Breakfast with Fran Kelly, Radio National

Interview

WTC006/2014

24 March 2014

Search for MH370,
Refugees, China FTA

Fran Kelly: Two gigantic Chinese transport planes have now joined the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The search for the plane, which went missing with 239 people on board, is now stretching into its third week and the search zone in the Southern Indian Ocean has been expanded again from 25,000 square kilometres to more than 36,000 square kilometres now.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss spent some time over the weekend at the RAAF base Pearce just outside of Perth, which is now basically the nerve centre for this massive international operation. He's back in Canberra now, Warren Truss good morning, welcome back to Breakfast.

Warren Truss: Good morning.

Fran Kelly: Eight planes as I understand it. HMAS Success scoured the search zone until late yesterday. Minister, can you report if they've found anything of interest, anything more to add on this mystery?

Warren Truss: Well, there was nothing of note found yesterday at some of the key sites where there's been interest and where debris has been found on earlier occasions. We've searched again but that debris was not sighted. So it was a fruitless day. We'll be at it again today; the first aircraft will be taking off fairly shortly. There'll be 10 aircraft involved today, including for the first time the two Chinese Ilyushin aircraft. They'll be searching in the area where the debris was discovered by the Chinese satellite, they'll be checking that area out again. It is a very difficult task. The weather yesterday wasn't too bad, although there was early morning fog. Today we expect the weather to deteriorate and of course the forecasts ahead are not all that good. So it's going to be a challenge but we'll stick at it.

Fran Kelly: And this challenge—we heard last week from one expert suggesting—oh, actually from Admiral Barry I think, that from the aircraft is the best chance of finding something and eyes on is the way to do this, it's all visual searches, not radar, why not?

Warren Truss: Well, certainly radar can be useful but the best way to see—to find these things is with eyes. That's why we're using civilian aircraft; you can fit quite a lot of observers on a civilian aircraft, particularly the Airbus A319, which is just a smaller version of the aircraft that Jetstar and other airlines operate around the countryside. Put quite a few observers on that. There's a team of about 20 Western Australian SES volunteers who are on those civilian aircraft and they're looking out for physical signs of anything that perhaps potentially could be related to the aircraft.

Fran Kelly: We now have satellite images, the original ones from the US satellite, then over the weekend Chinese satellite pictures and then overnight from France, all showing floating objects in the search zone, though that's quite a large zone within its self. Can you tell us any more detail about what these images, particularly the latest ones from France are telling—are showing?

Warren Truss: Well certainly the search area's very large. Today it'll be around 68,000 square kilometres, so it's a lot of water to look for just perhaps a tiny object.

Fran Kelly: But are we zeroing in onto that 100 or 200 square kilometres that the satellites seem to be overlapping?

Warren Truss: Well, certainly the areas where debris has been picked up by satellites are of particular interest and they're the focus of a lot of the searching. Now, the French sighting is, I guess, a piece of new material because that's in a completely different location. That's about 850 kilometres north of our current search area, so we need to check that out as well. That's not in the area that had been identified as the most likely place where the aircraft may have entered the sea, but having said all that we've got to check out all the options. You know, we still don't even know for certain that the aircraft's even in this area. We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts.

Fran Kelly: Tropical Cyclone Gillian is on its way, is that likely to affect the search area?

Warren Truss: Well, clearly it won't be cyclonic when it gets down into the freezing waters that we're dealing with with this search, but certainly it could stir up less favourable weather and, as we mentioned earlier, looking visibly for debris or anything of interest, that's the best chance of success. And if you can't see then, of course, we've got to rely on instruments and radar and that's helpful but it can't pick up some of the things that we might be looking for and it's also—these objects might be quite tiny.

Fran Kelly: And Minister it's, as you say, it's an international search now. The Chinese—we have these two Ilyushin transport planes. The Chinese have also sent the icebreaker the Xue Long and I understand that China's Oceanic Administration has set up a working group to manage the Xue Long search. Sounds a little like Chinese wants to direct oper… China wants to direct operations here. Who is managing all these assets and are individual countries managing their own assets?

Warren Truss: Well, certainly it's an international cooperative effort. This is in the Australian search area, it's a Malaysian plane, there are a lot of Chinese citizens on board and so many, many countries have interest. Some of the key assets are owned by a country like the US or even France now contributing by way of satellite pictures. So it's a real international effort. Australia obviously has control of the search because it's in our search and rescue area, but we appreciate the support of the Chinese and they'll be working cooperatively with us in this gesture and, in addition to that, the Japanese will have some Orion, similar to the aircraft that Australia operates, they'll also be involved in the search. The Chinese…

Fran Kelly: Is there a time limit on this search Minister?

Warren Truss: Well, the black box recorder on the aircraft will emit signals for about a month, so that's obviously the first critical point. Now the signals may go on for quite a long period after that and, of course, in the case of the aircraft that disappeared from Air France, it was a year or more after that they were still able to recover the black box. That would be the critical piece of information that we might be able to get from the aircraft in the event of us being able to discover it, and that would help very much more to understand what happened on the aircraft and what sort of things we may need to do in the future to make sure that any incident or mechanical failure doesn't happen again.

Fran Kelly: It's 16 to 8 on Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

Minister, on another issue, the Prime Minister was in PNG on the weekend. He now says that other countries in the Pacific region should share the burden of resettling Manus Island detainees who are found to be refugees. Which other countries does the Government have in mind, and have they approached any?

Warren Truss: Well, well talk to any countries that are interested in being involved in settling some of the refugees. Clearly the numbers are such that it's really tough for any small country to be able to manage them, but it is an international responsibility to deal with these people, especially those that are found to be genuine refugees. Now, obviously…

Fran Kelly: But if it's an international responsibility—I mean, we're the biggest power in the region. These other countries, as you say, are small, tiny some of them, and some of them pretty poor. Why would we expect them to take this burden when we're not taking any of these people?

Warren Truss: Well, we have 30,000 already, so we have already taken the lion's share of the burden. Many of these people who are in Manus are obviously not genuine refugees, and we'll return to their home country, but there will be…

Fran Kelly: Well, we don't know that yet, do we?

Warren Truss: Well, the information coming from New Guinea suggests that that's their preliminary findings, and that's been consistent with the commentary of Senator Carr back when he was Foreign Minister, and I guess the experience of dealing with those come since then. Most of them will not pass that test, but some will, and they then need to be resettled.

Fran Kelly: So Australia is already talking to other companies—countries? Because this is the first we've heard that other countries will be asked to resettle, isn't it?

Warren Truss: Well, no. I think that's been discussed quite widely in the past that there will be—need to be other countries involved, and both the previous Labor Government and ourselves have been talking to other countries.

Fran Kelly: And which other countries?

Warren Truss: Well, I don't think it'd be appropriate to canvas which countries might be involved, but certainly we are keen to talk to any of the countries that might be prepared to play a part in this resettlement.

Fran Kelly: And just finally, Minister, is it true that the National Party is relaxed about raising the investment levels with China in a free trade agreement with China? Where would you draw the line in the sand in terms of buying agricultural land and agribusinesses?

Warren Truss: Well, there were some, I guess, elements of the Korean free trade agreement which dealt with this issue, and they were broadly satisfactory to us, and similar arrangements in relation to China may not cause a problem. There are…

Fran Kelly: So you're happy with a billion trade—a billion dollar level for general trade and—but much lower levels for agri-trade?

Warren Truss: Well, we think that agriculture and agribusiness should be on the sensitive list, like media and a whole stack of other things, and that's the kind of principles that underpinned the Korean arrangement. Now, we'd need to see also the quality of the agreement generally. If it's an agreement that delivers significant benefits for agriculture, for all Australian farmers, then that's the kind of agreement we'd want to have, and we always know that in making a trade agreement you have to concede some things to win other benefits.

Fran Kelly: Okay.

Warren Truss: So it'll be the overall quality of the agreement that'll be the most important thing for us to take into account in making considerations, but certainly we wouldn't—we think that what happened in relation to Korea is a model that was acceptable in that instance, and it may well be acceptable again in the case of China.

Fran Kelly: Warren Truss, thank you very much for joining us.

Warren Truss: You're welcome.

Fran Kelly: Warren Truss is the Deputy Prime Minister.