Transcipt of Joint Press Conference
THU 31 JANUARY 2013
Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister
PM: I’m here in Bundaberg today. I’ve had the opportunity to not only see the damage in Bundaberg itself, in North Bundaberg, I’ve had the opportunity to see the damage at the port, to see it in Burnett Heads, to see it at Bagara.
I want to thank everybody who has come around with me today.
Of course I’m accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan. I was accompanied by Premier Newman at a briefing this morning, and it was good for the two of us to be in a briefing together and to get more information together about the situation here.
I’ve been here throughout the day with Paul Neville, the local member. And Paul is one of those local members who always knows what his community needs. And I want to thank him for being a key point of contact for the Government during this difficult time.
I know that he’s been in contact with Wayne Swan, he’s made sure that we’ve known what’s happening on the ground, so Paul, thank you very much.
And I’d like to thank Mal too, the local Mayor. At a time like this you need your local leadership and Mal and his team are doing a tremendous job and I had the opportunity to thank them when I saw them earlier today, and let me publically thank them now.
We’ve had an amazing day, an amazing experience. Whether it’s been talking to Terry at the evacuation centre who lost her house but just wanted to tell me what a great job the Red Cross volunteers were doing.
Whether it’s been at Bagara seeing the bowling club that was literally ripped apart in ten seconds of tornado.
Whether it’s here at this school, as the East Bundaberg State School where you can see so much damage.
Whether it’s the damage we saw at the port and the concerns there. Right around we’ve seen some remarkable sights.
This is a one in 200 year flood it’s been described as. It’s a record in terms of any records that have been kept since records were kept.
It was accompanied by tornados that did damage in seconds, and which people had no forewarning of. I met a lot of shocked people who were just in their homes going about their ordinary everyday business and then everything around them is destroyed.
So, it’s been good to be here and to be able to see with my own eyes, and to hear the local community stories about what has happened.
Every step of the way we’ve wanted to work with the local community and the State Government to make a difference as this community got itself through the emergency and then into the recovery phase.
We’ve made available assets from the Australian Defence Force and I want to thank the guys that we can see over there who are doing so much work.
We quickly made available four Blackhawk helicopters, which were pivotal to getting people off roofs and rescuing people out of danger.
We made available Hercules aircraft – two of them – to assist with the evacuation of Bundaberg Hospital.
We made available one of our huge aircraft, a C-17, which is capable of moving enormous amounts of equipment, and did so to assist with what was happening here.
The ADF has assisted with the provision of fuel, and now we’ve got 220 ADF personnel here, boots on the ground, integrated with this local community – indeed all of these communities – helping with the clean-up. So I’m really proud of their efforts.
We’ve also triggered payments to assist people of various natures across 50 local government districts in Queensland, and ten in New South Wales.
We do this is partnership with the State Government through the natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements. And so now in various parts of Queensland there is assistance for personal hardship, there is assistance to help with clean-up for households.
And we have just made available assistance with concessional loans for primary producers and small businesses that have been knocked around by these floods and tornados.
That has also been turned on, put into activation for people here in Bundaberg and people will be able to get all of the details, and that’s something Paul was very anxious to see done, to support primary producers and businesses through.
In addition, as a Federal Government, we have triggered what is called the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment for here in Bundaberg, and as necessary we will make the payment available as communities around Bundaberg also move into recovery.
This is a payment to give people a first-instance assistance of $1000 so that they can deal with the emergency cost they face when they’re out of their homes, when there’s severe damage to their homes.
So people can work out their eligibility for all of that by ringing the hotline, which is 180 22 66, and we do have 40 of our Centrelink staff on the ground here to assist people.
In conclusion we are also today announcing that on top of what will be hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditure into Queensland to help communities through these floods and tornados, we will make available $1 million for the Queensland flood appeal 2013, and we will ensure that people’s donations to that flood appeal are tax deductable.
So if you’ve been moved by what you’ve seen across Queensland and here, then you can do something practical no matter where you are in Australia, and that’s get on the website and make a donation. And I know that that money will go to assist communities in all of the special ways that communities want to work together as they recover.
Community effort helping with community needs so I urge people to take that donation opportunity very seriously.
If I can just say finally, congratulations too to the representatives of the Mud Army who are here, we’ve got ADF here, real army personnel here, but the Mud Army are famous themselves, they’re the Queenslanders who come out in the worst of times and get themselves covered in mud in order to assist their fellow Queenslander.
I’ve seen a lot of that on display today, and congratulations to them.
I’ll turn now to the Deputy Prime Minister for some comments.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Prime Minister. I too wanted to pay tribute to the efforts of the Mud Army, not just here but right across south-east Queensland where communities have been devastated.
We can see behind us here literally dozens of volunteers have come out to work, and the local community deeply appreciates that. But of course, Government has to play its role.
And that’s what the Federal and State Governments have been doing here. The Federal Government, in particular, through the deployment of our Defence forces.
I want to pay tribute to the work of Paul Neville and the Mayor, Mal Foreman. They were in touch with me I think Sunday afternoon through Monday talking directly to us about what the needs of this local community were.
And we worked with the State Government to make sure that Defence forces were deployed, the Blackhawk helicopters were particularly important in saving lives here early in the week.
But also you can see the great work being done by our personnel here today assisting the local community.
So we’re all up here to get an update if you like, but of course the recovery is going to take a long time and we will be there working with local government and the State Government to make sure we can do our very best to assist local communities like this.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in all how much do you anticipate these measures costing?
PM: Can I say we are here because of the natural disasters people are facing so we will take questions on that.
We can't tell yet. Because you can't tell the degree of the damage until the flood waters are all gone and you can see what’s underneath.
We have certainly seen some damage today to roads and the local bridge and to community assets, but we can't do the full evaluation until we're further into the recovery. And we will be working through all of the proper arrangements with the State Government to support communities as they recover.
I anticipate we are talking in the hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal Government investment, and in addition we did want to spur others to donate for those community needs by making $1 million dollars available for the appeal.
JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to the arrest of Craig Thomson?
PM: I will take this first and then come back to you.
JOURNALIST: Is there any chance of introducing a levy to help cover the costs?
PM: I will get the Treasurer to answer that.
DPM: It is far too early to speculate about how much this will cost or how it will be funded.
I mean, there are people here who are still putting their lives back together. This river has got a way to go down. Thorough assessments must be done.
It is far too early to put a number on the cost of this tragic event, but we will handle it responsibly.
So I’m not going to speculate about any of those matters. It is totally inappropriate at this stage to be in that sort of speculation.
JOURNALIST: The Queensland Treasurer is accusing the Federal Government of reneging on a disaster relief funding arrangement from over the last couple of years.
DPM: Look I don't think that that's so. The Commonwealth Government is providing well in excess of $6 billion to Queensland for the natural disasters that occurred two years ago.
As I understand it, the state Auditor-General must sign off on the payment of this money from the Federal Government. As soon as the state Auditor-General signs that piece of paper, the money can be provided. That's just the law of the land.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what's your reaction to the arrest of Craig Thomson?
PM: I've heard that there are media reports about this and I don't know anything else about it except getting briefed that there are media reports. It's something for the police.
JOURNALIST: Did you have any prior knowledge that he was going to be arrested?
PM: Of course not.
JOURNALIST: His lawyer has confirmed that he has been arrested under the Victorian Police investigation and he has been down to the police station. Surely you have got some sort of reaction to that?
PM: You may well be in front of me. I've been focused here on what’s happening in these communities and I've just been quickly told about things that are in the media and I don’t know anything more about it than that, so it’s a matter for the police.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried about a by-election in Craig Thomson's seat?
PM: Look, it is a matter for the police. All I know is that there are some media reports. I don’t know anything else about the matter, so I can't take it any further.
JOURNALIST: Is this is a rocky start to your election campaign?
PM: I dealt with this this morning and I’m not here to talk about these matters. But I would refer you to my words this morning about when the election is.
Today is a day to be here talking to communities about what's happening to them in circumstances of natural disaster.
JOURNALIST: Should Craig Thomson stand aside if he has been arrested and charged?
PM: Look, I’m not going to speculate when my state of knowledge is I've been told there are some media reports.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott says the Craig Thomson issue is an issue of your judgment. What do you say to that?
PM: Look I’m not going to engage in any of that sort of argy-bargy today. I'm here to talk to local communities about the natural disaster
JOURNALIST: Is this embarrassing on your first day of the election campaign?
PM: I refer you to my comments this morning about what this period is; it’s a period of governing.
REPORTER: There are suggestions that you could have possibly been here sooner. What are your comments on that?
PM: I always try to get on the ground to meet with local communities. It's always a question of judgment about when it's best to come.
I don't want to come when the emergency is right in the thick of it when people's attention is going to be on getting people off roofs and saving lives, because I don't want to in any way divert anybody's attention or anybody's effort.
So I try to make a judgment call about as soon as I can get there, after the immediate emergency phase has passed, and people are moving into recovery.
JOURNALIST: Police have in the AWU investigation have been conducting interviews in New South Wales and Queensland, have police contacted you or your office?
PM: No, I've dealt with that previously and the answer’s still no.
JOURNALIST: Have you taken any legal advice in regards to that investigation?
PM: Once again, I saw, I think, there was a report in The Australian a week or so back and that's all I know about that too.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it frustrating for you, I mean you have the momentum yesterday at the Press Club, you’re out here today but all you seem to be talking about is a Labor scandal, is that frustrating?
PM: Well what we’re here doing is the work of Government. And I was very clear yesterday that these are the days of governing.
And it's central to the role of government that we are there to assist people when they most need the helping hand of government.
I spoke yesterday about what my vision for Australia is. It is a place where people have a great opportunity to get ahead, but when something really bad happens, they know that they won't just be left by themselves, that there will be people there to support.
That's our role and that's what we're doing today.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) announced an election date yesterday while people were still suffering?
PM: Well, let's be clear about yesterday's announcement. I would refer you to what I said on TV – sorry at the National Press Club yesterday.
The election will be 14 September. So no-one who is dealing with anything to do with this emergency needs to give that a moment's thought.
There will be plenty of time in the run-up to 14 September for people to turn their minds to that.
That's why I announced the election date so it would be absolutely clear to people the days of governing, as opposed to the days of campaigning.
The election will actually be called on 12 August, for voting on 14 September. Everybody here has got something else to do, and they can well and truly keep their focus on it.
We're governing, that's what we're here doing.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried that it is a new strategy, I mean more than 100 years of federation and no-one has ever called an election so far out. Is there a political reason for that?
PM: I gave all of my reasons yesterday and I’d refer you to the speech. I'm here today to talk about what's the happening here in Bundaberg and also in the other communities that I have visited.
JOURNALIST: If there were to be a by-election in Craig Thomson's seat, would the date of the federal election change?
PM: I'm not speculating about a police matter about which I have only been briefed, I haven't even read myself the media reports.
The election is the date I announced yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, does it surprise you how the communities such as Bundaberg come together in these types of events?
PM: It’s great community spirit, and in many ways I'm not surprised. I’ve been here before in tough circumstances in the summer between 2010 and 2011 when Bundaberg faced flood, and had the opportunity then to see the way that people were pulling together.
Now this is so much worse and I've gone and pointed at the gauge myself to show how much worse it is. I mean, this is an absolute record-buster, so, so much worse and consequently so much more to do.
But everything I saw on display at that time, of the sort of spirit that's here, I'm seeing on display today and it is a great tribute to the local people.
Thanks very much.