Speech on the Tsunami disaster

Tonight I want to report to you about Australia’s response to the Asian tsunami disaster which has decimated the lives of so many people across the nations of our region.

More than 150,000 people have been killed, while millions more are injured or homeless.

Whole communities have been washed away. And we are in a race against time to prevent further deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera.

This has been one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history. At this stage the final number of Australians who tragically, have been killed or injured remains unclear. We are working as fast as possible with the identification of victims and to ascertain the whereabouts of those Australians originally reported as missing.

I know that the thoughts and prayers of you all are with those who have lost loved ones or endure the terrible agony of waiting for further news.

The response of the world community and not least Australia to this heartbreaking tragedy has been swift and generous.

Along with other governments, international agencies and non-government bodies, Australians are now playing a leading role in one of the biggest humanitarian aid operations since World War II.

I express the thanks of the nation to the many Australians working night and day to provide relief to victims.

I especially thank the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, officers of the Australian Federal Police and their state colleagues, medical workers, staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and many other Australian government departments and agencies who have come together in a great national effort.

This crisis has seen the Australian Public Service working at its dedicated and professional best.

Thanks also are due to the large number of Australians working for non-government relief organisations, often as volunteers.

The Government’s initial response was to provide emergency aid of $60 million and to send medical relief teams and defence personnel into badly affected areas, particularly Indonesia but also the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

A tragedy of this magnitude, however, requires a long-term commitment of resources if shattered communities are to be rebuilt and survivors provided with some hope for the future.

The loss of life and destruction in Indonesia, our nearest neighbour, has been truly staggering. At least 110,000 people have lost their lives in Aceh alone.

The recovery challenge facing this developing country is immense.

The Government has therefore decided to commit $1 billion over five years in both grants and highly-concessional loans to assist the Government and people of Indonesia in the mammoth task of recovery and rebuilding.

This will be the largest individual aid package in Australia’s history.

Under a plan to be called the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development, this $1 billion amount will go directly to areas of need through programs that must be approved by the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Government of Indonesia.

This process will ensure that resources go where they are most needed.

As well as being the right response to an immediate humanitarian crisis, this partnership is a historic step in Australian-Indonesian relations.

Australians were the first foreigners on the ground in Indonesia after the disaster, a fact gratefully acknowledged by President Yudhoyono during our recent meeting in Jakarta. We will stay as long as we are needed.

Our nation will continue to help other affected countries. For example, Australian police officers are playing a leading role in identifying victims in Thailand and arrangements are in hand to send schoolteachers to the Maldives and scientific experts to help in repairing the damage to that country’s coral reef system.

The spontaneous outpouring of generosity from individual Australians in the last two weeks should be a source of pride to us all. Well in excess of $100 million has been pledged by individuals and companies in a great expression of the decency and good heart of the people of our nation.

The events of last Boxing Day and their aftermath have brought tragic loss and grief to many Australians.

We have all been touched in different ways. Next Sunday, the 16th of January, will be a national day of mourning and reflection for the victims of the tsunami. I ask all Australians to mark this occasion in the way they think fit.

This catastrophe has brought the world closer together in a spirit of common humanity. It has been a brutal reminder of the force of nature but also of the inspiring capacity of mankind to ease the suffering of others in their hour of need.

Australia, in its distinctive practical way, will remain in the forefront of helping those who have lost and suffered so much.