Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Joint Doorstop Interview, Wye River, Victoria

29 December 2015

Wye River, Victoria

Prime Minister

Premier of Victoria

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m very pleased to be here with my wife Lucy, with the Premier, Sarah Henderson – the Member for Corangamite – and Craig Lapsley – the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner.

We’ve had a really inspiring visit here with the Wye River community. This has been a time of real tragedy. People have lost their homes, they’ve lost all their possessions, they’ve watched their homes burn down in the bushfire.

But it's also a time of triumph. This is a community that should be so proud of what it has achieved. Its leadership, its cohesion, its planning, they knew a bushfire was going to come. They knew that risk was there and they worked on their plan well in advance. They rehearsed it, they knew what to do. They knew there would be property losses but their aim was to mitigate the loss of property and ensure that no lives were lost.

Roy told us earlier that he expected many more homes to burn in the bushfire than actually did. So they saved many homes, but above all, they saved so many lives. This has been a great example – a case study, if you like – of how triumph through good planning, through leadership, through courage, professionalism, coordination, between the State Government, between the emergency management services, between DELP, the CFA, the aerial water bombing, all of that came together and ensured that no lives were lost and many houses that were expected to burn did not.

So a tragic time at Wye River – a tragic time – but one where the community has triumphed through their leadership and we are so admiring of them here, so proud of them, and their example is one that I think many other Australian communities will learn from as they too, confront these bushfires.

I should also note as the Premier has noted earlier, that there is hot weather coming in a few days. So this has been a great effort to date but the firefighters here know that the challenges are not over this season.

JOURNALIST:

What was it like hearing from those firefighters today and hearing what they went through on Christmas Day?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was genuinely inspiring – the sense of loss on the one hand, professionalism, firefighters continuing to protect other people's properties, knowing that their own properties are under threat. This community should be so proud. And Australians, Victorians, all of us, should be proud of this community here. It is really a great example that I hope many others will learn from, and I know the Premier is keen to ensure that they do and we certainly support that. And, as we’re standing shoulder to shoulder here, we do stand shoulder to shoulder with the State of Victoria in providing disaster relief and we will contribute to the cost of ensuring that the water bombers – the large air tankers – can remain for about six weeks longer than had originally been planned. This fire season has been a longer one than we have normally experienced and so it's important that those aerial resources that have been so valuable can be retained for longer.

JOURNALIST:

One of the members spoke of losing his home, Prime Minister, and then immediately going, well, I have got to consider the rest of the town, which was under serious threat. That selflessness, that act of heroics, must be pretty inspiring.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is, as I said, this has been very inspiring.  This is a case of a community that put individuals, put the service of the whole community ahead of their own self-interest, knowing that everybody was working for a common objective, and that was so mitigate, to limit the loss of property but, above all, to ensure that there was no loss of life. They did that magnificently. Tragedy, sure, there is tragedy here, but there is triumph in the midst of the tragedy.

JOURNALIST:

How would you describe what you saw up there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the damage is total. The houses have been completely wiped out, cars have been completely gutted. But you can see also the benefit of how we have seen – we drove past houses which have been built with the highest – new houses – with the highest flame-proof standards, the highest rating, all the ground burnt around them and the house is still there. So, it shows that the planning regulations that came out of the bushfire Royal Commission, out of the recent Royal Commission in Victoria, have proved their worth. But also, of course, nature can be cruel and capricious. You see one house burnt to nothing, burnt to the ground, and next door a house of similar vintage, similar age, appears untouched. So the majesty and the cruelty and the scale of nature is awesome in every respect. But, despite that, this community had the courage and the wisdom not just heroics, not just heroics, the wisdom to plan well in advance, to put in place the preparations that ensured that they were able to succeed in saving all the lives in this community. Houses have been lost and that is tragic, but they can be rebuilt. As we have said, we are all sad at the loss of property here and particularly the loss of homes and there is support from our Government, the Victorian Government and of course from people's insurance, to enable those homes to be rebuilt. But isn't it wonderful, isn't it great, that we are not mourning the loss of life here today in Wye River.

JOURNALIST:

There is speculation that people who have house insurance won't be eligible for Government grants. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that's not the case. It's very kind of you to keep asking me questions, but we have the Premier here.

PREMIER ANDREWS:

I'll just answer that question and any others and make a couple of comments about the coming days. There are grants of up to $1300 for those who are out of their home and there's nearly 50 of those payments that have been made and we anticipate there will be more people who will make application for that important funding.

I think the payments you are probably referring to are for those around a loss of a principal place of residence, where pavement payments up to $32,000 can be made. That doesn't relate to issues of insurance. This is a payment that is for those who have lost a principal place of residence and, having registered, as I think all of those who have lost their home have done, they'll be able to be processed, they'll get the care and support that they need – and not just around those payments to them personally, but the community infrastructure as well. I'm very pleased to be able to say that our support for this community won't just be for one or two days or weeks, we'll be here for as long as we need to be in partnership with the Federal Government to help rebuild, not just individual properties but to make sure that this community has a strong future and one where the infrastructure is fit for purpose and all the different challenges. Some of which are well-known now and some of which will become known in the weeks and months ahead. Everything from counselling to making sure we have the power back on, processing claims for important financial assistance and also just providing the moral support that I think everybody in this community needs.

We want to get the road reopened. That's likely to be early next week. We want to make sure that Victorians come and indeed people from right across our nation, but certainly Victorians come and spend some time down here. That's the best contribution. That's the best gift you can give this local community – a pristine, beautiful, brilliant place to bring your family. If you are listening to the warnings, if you are well informed, it is a safe place to come and visit, and that's the greatest contribution anyone can make. Come and do a day trip, come and stay overnight, come and put some of your hard-earned into this local area, this local economy will benefit from that. That's really very, very important.

Just quickly on the next couple of days – warming up tomorrow, very hot Thursday, hot Friday as well. Again, it is critically important that everybody as they are moving through those couple of hot days, just think about Wye River and then think about the fact that the best advice you can possibly follow is to leave early and live. That's the story of Wye River. Be planned, yes, but when you are given an instruction, when you are given a warning, when you have got the best of information, follow it. That's the only way you can make a proper decision, is with the best of the important information. That's what Wye River did and if communities across the State do that, then in the event of fire, it will always be much more easily managed and we hope that no lives will be lost anywhere. These are going to be challenging days but we are ready, the amount of preparation that's been done, it's been huge these last few weeks.

And just finally can I say we are very grateful to the Prime Minister for the partnership that he’s announced today around the very large air tankers and large air tankers. Those assets are very important and this is exactly what the community wants – politicians and governments at different levels getting on and working together. That partnership where the only thing that matters is good outcomes for the communities we serve, I reckon that's the sort of leadership that Victorians and indeed Australians want.

JOURNALIST:

Premier, just on the Great Ocean Road – will that be completely open?

PREMIER ANDREWS:

Again, it's all subject to safety. I would certainly hope we can have the section that's closed now, reopened next week. I don't promise that. I want to be really clear. That's my hope. That's what we are working towards. Once we get through these nasty few days of heat, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and into the weekend it is our hope and our intention to have the road reopened next week. And that's very important to get tourists back down here and to get this local economy going.

JOURNALIST:

Premier, just on that some of the forecast insurance claims, $50 million I think is the figure being thrown around, certainly the loss of revenue to the traders on Great Ocean Road, I might ask the Prime Minister as well, a massive impact and one that's going to be felt for some while?

PREMIER ANDREWS:

I can only say look this is a very big challenge and not just for a few weeks, but for a long time and whether it's loss of income, bookings that have been cancelled, together with the rebuilding costs, the very big damage bill, this will have an impact for a long time, and that's why it's important that all of us are here for this community and this local economy, not for a few weeks, but for the long-haul and that's exactly what we'll do. The PM might want to add to that.

PRIME MINISTER:

I'd just say that the disaster relief payments that the Premier referred to, as I said earlier, are funded in this case equally by the Federal Government and the Victorian Government and it's a decision of the Victorian Government to activate different types of relief. But there is a category that applies to business loss, so that's a matter for Dan and his Government and if they choose to do that, then we obviously will make our contribution in accordance with the existing arrangements.

The most important thing, of course, as the Premier said, is once it is clear that it is safe, and in compliance with all warnings, it is important to remember that this is, as we know, such a beautiful part of Victoria, such a beautiful part of Australia, and these caravan parks should fill up again. This beach should fill up again. The pubs should fill up again. We need people back here supporting the community because there's going to be to be a lot of activity here. The optimism and resilience here, you talked about inspiration, I was inspired by that. Andrew, as he was driving the bus and we were going on the tour up there, we drove past a house that had been completely raised, there was nothing left, just a few pieces of roofing iron, and it had a name on it – the Tardis – and Andrew said that the gentleman that owned it had said, "Well, there it is, it's just like the Tardis, it's here one minute, then it's gone, but it will be back, it will be back". What does that say about the resilience and the optimism of the people here? A house has been burnt down, which they are proud, but they have said okay, it's been burnt down, we have lost it, we will be back. I think it's important that everybody is back here on this coast.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, just on the Gonski agreement, is it correct that your Government's walking away from the final [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

The bottom line is that the funding after 2018 is still a matter for discussion between the Federal Government and the States. This is not a time for a political stoush about this. But, let me just say, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that all Australian kids get a great education, whatever school they go to. Funding is important, but there is a lot more to it as we all know  the key element is teacher quality and we are very focused on that. Simon Birmingham, the Education Minister, is in discussion with his colleagues and the States and we are certainly committed to ensuring that working together with the States, our common challenge has the outcome that all Australian kids get access to a high quality education.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Bob Hawke’s spoken about abolishing the states – what do you make of a stateless Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

What does the Premier make about a stateless Australia? How can you put up with Hawkey saying that, he wants to abolish you?

PREMIER ANDREWS:

Today's not a day for politics, PM. It’s partnership – that’s what it’s all about.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it isn't. It is partnership. And can I just say that Bob often makes that point, but let me say, as somebody with some experience in how hard it is to change the Australian Constitution, whatever the merits of his proposition, the States will be around, the States will out-last all of us. I have no doubt about that.

JOURNALIST:

One final issue, the Royal Commission into Trade Unions, have you read the final report?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have read all of the recommendations, yes, and I have read much of it. But let's leave it there. We'll have more to say on the Royal Commission's report tomorrow.

Okay, thanks very much.

Ends