Transcript of Interview with Ben Knight
MON 07 JANUARY 2013
HOST: Prime Minister welcome to 7.30. You've just been for a tour of the affected areas. How bad is it?
PM: It's pretty bad. I've seen fire-affected areas before, so I kind of knew what to expect.
But what always strikes you is the real destructive force of fire, the power of it, to even twist and bend metal, to make properties look like they've exploded rather than been burned.
And also the randomness of it; that you can be in one place next to twisted metal - the fire has been that hot - and then move five or ten feet in another direction, and there will be plants and plastic shielding plants that's absolutely untouched.
HOST: And what's the extent of the damage?
PM: The official fire fighting service here in Tasmania and the police are still coming to a final estimate of the damage, so Ben I'm not in a position to give that to you.
But clearly, quite a number of houses have been destroyed and there's been a lot of community property too, including the school at Dunalley.
HOST: You were obviously speaking to people on the ground. What were they saying to you?
PM: Well they all have a story to tell about where they were and what they did and whether or not their homes survived.
Many of them had stories to tell me about fighting the fire till the last possible moment and then getting out onto the water because this is a seaside place so people could escape into the water to get away from the fire front.
But clearly it's been a very distressing and very frightening time for people.
I met a young girl called Billie who'd come back to see the ruins of her local school.
She'd clearly been very, very distressed about not knowing exactly what had happened to her school and she wanted to see it for herself.
So by the time you're having a conversation with a young kid who literally hasn't been eating because she's been so distressed, the full force of what's happening to people and how it's messing with their lives and putting pressure on them really comes home to you.
HOST: Tasmania's obviously a state that's already got a pretty fragile economy. This has hit the farming sector hard, the stock and pasture, it's hit the tourist areas hard, so it needs to rebuild fast.
Now what can you offer when you obviously can't take a one-size-fits-all approach to government assistance?
PM: No, we most certainly don't. We have a number of programs that hit the ground immediately and we're already rolling those programs out.
Today I've met with Centrelink officials who are here processing payments for people.
That's the early money, the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment, and the hardship money that we make available alongside the Tasmanian Government to help people through the personal hardship of losing their home.
Then we make an assessment about what else is needed, and particularly what infrastructure and community infrastructure has been lost.
So every circumstance ends up needing its own unique assessment and it needs community engagement, because when community assets have been lost, then we want to make sure that the community gets to have a say on how things are replaced, what is done for the future.
People don't necessarily want just a replica of what's been there in the past.
HOST: We've heard this afternoon some extremely dire warnings about the situation in New South Wales tomorrow, which could possibly, according to what the conditions say, be even worse than what's happened in Tasmania.
Have you been briefed on that situation?
PM: Yes, I've been continually updated about New South Wales and indeed fire conditions around the country.
We've seen many days of extreme weather now in various parts of the country, and we are going to see an extreme weather day tomorrow in New South Wales.
We know that there are around 80 fires burning in New South Wales now. Eleven of them are not within control lines.
So there is already fire in New South Wales, and what everybody is worried about is that a day of extreme heat, and that's what New South Wales will face tomorrow, will fan those flames.
So the best advice I can give to people is be ready, be prepared, already have your plan in place as to what you will do if your house, your property faces the worst, and stay in good touch with all of the warnings coming from local authorities.
Today in Tasmania I've met people who were prepared, who knew what they were going to do, who got all of the community warnings and acted on them.
That's the way in which we can see this kind of challenge through.
So please, to the people of New South Wales, tomorrow is a day when they need to take real care.
HOST: Prime Minister we'll leave it there. Thanks for your time.
PM: Thanks very much.