Transcript of doorstop interview, Brisbane
SUN 30 JANUARY 2011
Subject(s): Egypt; Government’s flood relief package
PM: Despite being here at the cricket which is obviously a great event, I do want to open up by making some comments on Egypt. People will have seen on their TV screens the huge demonstrations that are happening in Egypt and some of the associated violence. The Australian Government certainly understands the desire of the people of Egypt for reform, for democracy - we understand that – but we are monitoring the situation closely and calling on everybody to exercise calm and restraint. To make sure that the security forces are being restrained, and also to make sure that demonstrations are peaceful.
There are a number of Australians in Egypt, there are around 870 who are officially registered and we believe the number of Australians in Egypt is likely to be in the thousands. Our message to Australians in Egypt is stay away from demonstrations and if it is safe to travel to exit Egypt, then do so.
Today as a result of monitoring the situation in Egypt and the intensity of the demonstrations there, we have upgraded the travel warning for Australians, the travel warning now says do not travel. It’s a very clear message to Australians who may have been contemplating travelling to Egypt, do not travel.
We have increased our consular ability in Egypt to support Australians who are already there but I would very clearly give the message to anybody contemplating travel, please observe the travel advisory and when you do you will see that it very clearly says do not travel to Egypt in current circumstances.
I’m very happy to take questions on that or any other matter, and I’m obviously here with the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the CBA’s move this morning to put up about $57 million to help people affected by the floods?
PM: Can I say about that, Wayne Swan and I in Queensland a few short days ago had a meeting with corporate Australia and we thanked them for the generosity they’d shown so far but also asked them to step up efforts, and since that time we’ve seen things like the RACQ announce its compassionate arrangement for people insured with it and I’m really pleased to see the announcement from the Commonwealth Bank today. This is an announcement of a big dollar figure, it combines a compassionate approach to insurance claims with direct assistance to flood victims, so it’s great to see the Commonwealth Bank taking that further move.
We will continue to keep working with corporate Australia, they’ve shown a lot of generosity so far, but there’s more to do and as there’s more to do in recovery over the weeks and months ahead, we’ll continue through our business roundtable to be staying in touch with corporate Australia, asking for cash donations and help but also asking for in-kind donations to make a difference to communities.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the idea of an ongoing federal disaster assistance fund once this has all blown over?
PM: Look I understand that people want to talk their way through that question about our long-term disaster arrangements. I would make this point that we are a nation that unfortunately very regularly sees fire and floods and other forms of natural disasters, and in the ordinary course we can deal with them through our normal natural disaster arrangements. What’s been different this time is just the sheer size, scale and economic cost of the floods in Queensland particularly. So this is likely to be the most costly natural disaster we’ve ever seen in economic terms and that’s why special arrangements have been structured.
So I understand people will want to have that long-term conversation, but my message to the Parliamentarians who will gather in Canberra next week is that passing the Government’s package for flood relief is an urgent task, we want to get on with the job, get on with rebuilding Queensland.
JOURNALIST: What message do you have for Queenslanders who are now looking at the two cyclones this week?
PM: After the summer that’s been you just think can any more cruel blows actually land on Queensland and the nation and unfortunately the answer seems to be yes.
Queenslanders are obviously bracing for Tropical Cyclone Anthony and at the same time we’ve got people in the south west of this country in Western Australia bracing for Cyclone Bianca.
My message to people in affected communities, whether they be in Queensland or in the west, is make the preparations that you are being urged to do by emergency services personnel, we’ve got fantastic emergency personnel here in Queensland and right around the country, people need to listen their warnings, they need to be making the preparations that they’re being asked to make and at all times respond to the advice of emergency services personnel.
We’re all made of tough stuff and we’ll get through this but this is another big cruel blow coming on top of what has been a summer of tragedy already.
JOURNALIST: Have you had any chance to talk to the independents over the levy package?
PM: We will be briefing the independents, we will be briefing all members of Parliament and asking them to get on with passing this packing as quickly as possible, it is urgent to put the package in place, it is urgent to assist the people of Queensland, but I would also say I think there is a message in this for Mr Abbott, now is the time to be looking at the national interest, not his political interest, and I understand that Mr Abbott’s instinct when the Government says something is to always say no, but it really doesn’t have to be like that.
When levies have been proposed in the past, including by the Howard Government of which Mr Abbott was a member, the Opposition has agreed with them. When we were in opposition we agreed with and supported things like the Timor Levy, the Gun Buyback, you can as an opposition make a decision in the national interest and I’m still calling on Mr Abbott to do so.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of his offer to help you find more savings in the Budget to avoid the levy?
PM: Well Mr Abbott came to Queensland yesterday, he could have come to outline his package, he didn’t do that, he came to talk about his political interest and the politics he thinks he can make out of all of this. I’m sure most Australians, that’s not what they want to be hearing now.
What Australians want to see from their leaders now is getting on with the job of rebuilding, that’s what the package is for, that’s why I’m still continuing to call on Mr Abbott to act in the national interest and just this once, put aside his political interest.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify you said you’d be briefing the independents but you won’t be necessarily horse trading, they already have some demands (inaudible)
PM: Well we’ve got a package we believe is the right package, we want to get it through Parliament, we need to get it through Parliament as quickly as possible so that they Commissioner of Tax and businesses can all make their arrangements for the forthcoming tax year. So I’ll certainly be talking to Parliamentarians, including the independents, but our message to them will be this is the right package let’s get on with the job.