Andy Park, ABC Radio National Live
Andy Park: Joining me in the Canberra studio is Minister Pat Conroy, he is the Minister for International Development, the Pacific and Defence Industry. Welcome to you, Minister.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Good evening, Andy
Andy Park: This is a fast-moving situation. You've come in with quite a lot of notes because it is that sort of situation. What is the latest information you have on the Australians missing in Türkiye and Syria? Can you break down those numbers for me?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, unfortunately, we don't have more information beyond the four unaccounted for. Luckily, we have 37 Australians that are accounted for and we're very grateful for that. The Ankara Post is doing their best to try and locate the four unaccounted Australians.
Andy Park: Do we know where they're missing?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: We don't have that information at the moment, in front of me.
Andy Park: Have diplomats been able to make contact with the other 40 Australians and their families?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Well, 37 are accounted for, so we know where they are, and it would be unproductive for me to speculate further about the level of communication. But those 37, we know where they are.
Andy Park: What can you tell me about this Australian rescue team that will be deployed in the coming days? What disaster agencies exactly are we talking about?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Yes, so this is a response to a direct request from the Government of Türkiye for urban search and rescue. As a response to that, the Foreign Minister activated the AUSASSISTPLAN to deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, to assist in search and rescue. That's 72 personnel drawn primarily from New South Wales Fire and Rescue, and they'll respond with the following capabilities: search and rescue, structural engineers, damage assessment teams, HAZMAT identification, providing water and sanitation, and support for early recovery through heavy lift. And as you said, we're hopeful of getting them in country by the end of the week. We're still talking to the ADF about whether strategic airlift will be used, or a commercial option will provide a quicker response. That's one part of our initial support, which was $10 million of assistance, $7 million to Türkiye, with $4 million of that through Red Cross and Red Crescent, and $3 million to UNICEF to support the efforts in western Syria.
Andy Park: I spoke to the Turkish ambassador to Australia yesterday, he said that the requests will probably increase after that initial $10 million. We also discussed Australia's, let's say, unique relationship with that country. When we send fire and rescue staff, these are staff that have been through really the worst of it in terms of rescue in New South Wales in the recent disasters and flooding. Are they specialists in that kind of rescue?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Absolutely, they're specialists. They really are the best skilled people Australia has to offer. And the Prime Minister in Parliament today thanked them and their families for the sacrifice they're making. You're indeed right to point out the close bonds we have with Türkiye and their people. We've got a huge diaspora in Australia, and they must be desperately worried about their friends and family right now. And it's only right that Australia is part of the international effort that is very strong to support what is a huge humanitarian crisis unfurling before our eyes.
Andy Park: So that's one half of the affected area, if you like, in terms of sovereignty. We also have northern Syria. Will these people be deployed to those affected regions?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: No, the 72-person team will be going into Türkiye. We’ve provided an initial $3 million to UNICEF to support efforts in Syria. They're our long-term trusted partner. Obviously, it's a bit more complicated in Syria, but UNICEF is very experienced and are really driving that effort. In fact, I met with UNICEF yesterday and this emergency response was part of our discussions.
Andy Park: That initial $10 million, what will that go towards?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: So $7 million will go to Türkiye, $4 million of that is to Red Cross and Red Crescent, and that is principally going towards food, blankets, tents to provide support for people who have lost their homes in the middle of a very harsh winter in Türkiye. The other $3 million is being held back for responding to further requests. We've indicated obviously, if there are further requests, we will consider it. We have a humanitarian emergency fund that we can draw upon. That's part of the $4.6 billion development assistance program we have around the world.
Andy Park: So you're not ruling out at least assessing new requests for money or staff or rescue?
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Of course, we'll respond to this fast-moving crisis. The humanitarian emergency fund is roughly allocated around $150 million a year. Some of that money has already been spent responding to things like the Pakistan floods. But we will respond to requests and obviously we'll do what we can as a good global citizen, recognising the huge human misery occurring there and the close links we have with the people of Türkiye and the plight of people in Syria.
Andy Park: Minister, appreciate you dropping in this afternoon. Thanks for your time.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific: Thank you very much.
Andy Park: That's Pat Conroy, the Minister for International Development, the Pacific and Defence Industry there, announcing that Australia will not only send that initial $10 million, but also some 72 specialists from New South Wales Fire and Rescue to help coordinate the rescue mission of these serious earthquakes in Türkiye.
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