Defence aircraft poised for New Caledonia evacuation

Tess Ikonomou and Kat Wong |

Anthony Albanese is defending support for Australians stuck in violence-hit New Caledonia.
Anthony Albanese is defending support for Australians stuck in violence-hit New Caledonia.

Australians stranded in New Caledonia could be offered a route home if a military aircraft is allowed into the island nation.

At least six people have died and hundreds more were injured after violence erupted in the French Pacific territory last week.

As a result, the La Tontouta International Airport is closed until further notice, making it difficult for the government to help Australians.

Responding to reports the consulate in Noumea had closed and Australians on the ground were organising help among themselves, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese defended his government.

“Australia’s response over a period of time … is, I think, amongst, certainly equal to, anywhere in the world,” the prime minister told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“At the moment, the airport is closed so, the planes can’t get in, but Air Force have been on stand-by for the last 48 hours and they remain ready to provide that assistance to evacuate Australians who wish to leave.

“We continue to pursue approvals because the Australian Defence Force is ready to fly when it’s permitted to do so.”

The Australian government’s Smartraveller website upgraded its advice and urged Australians to reconsider travel plans to New Caledonia.

“Political demonstrations and protests are occurring and may turn more violent at short notice,” its website says.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said she and her New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters had spoken with French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne to convey condolences, request access to the territory and “express our gratitude for French efforts to restore calm”.

Consul-General of France in Sydney Martin Juillard said the consulate was working in close co-ordination with French associations to help New Caledonian families who are not able to go back home.

“This is a joint effort, where we work together, try not to overlap and make sure that all basic humanitarian needs are met,” he said.

Blockade in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Residents have blockaded roads in Noumea, restricting movement on the island. (AP PHOTO)

Mr Albanese said he wasn’t aware of the “precise circumstances” relating to Australia’s consulate in Noumea.

Australians in need of emergency consular assistance are urged to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Fearful Australians stuck on the island have likened the deteriorating situation to a war zone and there are concerns food supplies could run out.

French reinforcements have arrived and are trying to stem further unrest, with buildings razed, shops looted and barricaded roads blocking movement.

New rules changing who is allowed to participate in the nation’s elections have been slammed by the Indigenous Kanak people, who fear their vote will be diluted by thousands of French nationals who have moved to the island.

They are also angry New Caledonia remains governed by France and want independence.