Photo: AAP Image / Lukas Coch
SENATOR JIM MOLAN AO DSC: We’re here this morning at the Queanbeyan SES Headquarters and we’re here to recognise volunteerism, not just in Queanbeyan and not just in NSW and the ACT, but across Australia. We’ve got the Prime Minister here with us today, but we’ve also got the Minister who is responsible for emergency management across Australia, Minister Linda Reynolds, who is with us today. She is of course responsible, as part of the Home Affairs portfolio.
We’ve got a great group of people the Prime Minister has met this morning, a tremendous group of Australians. We do have one brigade from the ACT here this morning as well as the SES. That brigade is an extraordinary brigade. It’s a special brigade because they permit me to be part of that brigade and that’s the Guises Creek Brigade.
PM, there’s a real occurrence that I think we should recognise here this morning; we’ve got four brigades from the local area and those four brigades - let me see if I can remember them- they’re from the Ridgeway, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Carwoola. They were involved in the recent fires down to Shoalhaven and particularly involved, PM, in the crash of a helicopter that occurred on the 17th of August. They assisted as much as they possibly could. But PM, welcome here to Queanbeyan, welcome to the SES Headquarters and RFS and would you like to say a few words please?
PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you Jim and to all of those who have come out here this morning. I want to say thank you. To Linda, it’s great to have you here with me. The reason I wanted to come out here this morning, there are a number of reasons. I particularly wanted to be accompanied by Linda because you’ll often see in the midst literally, of the storm or a disaster, or a fire, you will see people standing around, those who are out there serving and volunteering every day.
The Assistant Minister I have in charge of how the Commonwealth will be responding to any and all of those events, not just during that time, but all throughout the year, is Senator Reynolds. It’s a very important responsibility to have the task of overseeing and coordinating our emergency management functions, working with state and often local authorities and making sure everything is plugging together. Reaching out across the Commonwealth departments and agencies, ensuring that everything from what’s happening in Human Services other areas, is being connected and channelled well.
I’ve talked a lot about, since become Prime Minister, one of our great Australian beliefs and that is, we seek to make a contribution, rather than take one. That is no better exemplified than where we are here today. The State Emergency Services, the Rural Fire Services, but that goes well beyond this place to Surf Lifesaving Clubs all around the country. People who decide to volunteer to keep their communities safe, to keep their communities strong. This is important, not just hard infrastructure as we can see around here, but important human infrastructure. People, who actually step up on a daily basis. So I want to thank all of them for their service.
The other reason I wanted to come here today is that in the work we’ve been doing, we’re very focused on the impacts of the drought, particularly across New South Wales, Queensland as we know, in parts of South Australia and Victoria. As we’ve looked at all of the weather material that has come through from the Bureau of Meteorology, we know that we are facing a very tough summer. It’s important that we are all doing the preparations and planning for that. I want to assure Australians that that’s what we’re certainly doing from a Commonwealth point of view.
But as you can see, as I’ve been chatting to everyone here today, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Keeping Australians safe in the midst of whether it’s a bushfire, a storm or a flood, just doesn’t happen in the operations of a day. The amount of volunteer hours and work that goes in, in training, administration, certification, getting the gear up to standard and keeping it up to standard – that’s what keeps people safe in those critical moments. For every hour that’s spent out in the field, there are countless hours spent back in the station or wherever else people need to be. So I want to assure Australians that we are very focused on the potential threats that are before us. Just as all the wonderful volunteers here are very focused on ensuring that they’re ready to go when they need to go.
Thirdly I want to thank them for their service and I also want to thank their families for their service, for supporting them in their decision to support all of us. We see the best of Australia when we come to a place like this today. We see the best of Australia when they’re out there, particularly on those days of operations where everything is at risk. It’s not just whether it’s fighting the fire or removing the debris, or pulling people out of floods. It’s not just that. It’s the care and the compassion and the way they go about their job in helping their fellow Australians. We look after our mates in this country and we do that in so many practical ways. The contribution that is being made by these volunteers here today, is a core Australian value.
I want to honour today and that’s why I wanted to come here, so early on. Now I’m going to ask Linda to talk a bit about her responsibilities in emergency management and I’ll ask her to do that now.
SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well, thank you very much Prime Minister. I’ve now had this job for two weeks and the thing that has struck me is that there are so many ways to serve our nation in uniform, and meeting many of the men and women here today represent the thousands across Australia who serve our nation every single day.
A number of people here, are there with their children and now with their grandchildren and this is a real community and a family involvement. So behind every single man and woman here today, there are families and there are employers who also work with them to support our local community. So to all of you here today I say thank you, to your families to your families and those who support you and particularly to your employers, because as the Prime Minister has said, this sadly, is looking like it is going to be a very challenging bushfire season. Not only is it going to put a great call on all of our volunteers across the nation, but it’s also important for their employers and their families and their communities to support them in every way they can to say thank you.
As the Prime Minister has said, I’m responsible for ensuring the Commonwealth is now fully prepared to work with the states and territories and make sure that as soon as there, sadly, is an incident, the Commonwealth is coordinated, it’s ready and we can make sure that from the Commonwealth perspective, we can provide every possible assistance to each and every incident we’re called to.
We also work very closely to make sure that the other states and territories also come out and their volunteers come out and provide support to those in need in other states. So sadly, I think that you will be seeing more of me over this season, as we respond to what we hope will not be but we think will be a challenging bushfire season.
Again, thanks to each and every one of you and I’ll just point out that we have volunteers here who, while they have been out firefighting for their community, they’ve lost their house. So it’s these sorts of sacrifices that people make as volunteers, as the Prime Minister has said, which represent the very best in Australians. So next time, any of you, when you see someone in an orange uniform or a yellow uniform, please go out and thank them. Say thank you very much for what you do for our community, because we do not say thank you well enough.
I will do everything I can as the Minister to make sure that when you need the support, it’s there. Whether it’s from the Commonwealth or from other state and territory governments. We will be there and we will be there to say thank you and make sure that you go home safely. So thank you very much Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: So you might ask - and don’t worry journalists, you’ll get to ask some questions –
You might ask this morning; “What can I do to prepare for what’s ahead?” The clear advice that comes from those here today is; have a plan, prepare. You want to keep people in the SES and the Rural Fire Service or elsewhere safe, when they’re out helping you. Do the work that you need to do now, if you’re in a potentially fire-effected area. Or frankly even if you’re not. There’s plenty of material that’s out there on the websites and everything which tells you to have a plan for fire or a plan for other disasters.
It’s important that in these quiet times, in these still times, that families and people in their households just think these through, have a clear plan. So God forbid it happens, but if it does, but if it does, that you’re in a position to not only keep yourself safe and your family safe but keep those who are coming to help you safe as well. Happy to take some questions, happy to start with the topic of the day as usual but we’ll move to others if that’s what you want.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve been having a good chat with the people here today. What have you taken away from those conversations?
PRIME MINISTER: A great deal of respect - which I came with, I’ve got to say - but I think it’s the key message that I’ve just given to you. I mean, we all acknowledge the volunteering spirit and what sits behind it and the beliefs that lead people to do this. But it really is that we all have a job to do. I’ve got a job to do, Linda’s got a job to do, Jim had one job to do today.
We’ve all got a job to do and it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a uniform or you’re a parent in a household, or you’ve got a job to do when it comes to preparing for these sorts of things. If everybody focuses on their job, then everybody’s safer and the job gets done. That’s very much as ethos I’ve taken into every job I have.
JOURNALIST: Also on volunteering, people obviously have their lives and family and work, how do we encourage more people to volunteer?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the great news is - just hearing it - at the SES, volunteering’s up 20 per cent, 21 per cent, I think was the precise figure. I want to commend them on the way that they’ve been adapting to how people can get involved. It does require more flexible volunteering models for people to focus in on those issues where they can really add value. “Make the boat go faster,” as I talk about it to my colleagues. All that particularly volunteer organisations coming up with those more flexible models for people to participate.
I’ve seen it myself more directly in local surf clubs and how they do that. But they will find a job for everybody here. There really is one for everybody, no matter what you’re skills are. But the first thing is, always talk about it with your family because there will be a lot of calls placed on your family in those situations. But you know, suss it out very clearly for yourself and for the volunteer organisations themselves, I think, it is about having more updated plans about how people can really get involved and make the best use of their time.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Just on that.
PRIME MINISTER: Sure, Linda?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Just on that point, talking to a number of the men and women here today, not only are there many uniforms you can wear in serving your community but there’s a lot of different roles. So I was hearing here today, that if you’re in the community and you’ve got administrative skills, I think they’d love to hear from you, so they can do less paperwork and actually do more of what they’re in uniform to do.
There’s a number of people here who are multi-generational, so ways of bringing in your family. We’ve got employees and employers here today in the same brigades. And there’s mates who have brought in other mates, so I think it’s just if you’re in the community, there’s so many ways that you can put your hand up, go down to your local service and say; “What can I do to help?” I’m seeing from the nods here, if anyone can do paperwork, I think they’d love to hear from you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, moving onto some other topics.
PRIME MINISTER: Sure.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull has tweeted saying that Peter Dutton should be referred to the High Court. What is your reaction to that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, someone once told me that in this job, all contributions should be gratefully received. They are, but as the Prime Minister, I’ll obviously make the decisions in relation to our Government on what I believe is in the national interest and based on the most recent and most timely information that I have available to me. I’ll always continue to do that as people would expect me to do. I obviously have a lot of respect for the former Prime Minister, but as the Prime Minister now, I’ll make the decisions that I believe are in the best interest of the nation.
JOURNALIST: Is it unhelpful though, he’s no longer in the Parliament, is it unhelpful to the Party in that way?
PRIME MINISTER: Honestly, that’s not something I’m terribly distracted by. I respect future, I should say previous leaders. I respect my colleagues and the contributions and advice that they give.
I mean, in all these jobs – and everyone here will know – whatever job you’re in, people will give you advice and you listen to it, you respect it. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to make the calls. I mean, on this issue, it was only a couple of weeks ago in fact, this matter was actually voted on in the House of Representatives and it was determined that that was not necessary by the Parliament.
So look, I think people have had enough of the lawyers’ picnics on these sort of issues and they want us to focus completely and totally on what the nation needs here and now. That’s to keep our economy strong, to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on, including those delivered right out of this base here. To ensure that we keep Australians safe and we keep Australians together.
JOURNALIST: And when was the last time you spoke to Malcolm Turnbull?
PRIME MINISTER: I would have spoken to him last week.
JOURNALIST: Julia Banks has made some very strong statements in Parliament overnight. What’s your reaction to those?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve been talking closely with Julia now for several weeks. It’s been a pretty harrowing time and my approach has been to get around and support colleagues and ensure that there’s the support available that they need.
JOURNALIST: I understand that the conversations with other women who have been claiming that they have been bullied. They have been happening behind closed doors now, how are those conversations going? Are we likely to hear any outcome, if there is?
PRIME MINISTER: The purpose is to provide support to colleagues.
JOURNALIST: Wentworth by-election, so that’s going to be your first big electoral test as Prime Minister. How important is it to keep that seat?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s obvious.
As John Howard would say; “The iron laws of arithmetic.” Of course, it’s important and the pre-selectors of the Party up in Wentworth tonight have a very important job. I look forward to finding out the outcome of their deliberations tonight and I know they’ll take those responsibilities very seriously. It’s the Party members who will make that decision tonight. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in the Party organisation before coming into politics, I respect that process.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you, you can keep that seat given the way it was vacated?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m not taking anything as a given here. I mean, the circumstances of this by-election are very difficult. There’s no doubt about that and the circumstances that led up to them. So I think this is going to be a very close fight.
I know the former Prime Minister, when he was facing by-elections everybody said; “Oh, you’ll be fine there,” and all the rest of it. Then they accused the Government of not managing expectations. Well, all those who were saying that they were going to have different outcomes, were proved wrong. I know that the former Prime Minister had no doubts about the difficulty of those contests in Longman and Braddon and Mayo.
I similarly have no expectation about the results there. What I’ll be doing is on the ground, working closely with the local community and the Liberal Party and our candidate who is selected by the Party there, to demonstrate to the people of Wentworth why it’s important that we continue to support the Government, our Government, that is keeping our economy strong, that is the delivering tax relief to all households – not just seeking to punish some as Labor Party wants to do, to try and reward others, a sort of give-and-take approach. We believe that all Australians should have the tax burden lifted from them in whatever way we can, to ease that burden for those families.
Families are under pressure in Wentworth as they are in my electorate in Cook, as they are down in Queanbeyan and Eden-Monaro -
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Over in Western Australia.
PRIME MINISTER: Over in Western Australia, absolutely. They’re under pressure. So look, I’m a Prime Minister for all Australians, not to set some Australians against others which seems to be the approach of the Labor Party. Okay, thanks very much and thanks to everyone for having us here today. I really appreciate your service and I look forward to seeing you again, hopefully in calmer circumstances like we’re here today.
But if I see you out there in much more difficult ones, I know you’ll do a fantastic job. Thank you very much.