The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

12 March 2011

Press Conference

Brisbane

12 March 2011

SUBJECTS: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

TREASURER:

Good morning and sorry to keep you waiting, but there is a lot of detail that we have got to go through today, so I'll take my time to go through it, I know everybody is really interested in what has been happening and what the Australian Government's response is.

I have just now finished chairing an emergency meeting of the Government's National Security Committee. Of course, the Committee did discuss Australia's response the extraordinary nature of the tragic events that we've seen in Japan in the last 24 hours.

I have also overnight spoken with both the Prime Minister, I spoke to the Ambassador last night, and I've spoken with him again this morning. I've also spoken to a number of Australians on the ground in Japan.

These are testing times for the world. There seems to have been a relentless series of natural disasters in recent years. And of course, our Japanese friends have felt the terrifying force and the brutal impact of these earthquakes and tsunamis.

Now, we are just beginning to see the magnitude of the devastation. I think all Australians would have watched last night with a sense of horror and a sense of apprehension. It is truly an epic disaster.

I know a lot of people would have been sitting there thinking that surely only these events could happen in the movies. But, last night was like a nightmare for the Japanese people.

But the waves that destroyed these Japanese towns will be followed by waves for support from their friends here, and around the world. And they will surely need that assistance.

We are beginning to see very significant numbers of casualties, and of course I believe in the days ahead we must brace ourselves for a much larger casualty count, this will be a human tragedy which will be very, very distressing.

Now, of course, Tokyo has been shielded from the worst of the fury, but in the affected provinces there is massive destruction of infrastructure. And of course, as we have experienced, mobile phone coverage for example, is patchy, and of course millions of people are left without power. Now, these services are being progressively restored, but even that is going to take some time.

Now, from the Australian Government's perspective, what we have got to do is concentrate on assisting the Japanese with search and rescue. Already the Japanese Government has mobilised defence and emergency services. But given conditions on the ground, this will be a very complex and it will be a lengthy process. So the National Security Committee of Cabinet this morning met to consider what assistance Australia can offer in these early stages.

At the request of the Japanese Government, the NSC has agreed to provide immediate search and rescue support. Emergency Management Australia is coordinating this will relevant states and territories. A 72 person New South Wales search and rescue team is being readied for deployment today. And this will also include sniffer dogs and handlers which will be provided by Queensland.

Two ADF C17s are standing by to transport the rescue teams tonight. The search and rescue team will be accompanied by Japanese officials from the Department who will assist with all the complex operational requirements. And of course, this team will work very closely with Japanese authorities on their arrival.

The Government is also going to boost its consular assistance on the ground. We are sending an additional ten Japanese speaking officials to supplement the regular consular work in the Embassy. And they too will be deployed today. And of course, Embassy officials are also moving to Narita Airport to assist Australians there who might be in need.

So, as you can see, we have moved as quickly as we can to provide additional support which has of course been requested.

Now, as you know, the DFAT travel advisory has been updated to take into account changing conditions on advice from Japanese authorities. They have recommended that people who live within 10 kilometres of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant evacuate this area immediately. This is a precautionary measure, but that is the advice which is now contained in the DFAT travel advisory. Now of course, we will continue to monitor all of this very closely. And we will, of course, assess the need for further assistance depending upon conditions.

Now, the other concern last night was where the impacts of this might be felt elsewhere in the Pacific. At the moment we stand ready to provide additional support to the Japanese Government and people should that be needed, but of course, one of the good outcomes overnight is that we haven't seen the expected impacts in some of the other Pacific countries. But in terms of people who are worried about family and friends and their welfare in Japan, they should try to contact them directly. And of course, if they are unable to do that or to contact people directly, they can of course call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 24 hour consular emergency centre, on 1300 555 135.

Now, there has been assessment as to whether evacuation flights may be required. Our assessment at the moment is that they are not required but we will keep this under review. As I said before, there have been concerns elsewhere in the Pacific, and countries have been preparing for evacuations in a number of pacific countries. And I understand although wave action may have been higher in a number of countries, there has been no significant damage reported to us so far elsewhere. But we continue to keep close supervision of this matter and have been in contact with our missions in the Pacific and monitor situations on the ground.

Now, there can be no more important task for the Australian Government, and no more important priority, than to account for and to assist Australians who are living in Japan.

There are currently 1308 Australians registered in Japan, although we expect there could be as many as 11,000 Australian residents in Japan. We have confirmed the safety of 452 Australians. I'm advised that there are 93 registered Australians in the affected regions. But we expect the number in the affected regions to be significantly higher than 93.

As I said to you before, there are 1300 Australians registered in Japan, but there could be as many as 11,000 across the country, so when we say that there are 93 registered Australians in the region, there could be significantly more – it could be in the hundreds in the affected region.

So accounting for Australians that are caught up in the disaster is a very, very high priority for the Government, and of course, consular officials are preparing to travel to the affected areas as soon as it is safe to go there.

Now, following today's NSC meeting, as I said before, we are sending an additional ten consular staff with Japanese language skills to add to our effort on the ground.

So, I'm sure these are events that no Australian will ever forget. I think they will remember where they were when they first saw these images yesterday. I don't think these images will be easily erased from our memory.

So the task ahead of the Japanese people, and I believe the global community, in the hours, days and weeks ahead cannot be underestimated. At times like these, we are not just Australians, or Japanese, or citizens of any one country, we are citizens of the world. We all need to band together, because that is what friends do in times of need.

Over to you.

JOURNALIST:

Do you known if there are any Australian casualties yet or [inaudible] any idea of injuries?

TREASURER:

No we have no report s of Australian casualties at this stage. As I said to you, there are 93 registered Australians in the affected area but we have no knowledge of reports yet of injuries to Australians in the area.

JOURNALIST:

The C17s flying in, are they going to Tokyo and will they remain there should they be required for evacuation?

TREASURER:

Well these are operational questions for the defence forces. The C17s will be leaving sometime tonight. I can't tell you at this stage where they will land and where they land is also significant. Those matters are being worked through with the Japanese authorities and between our defence forces. So I can't give you the time they will arrive or where they will land but they will be taking with them the search and rescue teams, the sniffer dogs and so on. And how they deploy after that is an operational matter for the defence forces.

But the Government is acutely area that if circumstances arose where evacuation was required that would be one option. But it may not be the only option because it would depend on where they land. It also depends on how the airports are operating, and at the moment some of the airports are operating, some are not and it also depends on the transport links between the city and the regions and the airports. So it's an operational matter which is dealt with by the emergency authorities and the defence force.

JOURNALIST:

Will they be deployed from Amberley, do you know?

TREASURER:

One is currently at Amberley; I can't give you the location of the other. I'm happy to follow up and give you that further information.

JOURNALIST:

What about the potential effects on the world's economy [inaudible]?

TREASURER:

Look it's too early to make predictions about that. Naturally this is a very significant disaster, and it will require a very significant response. My own belief is that our financial markets will take this into account. The Japanese economy is a very important economy in the global economy. It is also been very important for Australia in the past 50 or 60 years. But I believe that if we have a coordinated response, if the governments of the world work with the Japanese Government, that we can do this with a minimal disruption to the global economy.

JOURNALIST:

Does the succession of disasters that we've now seen, [inaudible] curtail our ability to contribute to the recovery of each one?

TREASURER:

Well fortunately we have a very significant capacity in this area and we've seen how well our capacity has worked when we were tested during the Queensland floods and of course then cyclone Yasi. Also our response when we deployed significant resources to Christchurch. We believe that we have the capacity to also respond to assist our Japanese friends.

The Japanese relationship with Australia is a very important one, and it has grown stronger and stronger, not just economically over the past 50 or 60 years - the people to people contact with Japan is very strong. Whether it is in terms of our trade, or whether it is in terms of education or resources or whether it is in terms of cultural links, very strong relationship for Australia and its one that we understand that we need to provide as much additional support as we can to assist our friends in Japan.

JOURNALIST:

How does Cyclone Yasi and also the earthquake affect Australia's financial assistance to Japan? Not just resources.

TREASURER:

Well we are providing very significant resources just as the Japanese offered to provide resources to us during the floods in Queensland and Cyclone Yasi. We are making an initial response, and I believe there will be a very big global response as well. The Americans are marshalling their resources at the moment as we speak, just like the Australians are. But we will provide what we can to the maximum extent possible, but I don't believe there will be a shortage of offers from around the world to assist the Japanese.