Interview with Ray Hadley – 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australian support to Tonga
18 January 2022

Ray Hadley: I have promised that I'd try and get hold of the Minister for International Development and the Pacific Senator Zed Seselja, he's on the line right now. Senator, good morning to you.

Minister Seselja: Good morning, Ray.

Ray Hadley: You know, it's remarkable in 2022, that we can't have contact with a nearby neighbour because of this dreadful, dreadful occurrence in Tonga. But watching you on TV this morning and reading a report since then, it appears still to be the case.

Minister Seselja: Yes, unfortunately Ray, that is the case. And that's going to be one of the main priorities as we seek to deliver humanitarian support to the people of Tonga and is going to be restoring communications. And so, when we send those C-130s out of Amberley, which we hope will happen tomorrow because the airport is still shut today, but there's clean up going on at the moment. So, we hope those C-130s will be able to get to Tonga tomorrow. And part of what they'll have, they'll have humanitarian equipment. They'll have shelter, food, water type things, but also telecommunications equipment. So, we're working with Telstra to see if we can get some more satellite capacity. And that will be, I guess, the short term fix to those communication issues, with the medium term fix in the next few weeks being the restoration of that cable link, which is the main communications link to Tonga.

Ray Hadley: Yeah, it's remarkable, a cable link in this high, sophisticated era we live in. But given that, you know, that maybe these aircraft can land tomorrow, are you having some contact in some way, shape or form with the Tongan authorities about what they can do and can't do?

Minister Seselja: Yeah, we are we do have limited ability to communicate. So, our High Commissioner, Rachel Moore, I understand just in the last hour or so, has spoken to the Prime Minister in Tonga. So, we're going to get a detailed readout of that in terms of, I guess, the more detailed needs. But what we understand is water, food, fuel and clean up equipment and obviously, telecommunications equipment. Those will be the main things at this stage, but obviously, any further details. So, those aircraft at Amberly are being loaded up as we speak with those type of things. And obviously, they'll go as soon as possible and then for larger loads, we'll be looking to the HMAS Adelaide in the next few days, which can obviously take significantly more equipment.

One of the other things Ray, that occurred that I've had an update since this morning's update is, obviously we had aerial assessments of some of the outer Islands. We also, Australian provided Guardian-class patrol boats, which are controlled by the Tongan Government, were also doing some assessments and there is some significant damage we understand in those outer Islands. But the good news is that a landing craft which the Australian Government provided some time ago to the people of Tonga, will be able to evacuate people from those outer Islands, which is good news because obviously they're doing it very tough, we understand, with many houses being destroyed in the tsunami.

Ray Hadley: That's terrible. Given we have a large Tongan community, lovely people who've come to this place to make it their home. They'd be greatly concerned about their friends and relatives. Is there any indication, I know you announced the death of a poor British national poor lady this morning, but is there any indication on casualties on people injured or people who may unfortunately have lost their lives?

Minister Seselja: Yes. Look, no further confirmation of any deaths, thankfully, but obviously that's still an outstanding question as we get more information. So, there are still concerns to that extent, I would say that there's no indication that there are significant numbers we're talking about, but there may unfortunately be more, but we'll have to confirm that in the coming days.

What I do know is that there are no Australians that we're aware of, who we have any outstanding concerns about in terms of their safety. And I know the High Commission has checked at the hospital there in the capital, and there are no Australians in the hospital. So that's obviously a good sign that there's no significant injuries at this stage that we're aware of when it comes to Australians, but more broadly on casualties, we're not aware, we haven't had any more confirmed, but that situation may change in the next day or two, unfortunately.

Ray Hadley: It's quite bizarre that COVID is causing so much grief, we had a record number of deaths in New South Wales today, 36. But because of COVID, a lot of Australians who may well have gone to Tonga for various reasons, whether going back to visit family or take a holiday, have not gone there.

Minister Seselja: Yeah, that's absolutely right. We normally anticipate about 300 Australians at any given time in Tonga, but probably less so at the moment as you say. Tonga has had great success in keeping COVID out. And obviously, as we deliver our humanitarian response, that's going to be a really important factor to consider. The fact that in Tonga, we've seen very low, almost zero COVID, and so they've still got very strict quarantine requirements for anyone coming in. So, all of those challenges will need to be worked through.

Ray Hadley: And I guess our New Zealand counterparts are doing exactly their best to try and get the same sort of repatriation happening from that part of the world.

Minister Seselja: Yeah, absolutely. New Zealand is our key partner. Obviously, there's a number of other partners who are putting their hands up at the moment, but New Zealand with close proximity and very strong interest in the region. So New Zealand, I understand, will also be looking to deploy a ship which will have some water purification capacity. I understand they've also got humanitarian flights planned as well. So, this isn't just going to be Australia. Australia, obviously, will play a very key role. New Zealand will play a key role. The United States and other countries are putting their hands up are other nations in the region. So, it's going to be really a joint effort. From the initial reports we're getting about property damage, it is relatively significant. So, obviously when we get a better assessment of that, there will probably be a pretty long clean-up and reconstruction effort.

Ray Hadley: Okay. And the most important thing is the minimum number of lives lost and we hope it doesn't rise alarmingly as it may well, thanks very much for your time. I appreciate it, Senator.

Minister Seselja: It's a pleasure Ray, thank you.



Media enquiries

Cassandra Choake | 0427 839 164 |