Transcript of press conference, Grafton
SAT 15 JANUARY 2011
Subject(s): Northern New South Wales floods; Queensland floods; Mamdouh Habib
PM: Thank you very much. I’m here today in Grafton, I’m joined by Janelle Saffin the Member for Page and by Richie Williamson, the local Mayor here and I thank both of them for taking the time to talk to me about circumstances in this part of the world, and I also thank the people here who have worked their way through dealing with floodwaters here.
I want to say a few things about assistance for this part of the world and northern New South Wales in a moment, but firstly here today I have taken a call from President Obama who rang specifically to say that he’s thinking about the people of Queensland and the people of Australia at this very difficult time. President Obama wanted me to convey his best wishes to the people of Australia as we deal with these floodwaters. I’ve discussed with President Obama the circumstances in Queensland and the scale of the devastation and the loss of life that we’ve seen in Queensland. President Obama has confirmed an offer already made by the United States of America to provide any assistance that we need at this difficult time. I’m specifically spoken to President Obama about the kind of assistance we might need as we move into the recovery phase and we will be working with the United States on their expertise which may be able to assist us in this period.
So, for example, we will be talking to them about expertise that can come to the Australian military about the kind of manpower and specific capability they may have to assist Queensland as it moves into reconstruction and recovery.
We know that a lot is going to have to be done to bring roads back into functioning order, railways lines back into functioning order and we will be talking to our American friends about that kind of assistance.
Then secondly can I say right across Queensland today people have got up, they’ve marched out of their homes and they’ve gone to find people to help. It’s a tremendous spirit of volunteering right across Queensland as it moves into the recovery phase of this disaster. So the spirit there I think is an absolutely magnificent one and the scale of the volunteering is taking peoples’ breath away that literally everyone is trying to find someone to help, selflessly going and helping a neighbour. And to all of those people who are doing that today in Queensland and who will do it in the days to come I salute you for your efforts, it really is showing tremendous Aussie spirit.
And then I’m here today in New South Wales because we know that Queensland has faced such devastation, that there are also floodwaters here and in the discussions I’ve had with the people who have managed the local crisis here today, the first thing everybody has said to me is that they understand that thoughts need to be with Queensland and that they themselves have been thinking how they can assist the people of Queensland.
Local people, even in flood affected areas here, who have been sending money, sending resources to help the people of Queensland.
So I really want to say congratulations for that spirit; you said it to me, Janelle said it to me, almost everybody I’ve spoken to today, it’s the first thing that they’ve said, they understand the dimensions of the need in Queensland and they too want to help.
But people here have sustained flood damage too, so today I am able to announce that for nine local government areas in New South Wales we will be making available the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payment. So that’s eight local government areas in northern New South Wales that are disaster declared and that they’ve seen Queensland floodwaters come through, it’s also this area where we stand today in the Clarence Valley.
What that will mean for people is that they will be able to access $1000 emergency payments for each adult, $400 for each child, if they’ve faced inundation of their home and been flood affected. So I’d say to people to access that assistance, one way of doing is ringing 180 22 66, and Janelle has said another way of doing it is that Centrelink staff will be available in the local recovery centre here in Grafton and in other places during the days of next week.
So I’d want to thank everyone for having me here today and being able to discuss circumstances here.
Finally can I say we’ve also floods affecting the people of Victoria and people will have seen some of those images on their TV screens today. I am obviously very concerned about the circumstances of the people battling floodwaters in Victoria and it’s my intention to visit those parts of Victoria on Monday and to be able to say hello to people in those circumstances.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a tragic loss of life, beyond that, how concerned are you about the cost to this country of these floods?
PM: Well we have seen a tragic loss of life in Queensland and one of the things we’ve talked about today, about the differences between Queensland and New South Wales is that here people have sustained losses and we’ve seen infrastructure damaged but there’s been no loss of life, and one of the reasons peoples’ heartfelt wishes are directed towards Queensland is because they too have been saddened by the loss of life there.
So we know there are still people grieving, there are still people anxiously waiting for news and our thoughts are with them. There is a lot of infrastructure damage and we will be working to rebuild Queensland. Volunteers are getting out literally in their thousands and thousands today to start with the dirty work of the immediate clean-up, then we will need to move to rebuilding and we will be working with the people of Queensland on that.
JOURNALIST: The Lockyer Valley is a major food production area for places including Clarence Valley, what extent to do think food supply, price and quality will be affected and does the Australian Government have any plans to do anything (inaudible)
PM: Look the best thing we can to deal with those circumstances is to try and get supply routes open again as soon as possible and so one of the reasons when I talked to President Obama today I indicated to him that we were very thankful for his offer of assistance and that we will consider accessing American military expertise on opening supply routes is because we want to do that as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) take some time to recover.
PM: Yes it will, yes it will, the scale of this kind of devastation, I’ve seen it for myself in Queensland, I had the opportunity to be in Grantham yesterday, I was able to see the affect on the township itself, on the people, on the farmland, the devastation there is huge and it’s going to be a big, big effort to recover from it. And so we’ll be working supporting primary producers as they try to get their land back and working and growing food, we’ll be working to clear the supply route so that people can get their produce to market, and we’ll be doing all of this work in partnership with the Queensland Government, local government and the people of Queensland who today are getting about so much of the task through volunteering efforts.
PM: In relation to this matter which dates from 2005 there is an inquiry underway, there have been some serious allegations made so the best way of dealing with that is through an inquiry.
JOURNALIST: Janelle I might ask you as a local Member what are you hearing from people about the flood, on a local (inaudible)
JANELLE SAFFIN: What I was hearing is is that everybody’s thankful to our emergency services workers and particularly the SES, the Rural Fire Service, everybody who hopped-to and they listened to them as well when they said it’s time to evacuate. So there’s a lot of appreciation from the community and appreciation today as well for having the Prime Minister come and say thank you to our volunteers and a thank you to the whole community. But what I’m hearing is there’s infrastructure damage, some people have sustained some damage around their houses, with their residence, and issues to do with what’s floating around in the waters. But the overwhelming feeling from my electorate of Page, all the people, is our hearts go out to everyone in Queensland.
MAYOR WILLIAMSON: Look I think through this whole emergency our thoughts really have been with our next door neighbours in Queensland, some of those images will remain with our community forever, we too live on a floodplain and from time to time do experience flooding, but those images will stay with us for a very long time.
At this point though we’re asking for peoples’ patience, we’re hearing through the SES that people are driving on closed roads; that is of a particular concern to those here at the SES. The last thing that we want is for somebody to drive on a road that’s closed and put either themselves at risk or someone rescuing them at risk, or even worse still a loss of life at this late stage of this incident. We would like the opportunity to check the roads, we would like the opportunity to ensure that the culverts are safe, the bridges are still there and are safe – we understand that we have had some culverts that have suffered some real damage; some of our road network has suffered some real damage. So at this stage we’re just asking for peoples’ patience, bear with us the second the roads are able to be travelled on we will open them, I can assure you, we’re not closing them for any longer than what they need to be closed. On the lower Clarence particularly there is still a number of roads with water over them, they will in the next couple of days reveal themselves, our engineers are standing by, whether it’s three o’clock in the morning or two o’clock tomorrow afternoon, we will have people on the road to ensure that they’re safe and the second they are safe, they’ll be opened. So we’re just asking for a little bit of patience in this late stage of this flood event here on the Clarence.
PM: And can I just echo those words, the main this is for everybody to stay safe and can I echo that sentiment, here today (inaudible) locally including people who have worked long, hard hours dealing with the flooding here, their thoughts have been with the people of Queensland and we’ve heard that reflected by Janelle and by Richie. I did have the opportunity this morning to talk to Premier Keneally, I’ve been staying in touch with her about the flood circumstances in New South Wales, and she too says that right throughout New South Wales people are thinking about their neighbours in Queensland. The New South Wales Government has made available emergency services personnel and swift-water rescue teams to assist the people of Queensland and she herself I think has made that very clear. So that community sentiment right throughout New South Wales.