May 29, 2024

DAN COX, PRESENTER: Australia and Papua New Guinea have a special relationship. We're more than just neighbours and now is PNG's time of need. A Papua New Guinea Government Official has told the UN, more than 2000 people are believed to have been buried alive by the landslide last Friday. They have formally asked for international help. That includes us.

JENNY MARCHANT, PRESENTER: Yes. A team of Australian responders has landed in PNG to help. For more on what will happen there and what might be coming in the future, Pat Conroy is with you, the Member for Shortland and the Federal Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Good morning.


MARCHANT: What will that team of Australian responders that's just landed in PNG, what will they be doing?

CONROY: Well, it's a team from the Disaster Assistance Response Team and it's a mix of Queensland fire and rescue personnel, people from the National Emergency Management Agency and some logisticians. And their primary skill set is around incident management coordination, technical expertise on retrieval of the deceased, logistics, like getting supplies up there, because it's a very hard area to get supplies up to and equipment and drone operations. So they'll have drones with them which are essential to mapping and providing imagery of the site, because the truth is, at the moment, the site of the landslide remains very unstable and is moving. The 160 village, village homes were wiped out and they're under about six to eight metres of soil and mud. So, it's quite a dangerous place to be trying to do retrieval operations and recovery.

COX: Well, and you're right, they are trained and they need to keep in mind the potential for more landslides. How many people are we sending from Australia?

CONROY: The initial team is 16, that's part of our- from the Disaster Assistance Response Team. That's part of the two and a half million dollars of initial assistance we've provided. I've communicated to the Papua New Guinea Government that we will provide whatever support is needed, but that's backed up by a huge mobilisation of the Australian Defence Force. So, a C-130 Hercules transported pallets last night. A C-17, which is our biggest transport aircraft, is taking 17 pallets of supplies today. We're transporting up 750 family sized shelters, Waterford water purification kits, generators, hygiene kits, ration packs, and we're moving about 77 pallets from Port Moresby up to Mount Hagen, which is the closest airfield. So, the ADF were the first on site from our side. They transfer PNG officials on Saturday to start doing the assessment of the landslide.

MARCHANT: The landslide happened on Friday. I believe it's now Wednesday, and we've seen the desperation of locals there on site. Could Australia have responded with help sooner?

CONROY: No, no, I don't believe so. As I said, the accident occurred, or the landslide rather occurred at 03:00 a.m. in the morning, on the Friday morning. Within hours, our High Commissioner had contacted and spoken to Prime Minister Marape and the Governor of Enga Province offering assistance. That request came through to us in terms of the specifics of what PNG needed on Monday morning, Sunday night, Monday morning, and we immediately mobilised those planes and those disaster response teams and as I said, even before then we were transporting PNG officials using Royal Australian Air Force aircraft. So, we're moving absolutely as quickly as humanly possible. And as I said to the PNG Government, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We'll do whatever's required to support you through this horrible, horrible tragedy.

COX: When things like this happen, Minister, and the government goes to the UN formally asking for international help, Australia comes forward and puts its hand up. Do you work with other countries in a strategic way or is it just we go in with what we've got, with what we're willing to offer immediately, or do you talk to other countries and make a plan?

CONROY: There's absolutely coordination that's going on and the Papua New Guinean Government have asked the UN to coordinate that. And there was a meeting of the supporting countries yesterday in Moresby to do that. So for example, New Zealand has allocated one of their aircraft. They've allocated $1.5 million and they're providing the technical experts around geohazard assessments, obviously to make sure the site is safe and work out what needs to happen to make safe the site. The UK is donating humanitarian supplies which we're transporting using our aircrafts. So, that's an example of where one country donates something and then we transport it. And in the New Zealand case where they're specialising in things that they've got a lot of technical expertise in around geohazards. If you think about the nature of the geology of New Zealand. And then we concentrate on other things around drone mapping, logistics, incident control. So, it's an example of the Pacific family coming together and others supporting our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea.

MARCHANT: Pat Conroy is with us on ABC Newcastle. Minister, you said you had communicated to the government there that you could help with whatever is needed. We're very much in the initial response at this stage, but at times like this, do you imagine that will extend to recovery? These are communities that will need years of support, aren't they?

CONROY: Absolutely. There's something like 8000 people who have been immediately displaced by this tragedy. And the main road in the area is blocked. And so we need to clear the road once we've cleared the site. And then, obviously, the support for the community will go on for years. The psychosocial support. This is an incredibly traumatic event. You just have to look at the images that are coming through our television screens from, for example, the 7:30 report last night, to see that the trauma that is being inflicted on a community right now. So, that assistance will go from the immediate phase to that longer term phase as soon as we've sorted out and cleared the site and saved as many people as we can.

COX: Minister, thanks for talking us through it.

CONROY: Thank you. Have a good morning.

COX: You, too. Pat Conroy there, the Federal Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and a local MP.