Press Conference – Darwin

TOPICS: Sinking of boat off Indonesia.

JASON CLARE: Thanks for coming along today. I just want to give you an update on the latest information we have in relation to the tragedy off the coast of Indonesia.

It’s now more than 48 hours since the boat capsized off the coast of Java and the search for survivors is still continuing. It’s being made more difficult by terrible weather, terrible conditions off shore.

Our offer of assistance to Indonesia has been accepted overnight and we are now providing a P3 surveillance aircraft that’s on route from Darwin to the search and rescue area and will be over that area this afternoon. We’re also providing a customs dash eight aircraft which will be flying over the area to provide search and rescue assistance and an Armidale class patrol boat will be sailing – and is sailing as we speak – from Christmas Island to the search and rescue area and will be there tonight.

So we are there helping. Australians are helping doing everything that we can. We are out there searching. We are out there looking. We are out there helping.

The search, as I said, is being hampered by what customs and border protection describe as severe bad weather. A monsoon trough has now descended over the region and I’ve been advised that yesterday there were waves in the area of five to six metres. So that makes the attempt to find survivors and retrieve them all the more difficult.

I don’t have good news. I’ve only got bad news. The latest information from the Indonesian search and rescue authority is now that there have been 33 people rescued. That is down from the information that they provided to Australian authorities yesterday morning of 87.

So bad news. That means fewer people that have been rescued, more people that are still potentially out at sea. Our thoughts are with them today. Australian naval personnel, Australian air force personnel are doing everything they can out there to try to find survivors.

I’m very happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: In a practical sense, what kind of assistance can the Australian army and air force offer in terms of compared to Indonesia’s capacities?

JASON CLARE: Well, Indonesia is leading the search and rescue effort. Their navy is out there. Their police helicopters are over the area as well. Local fishermen are out there doing what they can too, to try and find survivors.

But Australia can help and Australia is helping. Our P-3 surveillance aircraft can drop inflatable devices onto the ocean that can provide a place for people to survive out in the ocean. So if we can find people we can help to save them. That’s why our P-3 aircraft are there.

Our dash aircraft can help to find people in the middle of a very rough ocean and our patrol boats out there too, can pick people up.

So we can do good things and that’s why we’ve made the offer to the Indonesian officials. I’m glad they’ve accepted it and we can do our bit to help.

QUESTION: Given the weather conditions you’ve mentioned, is this still a search and rescue mission or is this more realistically just finding bodies?

JASON CLARE: The situation is looking increasingly grim. We’ve now passed the 48 hour window – the best chance of finding survivors is in the first 48 hours.

But the search goes on. We will continue searching under the direction and advice of the Indonesian authorities, looking for survivors.

QUESTION: Is there any more clarity around who was on board or any details about the people on this boat?

JASON CLARE: There are no more details other than what I advised yesterday. The advice from Indonesian authorities is something in the order of 250 people on board. I know that there’s been some different numbers that have been reported there.

Information is difficult to get and difficult to confirm. But BASARNAS, the search and rescue authority for Indonesia, is still telling customs and border protection something in the order of 250 people on board and as we advised yesterday. The advice to us is that the people on board the board were from different countries in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Why the large discrepancies in numbers, came through the 87, rounded down?

JASON CLARE: Well, it’s not surprising that in a situation such as this, in a chaotic situation where you’re trying to rescue people off a rough ocean and try and get them to shore and get them to safety and you’ve got different fishing boats that are out there, just trying to help, just trying to save people’s lives, that information is difficult to get and difficult to confirm.

I was hoping I’d be able to turn up today and say that more people had been rescued. Instead I’m having to tell you that less.

I’m hoping that there’s better information tomorrow but, as I said, as time passes, it gets more and more grim.

QUESTION: Is there any risk that of those 33 people that have been rescued – are any of them in [inaudible] state, health wise?

JASON CLARE: We don’t have that information at the moment, that’s being done under the coordination of BASARNAS, the Indonesian search and rescue authority. But we can follow that up and get information for you.

QUESTION: Would there be any chance that any of the survivors get flown to Darwin where we have the trauma centre, et cetera?

JASON CLARE: Again, I can’t give you that detail because we just don’t know. My expectation is that the people on the boat would be looked after by the Indonesian authorities in Java.

QUESTION: Obviously this has stirred up a whole lot of debate around policy and suggestions this might be a failure of policy. What is your reaction to that, particularly Sarah Hanson Young has been quite vocal this morning?

JASON CLARE: Well, I said yesterday wasn’t the day for politics. Today isn’t either.

We still have a search going on, people have died. We don’t know how many yet. We know there are still people missing, still people out at sea and Australians are out there trying to find them.

What I will say is this. The government supports offshore processing, the opposition supports offshore processing, we need to work together to get this done. That’s what the people of Australia would expect of us, to sit down and work through it maturely and sensibly. I think we can do that.

There are good people on both sides of this debate – people of goodwill and Australians watching this right now would expect us to sit down and get this done.

QUESTION: How long will these resources be offered to the Indonesians for?

JASON CLARE: Well, as long as the Indonesians require it.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear to me that we are to offer whatever assistance the Indonesians want, for as long as they need it. That’s the offer that I’ve made to the Indonesians, as long as they need our support, they will have it.

QUESTION: Once Australian officials get there, will it be easier to sort of ascertain the situation of what’s happening more?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, I will have better, more particular information once our defence officials are over the area and they can report to me on what they’re seeing, what they’re doing.

In addition to defence helping out, Australian Federal Police are helping out as well.

The Indonesian National Police have asked for our help and we’re giving it. So Australian police based in Jakarta are heading to the area in Java where we think the boat took off from to work with Indonesian police to try and find out exactly what happened and how it happened.

QUESTION: The Acting Prime Minister is in Darwin tomorrow, will he be speaking with customs officials, will he be making any stops particularly now that this has happened?

JASON CLARE: Well, I expect that the Deputy Prime Minister, now the Acting Prime Minister will be talking to our men and women who put their life at risk to save people on the high seas. I met with them today. I met with some of our naval personnel who are about to head out to Christmas Island.

And they’re going to spend Christmas at Christmas Island. They’re going to spend New Year’s at Christmas Island.

They’re terrific men and women, brave men and women who do a very difficult job. And I’m sure that the Acting Prime Minister, like myself, will want to thank them for the work they do.

QUESTION: Is this the sole reason you’re up in Darwin today or is…

JASON CLARE: No, look, it is a coincidence. I’m a new Minister. I’ve been in the job now for four days.

Prior to this I was the Minister for Defence Materiel, so I’ve had an opportunity to work very closely with the army and the navy and the air force up here in Darwin.

The Prime Minister has given me a new job, a new responsibility and it’s a tough one.

I’ve come here as soon as I can to get briefings on what our customs team, what our naval team, what our border command – border patrol and protection team do.

Unfortunately, it’s happened on a day like today where, off the coast of Australia, I suspect dozens and dozens of people have lost their lives.

QUESTION: You just spoke about the families that will miss out on their loved ones for Christmas, did they have anything to say or the customs officials have anything to say about how the policy could have led to this?

JASON CLARE: These are men and women that are dedicated to Australia. I’ve met them in Afghanistan. I’ve met them in East Timor. I’ve met them in the Solomon Islands. I’ve met them up here many times.

They do a good job. Sometimes we don’t appreciate it as much as we should. So I told them how much the people of Australia really do appreciate the work they do, that we recognise it’s dangerous and it’s difficult and they should never fear that Australians understand exactly how important the work is they do.

I think they know it too. They know how important the work is they do and even though, I’m sure all of us, would love to be at home for Christmas with our family, they do it because they’re servants of Australia.

QUESTION: You’re obviously new to the portfolio, Darwin is no doubt going to have a big role to play in the [inaudible] in the future, have you had a chance to go along to the new centre or to…

JASON CLARE: No, no, I haven’t done that to date. Separate portfolio – Minister Bowen is responsible for the operation of that facility.

My primary responsibility, as Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, is law enforcement, major organised crime, customs and border protection.

Obviously that’s the focus of attention today and my focus is on making sure that Australia does everything that it can to help to try and save lives of people who might be floating off the coast of Australia right now.

QUESTION: When should we next expect an update on these?

JASON CLARE: Well, customs are giving me regular information based on the information they get from Indonesian authorities.

I hope to be able to provide more detailed information to all Australians early tomorrow morning. But, of course, if we do get some new information that’s very important to provide to Australians, we’ll do that as soon as we possibly can.

QUESTION: You’re now the third or fourth Minister of Home Affairs since 2007, have you spoken to your predecessors, considering how fresh you are in the…

JASON CLARE: Well, yeah, well, third Minister. Bob Debus and Brendan O’Connor were in this role before me and you’re right, the best way to understand how to do a job is to talk to the person who’s done it before.

So I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Brendan O’Connor about these issues, about the challenges that you confront, not only in border protection and not only in customs, but also in organised crime, in counter terrorism, in some of the major work that’s needed to try and break up cyber crime, all of those different elements of my responsibility and I’ll continue to do that.

All right? Thanks very much.

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