Doorstop Interview - Perth

05 Jul 2022
Prime Minister
Return from Europe visit; floods affecting Greater Sydney area; cost of living; October Budget; Ukraine visit; Pacific Islands Forum

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: It is good to be back in Australia after a very successful visit to the NATO Summit, to repair our relations with France, but also a critical visit to Ukraine on the invitation of President Zelenskyy, to recommit Australian support to the people of Ukraine in the struggle they are having against a brutal Russian invasion, that has implications for the rules-based international order, but also of course having an impact on Australians with rising energy prices, rising inflation, impact on supply chains, including on food. The struggle of the Ukrainian people against this brutal invasion is inspirational. And President Zelenskyy, I believe, has the support of Australians in leading his people against Russian atrocities, that we saw first-hand by being committed against the civilian population of Ukraine. Here in Australia, I have had a briefing this morning from Senator Murray Watt, our Minister, and also from Joe Buffone, the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia. The people on the East Coast are doing it really tough at the moment. And it is clear that the crisis is not over yet. We see, I'm advised that the rains are heading towards the Hunter and Mid-North Coast today. They are hoped to be easing in coming days. But there will continue to be flash flooding. And the advice remains – if it is flooding, forget it. Do not take risks. At the moment, we have nine evacuation centres open. There are some 242 people who have registered at those evacuation centres. We have made 250 ADF personnel available, 100 of them are on the ground at the moment. 100 are on standby. And 50 are there to support clean-up in areas once that commences. We have two helicopters that are available for night work. And they were established and did some work last night. The catchments are full. That means that even when the rain starts to ease, the danger will not ease for some period of days as floodwaters continue to rise. Planning is under way for the early clean-up, once that is available to commence. There are some 20,000 homes without power and 1,000 homes without communications at this point in time. The M7 is closed at Glendenning and that is causing some option as well to transportation in Western Sydney. We know as well that there is a significant impact that is going to occur on agriculture. This is the fourth flooding event we have seen in some of these areas like the Hawkesbury in the last 18 months. And my heart goes out to people who have suffered again and again and again and again, and for many of those communities that were also impacted by the bushfires. I say to people, stay safe, keep vigilant, keep following the advice which is being given by emergency personnel. There are 23 councils that are receiving Federal-State support as a result of the decision of the State Government. I spoke to Premier Perrottet from Poland some time ago now, and offered whatever support that was required from the Federal Government. He told me that he was very pleased with the urgent action that had been taken by the Federal Government. And we continue to make that support available. The support is in the form of hardship grants, money for structural repairs, as well as low-interest loans. We will continue to work with the Premier. And tomorrow morning, I will be on the ground with the Premier of NSW, examining first-hand what is occurring in those regions. I look forward to cooperating with the Premier.

JOURNALIST: Is it time to raise the Warragamba Dam, given as you mention, the catchment is full?

PRIME MINISTER: We will get appropriate advice on those issues. Those issues are, of course, controversial. There are different views that need to be taken into account. What is clear is that we need to get through the immediate crisis. That is what we need to do. And then we need to examine any policy response that is required.

JOURNALIST: There is been criticism over the international travel you're done. Have you struck the right balance between overseas and domestic priorities?

PRIME MINISTER: I have attended the Quad Leaders’ meeting the day after the election. It was not a decision of mine to hold the election on May 21 that was a decision of the former Prime Minister. I attended that and I attended the NATO summit, which was important that Australia be represented there. It was important that we deal with the relationship with France and Europe. And I believe that my visit to Ukraine was important to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We cannot separate international events from the impact on Australia and Australians. And for those people who might like to say which of the events I have attended on behalf of Australia, that I should not have attended, I have not had a day off a very long period of time.

JOURNALIST: Nonetheless, you are copping some criticism. Were you, in hindsight, too harsh on Scott Morrison for supposedly going missing? Some of those criticism when he had COVID, not being at the floods. Have you made a rod for your own back in terms of expectations of a Prime Minister in terms of a national crisis?

PRIME MINISTER: If people want to argue that I'm not working hard, they can argue their case.

JOURNALIST: Why hasn’t a national emergency been declared yet?

PRIME MINISTER: We take advice on those issues appropriately and will continue to take advice. The Cabinet was briefed this morning on those issues.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, households are going to get whacked again today with a likely interest rate increase. What is your Government going to do in the weeks and months ahead, even before the October Budget, to lighten the cost of living load?

PRIME MINISTER: We know already that the measures that we supported that have an impact on low and middle income earners came into effect the 1 July.

JOURNALIST: Are you still planning on going to the Pacific Islands Forum next week?

PRIME MINISTER: The Pacific Islands Forum is an important event. Australia cannot remain isolated from our national interests. And I have a Government that has a lot of talent and has ministers who are doing their job. This isn’t a one-person show. I have a very strong team that I am very proud of and will continue to do all of our jobs to the best of our capacity. And part of that job is to be represented in international forums. We saw what happened earlier this year when Australia dropped the ball with engagement in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: We're talking about people who have had to evacuate their homes four times. What options are on the table that your Government will consider to mitigate and make those communities more resilient beyond the immediate emergency period?

PRIME MINISTER: We will take advice and work with the New South Wales Government in a constructive way. The concern at the moment is getting through the existing crisis which is there right now. We are working very effectively between the Federal Government and the State Government, with the authorities, and we will be on the ground, I'll be on the ground personally tomorrow with Premier Dominic Perrottet. And can I conclude with this? Just a shout-out to all those volunteers, as well as our ADF personnel, as well as people from state authorities, who have also been working so hard again and again and again through these crisis to provide assistance to people. They deserve our thanks and our praise. They continue to do that work. And I join with others in thanking them. Thank you very much.