Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has expressed condolences to the Government and people of the Solomon Islands.
Richard Marles, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
Bruce Hill asked him if Solomon Islands has made a formal request for disaster aid.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker:Richard Marles, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs
MARLES: Yeah Bruce we got that request during the afternoon so that now is in place and I've been in contact with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands this afternoon and we will be talking with them in more detail over the coming days about exactly what support we provide. But right now there is a RAAF Hercules which is in the air which we've despatched which we will be doing a flyover of the affected islands today. It will be looking at how we can deploy that better tomorrow. One of the issues today has been that the airstrip at Lata has not been operable until the last few hours because the tsunami actually went over the airstrip which meant that it was unable to land aircraft this morning. But I understand that it's in a better state now and small planes will be able to go in and we hope that larger ones will in the days to come. The other point to make is that one of the patrol boats, which the Solomon Islands has, which have been supplied by the Australian government but they're run by the Solomon Islands, is getting ready to head down to the islands, that's about a 30 hour sailing time. So it'll take a day or two to get down there and be able to provide a sense of what's going on and start the process of reconstruction.
HILL: Once we've done another flyover and we've actually got some people on the ground and the Solomon Islands government's got some people on the ground with the assessments, do we know what kind of support they're going to be needing? Are we talking about food, medicine, that sort of thing?
MARLES: I think they are the kind of things and I think in time there'll also be a reconstruction effort which is going to be required. There is certainly going to be some damage to housing, but the extent of that we're unable to determine at the moment. But they are exactly the kinds of things that will be needed. I think one of the things we really need to understand is the extent of injury, obviously in terms of loss of life. At this point the number that is being reported by the Solomon Islands government is seven. But we're talking about a really remote part of the world Bruce, it's the better part of 700 nautical miles from Honiara itself. Normally it's serviced irregularly by twin otter aircraft, and it's actually closer to Vanuatu than it is to Honiara. And there are going to be remote villages there that it's going to take some time to get to, and until we get to them, we're actually not going to know what the full extent of injury and loss of life is.
HILL: It's a particularly challenging part of the world, very, very remote even from the main part of Solomon Islands, quite a long way from anywhere. So once the airstrip at Lata is cleared off is that going to be able to take any of the larger planes, or does it only take smaller aircraft?
MARLES: No I think it will be able to take larger planes once it is cleared off. My understanding is as of this minute it can take Dash-8, which is a smaller aircraft, but it needs to be in a state where it can actually take some larger aircraft so that we can be looking at landing people and supplies in there. But these are all issues which are being worked through by the Solomon Islands Disaster Management Council. I know it met last night. The Solomon Islands cabinet is actually meeting as we speak in relation to these issues. And we're obviously working very closely with the Solomon Islands government to work out what assistance we can provide as this unfolds. But today we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the Solomon Islands, because this is a very difficult moment.
HILL: When you spoke with the Solomon Islands Prime Minister earlier today what did he have to tell you about what they needed and what they'd like from Australia?
MARLES: Well it was short, I was in contact with him, he'd actually been in a cabinet meeting and so to be honest with you we were actually swapping texts during that. But I think he appreciated the fact that we were offering support and it means a lot and their desire is to make sure that we're able to be there for whatever is needed, and that's going to be worked out over the days to come.