One of the world’s most powerful men, US Vice-President Mike Pence, has touched down in Cairns in Far North Queensland, ahead of the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.
The high-ranking dignitary arrived on Air Force II at the Cairns Airport under the cover of darkness and surrounded by dozens of security officials, including the Secret Service.
He was greeted on the tarmac by Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack and several other officials including Cairns Mayor Bob Manning and Charge d’Affaires James Caruso.
Mr McCormack said it was a positive, but balmy welcome.
“A little bit warm, I’m not sure if he’s used to being so warm at this time of year,” he said.
“He is the Vice-President of the United States of America so obviously there’s always going to be a big motorcade, a lot of security. But it’s great to have him here in Australia.
“In the morning I’ll be having a bilateral discussion with Mike Pence about trade and all the important things that are so relevant to Australia and the United States of America.”
Queensland’s Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said he hoped it would boost the Cairns tourism industry.
“We had a brief chat about Cairns and I said to him: ‘You’ve just landed and it’s dark, but when you fly out over New Guinea, make sure you have a good look out the right-hand side of the aircraft. The Great Barrier Reef’s there and you can’t miss it.'” Mr Crawford said.
“Hopefully we get a bit of a tourism plug there. You don’t have to have a lot to get good exposure.”
Security beefed up ahead of Cairns hosting leaders
Dozens of high-security cars were brought across from the US to transport the Vice-President and his wife Karen around the tropical city.
Mr Pence will base himself in the city and fly in and out of Port Moresby over the weekend — about a 90-minute trip each way.
Several other leaders are also expected to stay in Cairns, although who exactly those leaders are is being kept a closely guarded secret.
Airspace at the Port Moresby airport is limited, and the Cairns Airport is being used as an “overflow” for several large jets.
Security in Cairns has been stepped up with extra police sent to the region.
Police have been conducting practice motorcades down the main street in the Cairns CBD this week.
North Queensland police chief Superintendent Kev Guteridge said parking restrictions were in place in some areas, including the Hilton Hotel in the CBD, where the US Vice-President and his entourage are staying.
“It’s just about making sure we’re in a position to respond to anything, or more importantly prevent anything that may happen,” Superintendent Guteridge said.
“There’s been negotiations across the entire range of policing operations here to make sure every possible contingency we can think of is catered for.”
Plane spotting enthusiasts jostle for positions at Cairns Airport
Cairns local Steven Bottom has been involved in plane-spotting for more than four decades and said fellow spotters were flying in from around the country to take in the show.
He has been studying the arrivals and departures of the visiting aircraft.
“The Sultan of Brunei has a private 747-800 jet that has gold and marble from one end to the other inside and it’s very special,” he said.
“We’ve never had that kind of variety come through.”
He said Sunday would be the “big day” for plane-spotting.
“That’s when Sultan’s jet will depart at 6am … the Americans go at about 9am,” he said.
Leichardt MP Warren Entsch said there was a lot of anticipation about the visit and he hoped the Far North Queensland location would entice the world leaders to explore the region.
“I’d love some of them to put their feet in the saltwater and wander through the rainforest,” he said.
“The most engaging thing while here will be the people. And they’ve got great views where they’re staying — they’ve got five floors.
“It’s first class plus.”