We punch above our weight with our two internationally certified teams, one from NSW and of course the first one which was accredited from Queensland. 

Now, Queensland, we know, are also going through their formal reclassification next year and I’m sure that we wish them all the best.

And I’m sure that the representatives here from Queensland will be taking back the experiences that they have seen and that are on display here today.

The importance of search and rescue unfortunately came to the fore here in Australia during the Thredbo landslide 20 years ago. 

The 18 people who lost their lives in this tragedy were remembered in the 20th anniversary memorial at the end of last month.

And all Australians old enough to follow this at the time will remember the valiant efforts of search and rescue teams in Thredbo in freeing Stuart Diver.

It was and is a story worth retelling, because it reminds us that in the face of terrible suffering, you stood for courage, tenacity and professionalism.

After more than 48 hours of working through the aftermath of that landslide, rescue workers detected movement under more than two metres of concrete and debris.

It took the efforts of paramedic Paul Featherstone, who spoke to Mr Diver for more than 11 hours, and rescuers to tunnel more than 16 metres to free him.

These are the same skills and expertise that we deploy overseas and that are being put through their paces today to ensure that we will continue to meet international standards.

These deployments represent the best Australian expertise on the international stage, responding to disasters and also building the capacity of our neighbouring countries to respond to crises within their borders.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Government of New South Wales in partnering with the Federal Government so that Australia can send our expertise abroad when it is needed the most.

I would also like to thank the work of all those involved in supporting the teams.

Australia’s response to emergencies in our region is a very high priority for the Australian Government.

It is a direct expression of the very practical, action-oriented goodwill that Australians feel for one another and most importantly for our neighbours.

Our region is a highly susceptible region to disasters –indeed seven out of the ten most disaster prone countries being in our region.

And your work is a crucial piece in Australia’s comprehensive support for our communities as I said, not just in Australia but across the Pacific to prepare for disasters, to reduce their impact, and to recover from those disasters as quickly as possible.

We know humanitarian disasters cost lives, they reverse all those hard-won development gains and they can increase poverty, especially through disability.

Sometimes, disasters can tip the balance especially in fragile communities, making them even much more susceptible to conflict and to civil strife.

So supporting governments in our region to manage disasters better is an important contribution that we make to the stability of our region, and also to the stability and security of our country.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Bishop set the scene for Australia’s step up in the Pacific.

We have three objectives in relation to our Pacific Island countries: a much more effective partnership for economic growth, a more extensive partnership for security, and a general deepening of our relations and understanding between our peoples.

The work that Fire and Rescue New South Wales did in Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone Pam is absolutely, absolutely fantastic – and you should all be very, very proud of the contribution that you made to help the people of Vanuatu and the stability of that country into its future.

Your team was key in repairing very important infrastructure, including Port Vila hospital, the maternity centre, 27 schools, government buildings, and roads.

These are essential for any community to recover.

In 2015, Foreign Minster Bishop had the opportunity to inspect your handy-work, to thank you on behalf of the Australian people, and to pass on sincere thanks from the Government of Vanuatu.

And, it is my great honour today to reaffirm that thanks.

Elsewhere in the wider Pacific, we have seen Fire and Rescue New South Wales assist with search and rescue efforts in 2011 after the Christchurch and Fukushima disasters.

Australia has a proud heritage of helping those in need and your efforts help carry on this very, very important tradition.

Australia, through Fire and Rescue New South Wales, is pleased to be an active member of the international search and rescue community.

For example, I understand that representatives are here today from the team that is currently working with the governments of Thailand and the Philippines to increase their search and rescue capability.

Fire and Rescue New South Wales personnel have also been involved in classifying teams in Korea, in Germany, New Zealand and Japan.

The Australian Government has supported this work for a number of years and we are very proud to continue to do so.

In closing, I would like to say that Australia has no better Ambassador than people such as yourselves who give practical assistance to our neighbours in need.

I look forward to seeing the exercises shortly, but most importantly I wish you all the very, very best in your reclassification and for the future.

Thank you so very, very much.

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