MEDIA – ABC Radio Darwin – Transcript – Australia’s response to Timor-Leste floods underwhelming

DARWIN – Tuesday 13 April 2021

LIZ TREVASKIS, HOST: Over the last week, the Timorese and Portuguese Social Club in Marrara here in Darwin has been filled with donations from Darwinites who want to help the people of East Timor, who are overcoming devastating floods and earthquakes. But while the response in Darwin has been so inspiring, logistical issues are currently holding up those donated goods from getting to their destination. There’s around about three or four shipping containers worth of donations.

Roya De Castro, one of the people coordinating donations here in Darwin, told us yesterday that although some shipping containers have been secured, they need a faster way to get those donations to Timor-Leste:

AUDIO – ROYA DE CASTRO: We would probably need a helicopter transport, because that’s probably one of the easiest ways to access those areas that are in urgent need of food and water. I think even from Darwin, we’ve got all these donations sitting here waiting to go by ship. And I truly believe that with the support of the Australian military force, they could get to Dili a lot quicker and could be transported out to those community.

TREVASKIS: So, donations sitting in Darwin. I think it’s another week until those shipping containers are due to depart. Roya’s suggesting there that helicopters are going to be needed when the goods arrive in Dili to get out to the more remote areas. So even if we can get the donations there more quickly, how they are then distributed is the question that she has.

So what can be done?

Luke Gosling is the federal Member for Solomon and has spent much of his life living and working in Timor-Leste. Luke, have you spoken to people within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading about using Australian air forces to ship goods to Timor? What are the conversations you’ve been having?

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Yes, g’day Liz. I have been talking to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Minister’s office, Marise Payne. So far, I think what Australia’s announced has been underwhelming in terms of a response. The Timorese have written to the Australian Federal Government asking for support with emergency water, food, shelter, but also with the logistics to enable them to get support out to cut-off areas of East Timor that aren’t able to be reached by road. That’s just a fact that East Timor doesn’t have any helicopters and doesn’t have airports the same way that Australia does, where goods can be flown around to those isolated areas that usually mountainous.

So there is absolutely a need for some helicopter support. The Australian Defence Force is ready for these types of operations. And I want to see a greater sense of urgency, as many Australians do, to help the Timorese with the serious challenges that they face to get water and food and medical supplies to people in need.

TREVASKIS: What is the Australian Government doing at the moment in response to this situation?

GOSLING: We have about 50 Australian Defence Force personnel on the ground in Dili as part of our defence cooperation programme, and they’re working with the Timorese Defence Force. So they’ve been able to provide some support in terms of there’s a couple of engineers over there, some communications people, etcetera. But that’s not going to be enough for the types of supports that the Timorese Government needs to look after its people.

Now, we’ve got a situation where over 40 people have been killed in those Easter floods. There’s been damage from the cyclones to infrastructure. There’s been landslides that have cut off roads. Bridges have disappeared down the river. That’s led to these communities being cut off. So clearly, the amount of support needs to increase so that we can help Timor with those logistic issues, which will enable them to get food and water in particular, and health supplies to these kind of communities.

In Dili itself, there’s 14,000 internally displaced people. So if you think about the TIO Stadium at the biggest football match you’ve ever seen in Darwin, that many people are living in evacuation centres inside the capital, just one hour away from Darwin. So we need to see a greater sense of urgency by the Department of Foreign Affairs, who is meant to be leading our response and get the Defence Force to provide the support that’s needed.

TREVASKIS: What specifically does the Defence Force need to be doing at the moment?

GOSLING: Ships, Royal Australian Navy ships have been purchased by the Federal Government so that Australia can respond to contingencies exactly as we’re seeing happening in Timor-Leste. So we have ships called LHDS that have the ability to take a lot of stores and helicopters, go to Dili and provide that immediate support to them to deal with these serious logistical issues they’ve got. Let’s not forget that this is all happening in a time of COVID as well. So that needs to be factored into the planning. But that can be done from a ship, a helicopter used to resupply, cut off and isolated parts of Timor. That can be done in a COVID-safe way, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

TREVASKIS: Luke Gosling, you’ve seen the generosity of Territorians and Darwinites, people in the Top End especially over the last week making donations. They’re in shipping containers here in Darwin donated by a local businessman. But there are some sort of logistical issues holding up those shipping containers from leaving here and actually getting to Dili. So all of these donations that have been made, they’re still sitting here for another week in Darwin. Is there some way that the Federal Government can help with those donations in particular?

GOSLING: Yeah, that’s a good question, Liz, and if we knew anything about what the Federal Government plans to do on top of the, as I said, pretty underwhelming support they’ve already announced, we would be able to get an answer to that question. But let’s not forget that up to 14,000 people have lost everything. So there’s immediate needs and then it’s rebuilding homes-type needs, where all of those donations from Darwinites are going to come in so handy and be so appreciated.

So those shipping containers of support will get the Timor. The Defence Force could play a role. Let’s see if they’re able to or not. But in the first instance, there are there is this need to help the Timorese Government provide food, water, health supplies to isolated communities. And we want to see that happen as soon as possible.

TREVASKIS: Alright, we’ll wrap it up there. Luke Gosling, thanks for your time.

GOSLING: Cheers, Liz.