ADF ‘ready to fly’ as death toll rises in New Caledonia, NZDF Hercules awaits French approval 

About 300 Australians are stranded in New Caledonia, where France has imposed a state of emergency. (AP PHOTO)

As Australians stranded in New Caledonia amid unrest beg for help to come home, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong says the defence force is “ready to fly” once commercial flights to the territory resume. 

Six people have been killed in the French-ruled Pacific Island territory during the upheaval, sparked over contested electoral reform, and a state of emergency has been declared. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was quizzed on Sunday about reports locals were running out of food and a pause in commercial flights. 

“The Australian government is closely monitoring events in New Caledonia,” he told reporters. 

“Commercial flights stopped a couple of days ago. We are looking at in what way we can provide assistance to Australians who are currently in New Caledonia.” 

Senator Wong said in a post to the social media platform X, the government is working with French authorities so any Australians who wish to leave can do so. 

“The Australian Defence Force is ready to fly, pending commercial flights resuming,” she said. 

“French authorities advise the situation on the ground is preventing flights. We continue to pursue approvals.” 

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is ready to send a Hercules to Noumea to bring New Zealanders home as soon as the French give permission to do so.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is in contact with around 250 New Zealanders in New Caledonia registered on SafeTravel. But they cannot leave until the airport has reopened and the roads are safe to use.

Defence Minister Judith Collins, in Italy for the Battle of Monte Cassino commemorations, told Morning Report on Monday morning everything was ready to go.

“My understanding – and I’ve been keeping up to date with this – is that the NZDF is really willing and able to go and to collect New Zealanders. But of course… there’s issues that the French government obviously needs to sort out around the airport and the road to the airport.””

Hundreds of armed French police used non-lethal grenades and tanks to clear protesters and roadblocks cutting off access between New Caledonia’s airport and main city Noumea.

The French territory’s High Commissioner Louis Le Franc said it took more than 600 gendarmes to clear the road, and would take more time to remove the burnt out vehicles and other obstacles from the route.

Le Franc said more than 230 people have been arrested since unrest boiled over last Monday – sparked by anger at a proposed new law that would allow French residents who have lived there for more than 10 years to vote, which some say will weaken the indigenous Kanak vote.

In the last week six people have been killed, homes, schools and businesses have been burnt down and police stations ransacked. People have not been able to reach the hospital, and ambulances are unable to travel.

Coralie Cochin, a journalist with New Caledonia’s La Première news service, told Morning Report the situation had calmed somewhat since the arrival of police reinforcements.

“There were not enough, clearly. So, it’s not calm for everybody in all the neighbourhoods, but it’s a little bit better this morning.””

She said there were concerns the road to the airport might still not be usable, because “each time they try to reopen the road, some new roadblocks appear again”.

Other roadblocks were blocking access to hospitals, she said.

“I was doing some reports for my radio and I interviewed somebody who lost his uncle… the man who was 40 years old, he died. He had diabetes, and he really needed to go to the hospital to have dialysis, and it was impossible.

“And what we fear here in New Caledonia is that a lot of other people have to deal with that kind of situation, not to be able to be cured,” she said.