Doorstop interview - Eugowra

22 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
Flooding in Eugowra; flood recovery; Federal and State funding for flood recovery grants

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have been with the Premier, Dominic Perrottet, today, and the local MPs and local council representatives here in Eugowra, a town that has been devastated. A town where two lives were lost and one in three of this town, some 159 people, were rescued, either by a chopper or by boat, a town that's been devastated and we've seen that today. But it's a town that's resilient. It's a town where people want to rebuild this town and this community. And it's quite inspirational seeing the courage and resilience of the people in this fantastic local community.

I want to thank all the people who've come in, whether they be ADF personnel on the ground straightaway, SES, the resilience people from the New South Wales Government, Federal Government representatives and volunteers from all around New South Wales who have come into this local community to hose out a home, help out locals, and remove debris. It's been quite extraordinary, the effort that we are seeing here.

This morning, we're announcing a joint Commonwealth-State further support for disaster recovery. Grants of up to $50,000, the first $25,000 of which can be paid very quickly, and a further $25,000 upon receipts being shown. That is eligible for all small businesses here in this community, but also for not-for-profit organisations.

This is Commonwealth and State jointly working together. That's what people want to see. And I want to thank Dominic. We had conversations and text messages over the last week about these issues. I pay tribute to the cooperation that's there between the Commonwealth and the State Government. This is about working together. And the local mayor showing us around has done an extraordinary job representing his local community as well.

DOMINIC PERROTTET, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, I want to thank the Prime Minister for the Commonwealth support. Being on the ground today together, we have seen a very great town. And you see the best of people. And the people of Eugowra have gone through a very difficult time. But the best thing about what we've seen is people have locked beyond themselves and looked after each other. As the Prime Minister has said, 159 flood rescues, 14 aircrafts in the air, but to see the progress, to see the clean-up, to see the community come together with such strength and unity is such a wonderful thing. And I think it shows the best of our people. Eugowra does represent the best of Australia. And we've seen that on display over the last week. I echo the Prime Minister's comments in relation to the spirit of service we have seen from people from all over the state. We've met people who have left their own towns to come here to help, to go to businesses to help clean them out, to go and help pick up debris. That’s, I think, the spirit that makes our country the best place anywhere in the world. And we've seen it after disaster after disaster, from droughts, to floods, to bushfires, to floods again. We see Australians come together to help.

I want to thank our volunteers, not just the uniform volunteers who have done an amazing job, the ADF personnel, and I want to thank the Prime Minister for the ADF personnel who have done a great job, day one, on the ground, looking after people. That is what we have seen during this period. I want to thank Kevin, the Mayor, as well. It is councils, state governments, Commonwealth governments all working together to help our people get through.

We've said to the people today that Eugowra is going to come back. The progress has been strong in five days. We're going to rebuild in a more resilient way. And that will ensure Eugowra has a very strong future, and everybody here, and that's our commitment to the people today.

In addition to that, on the small business grants, we know this will make a real difference. We've seen these grants following other natural disasters really supporting businesses, getting them back on track, giving people the confidence to open. Today, we saw Australia Post has opened. And that's a great thing for the community. And that's inspiring and giving confidence to others that they will get there as well, and you can already see that progress.

We have a recovery centre which was opened yesterday, which is right behind us. We're seeing hundreds of people coming through, getting Commonwealth and State Government services, getting the support they need. And I want to thank those people who are operating that recovery centre because they're there to give care and comfort to those people to make sure they have the confidence to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

Finally, I want to mention mental health support. Lifeline are doing a great job on the ground. I want to thank them for what they do. We know that this is a very traumatic period of time for many people. Many people have lost everything and there's a shock at the start. But there needs to be the mental health support going forward. Lifeline are on the ground with government support. And in addition to that, we'll have mental health support on the ground as well through our Health Department and we will be increasing capacity there as well, not just in the short-term, but on the long journey ahead. I'll take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you're on the record when announcing the buyback scheme in other parts of New South Wales saying we should not be building or rebuilding on flood plains, but here today you're saying this community will rebuild. Which one is it? Should we be building on not rebuilding?

PRIME MINISTER: We should be building appropriately. In Lismore, the Premier and I joined together to support some buybacks in communities that were impacted regularly and consistently. What we need to do is to make sure we do get planning right. There's no inconsistency here. In addition to the announcement about small business grants and not-for-profits, we've extended support to 46 local government areas will receive $1 million to provide support for them for the recovery.

JOURNALIST: People here, everyday Joes, not land-holders and primary producers, can only access a one-off $1,000 relief payment with $400 in addition for children. Is that enough? People here say that will barely scrape the barrel.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I understand that people would regard, whatever support is given, that it is really tough and people are doing it tough. We're providing whatever support that we can. We're providing support for individuals. We're providing support for small business, for not-for-profits and providing support for local government. This is an extensive support that we're providing here in New South Wales, in Victoria, in Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: A lot of people can't rebuild because they can't get insurance cover. How are you dealing with that?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, this is a challenge, the issue of insurance. I know that Murray Watt, our Emergency Services Minister, is talking to insurance companies about these issues. This is an ongoing challenge that we have to deal with. It's one of the things that we heard again today about is that so many people have not been able to get insurances because of the high premiums which are there. It's something that the Government is attempting to deal with over a period of time. We'll continue to engage with the insurance industry.

JOURNALIST: How do you expect this community to rebuild if you don't provide everyday residents with more than one-off $1,000 payments?

PRIME MINISTER: We're providing what support we can to people at this time. These grants are available for people. And we're providing that support.

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Can I just add to that? It's not just those one-off payments for individuals and households. There is a range of financial support packages available. So, for primary producers up to $75,000, which is Commonwealth and State funded. There are a range of initiatives in place and we will do everything we can to ensure that everyone gets back on their feet. In relation to insurance companies, I'll just make the point that I've spoken last week to the Insurance Council of Australia. And insurance companies should put people before profits. And we'll work very closely with them, the Commonwealth and State, to make sure that support, and if we need to look at innovative products, we will work with the insurance companies and the Insurance Council of Australia to get that done.

JOURNALIST: You've received a rather (inaudible).

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: I'd say that's not true. Go and speak to the people of Eugowra during this period of time. And what I've sensed on the ground last week and this week is that people are very appreciative of State and Commonwealth Government members being on the ground. It gives hope and confidence that we're going to rebuild. Now, obviously, last week, Mr Jones was upset. And why wouldn't he be? It's been a very horrendous time. I spoke to him this morning. And he's going well. And he also raised with me that the clean-up is going incredibly well also. So, you know, when towns and communities go through such tragic events, there's obviously emotion and people are upset. But our commitment from the Commonwealth and state level, the Prime Minister, the Premier, all the ministers, local members and council, is that we'll rebuild and be with this community every step of the way.

JOURNALIST: When you say you're going to build this town in a more resilient way, what do you mean by that? Are you going to move the town to higher ground?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: We'll work through those issues. I make the point about flooding. Almost every place across New South Wales right now, every community across New South Wales right now, is at risk of flood. Our rivers are full, our dams are full, and our catchments are full. And over summer as well, there are difficult times that lie ahead. But what we're committed to is not making the same mistakes of the past. We can't, in many circumstances, unwind the past. But we can do is not make those mistakes going forward. The Prime Minister, through National Cabinet, and I'll be doing some work in relation to on a national level - how we can build back in a way and continue to develop in a way that doesn't put life and property at risk.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it was a mistake to develop (inaudible)?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: No. Because communities like Eugowra are just as at risk of flooding as many across the state. As the Prime Minister said, in Lismore and places like that, we embarked on a buyback scheme but tailored our responses to those circumstances. But where there is high risk, we shouldn't be developing on those flood plains where there is high risk. But it needs to be done in a balanced way. And that's exactly what we'll do. You don't go through these events without learning from them. And that's what we'll be doing.

JOURNALIST: In relation to the funding today, how quickly would it end up in their bank account? How long will it take?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: One of the great aspects of the business grants is that the first $25,000 gets out the door incredibly quickly.

JOURNALIST: How quickly?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: As soon as the applications go in, they're processed immediately by Service New South Wales.

PRIME MINISTER: Within days.

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Within days. And Service New South Wales do a really good job in making sure that those funds are out the door into people's pockets as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: And what about the second payments?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Invoices are required for the second $25,000, but very quickly as well. Once those application goes in, we've got teams of people. You would have seen today coming in, the Service New South Wales bus on the ground, mobile busses on the ground, providing support. That is in addition to the recovery centre. We've learned a lot. We've come a long way. If you look at the Northern Rivers, the time it took to get recovery centres was weeks. Here we are one week after the event, a recovery centre established, Service New South Wales in town and a Service New South Wales team travelling through the Central West giving care and support for people who need it. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: What infrastructure have you put in place to prevent further disasters like this from happening in the future?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: We'll work through that. But I'll make this point finally on the road infrastructure, because I think that's been lost here. Today, we have 200 crews going out across the Central West, we will be deploying to make sure that our roads are rebuilt as quickly as possible. We know after these heavy events that infrastructure needs to be built back in a more resilient way. We're committed to that. It was a key finding of the O’Kane-Fuller Report. Thanks very much.