Doorstop Virginia, South Australia

Transcript
04 Oct 2016
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks very much Anne and Steven. It’s great to be here with you and Gino and all of your colleagues here. I want to thank you very much for the very good advice you’ve given us - the feedback and the insights into the water and the river that you understand better than anyone, as you have lived on it and worked on it all your lives.

Can I pay tribute to the way in which the community pulls together here? The support that you’re giving each other, I want to pay tribute to the volunteers from the SES, CFS, the MFS and the Australian Defence Force. There have been 250 ADF members out here working, supporting the community, delivering sandbags. There have been about 100,000 sandbags delivered here, 60,000 of which were flown in here from Queensland. So the ADF has put in a magnificent effort in support of the community.

Now the challenge with water management in Australia is a perennial one. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains. It’s very important to get the local feedback. It was good to hear about the way in which the course of the river has become clogged up, so that it’s not getting the water out into the Gulf as it should. There are very important issues that arise here in flood mitigation. Generally, I would say over the years, we have not spent enough money in Australia on disaster mitigation. We need to spend more in advance so that we have to spend less after the rainfall  events or the bushfire events that occur. So it’s important to invest in mitigation in advance and as you know the Productivity Commission has made recommendations about that. We are working now, talking with state governments, planning with state governments and local government, in order that we get a better balance into our  disaster recovery and relief funding, so it is more focussed on mitigation at the outset.

But there is no substitute for being here and I just want to say again, how much I admire your resilience, how much I admire the way in which the community pulls together and the way you’re working with volunteers to deal with this recent rainfall, this storm, which has done so much damage here in South Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you’ve been criticised for taking too long to get here, what’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Prior to you saying that I hadn’t heard that.

JOURNALIST:

It’s a point the Labor Party have been making.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m very pleased to be here today. I’ve stayed in close contact with my South Australian colleagues, in fact I think I was the first person Jay Weatherill rang on Wednesday when the lights went out. We’ve been onto it very intensively ever since.  

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, if you see the stark example here and the income loss, we’re hearing it’s in the tens of millions of dollars wiped out, would this put this area, in your own mind right at the top of the list of flood mitigation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know Australia is a big, flat country. We flood all over the country because we are such a flat country. Water management is of critical importance. You know it’s a great passion of mine. This is part of Australia’s food bowl. It is a vital part of it. You know very well as South Australians how important your exports into the growing Asian markets are, and your agricultural exports, the opportunities are enormous. But we’ve obviously got to have security in terms of your production. That means we have to look carefully at the plans to ensure that floods are mitigated here. So I agree this is a very high priority but it’s a big flat country and I’m not going to rank them all one after the other.

JOURNALIST:

But if the State makes application for flood emergency relief here, is it automatic that it’s going to be given?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is an automatic disaster relief mechanism which the State has not yet called on because they’re assessing the damage. This is the NDRRA mechanism where the Commonwealth contributes to the cost of disaster relief and recovery. I’ve been in touch with the Justice Minister Michael Keenan who administers that. That happens automatically. But what we’re really talking about with Gino here and his colleagues is that what we need to be doing is not just relieving the consequences of natural disasters but putting in the measures to ensure that when they do come, when the next flood comes in the next ten years - it doesn’t do the same damage as this one has, or the one did in 2005.

JOURNALIST:

Whose primary responsibility is that Prime Minister, is it all on the state or the federal government, or is it partnership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Like all of these areas, it is shared. The primary responsibility is obviously the state’s but the Commonwealth Government provides support. Matters of this kind are managed by the state government and indeed by local government. Look I don’t want to make points about jurisdiction. You’ve seen the way I approach the Federal Government’s role, is one of collaboration. That’s why our cities policy is all about ensuring that the federal government, the state government and the local governments work together and aren’t like ships passing in the night. It’s critically important that we collaborate, cooperate and that’s what we’ll do here.

Thank you all very much indeed.