Doorstop - Wauchope, NSW

26 Mar 2021
Prime Minister

DR DAVID GILLESPIE MP: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Well, welcome to Wauchope SES. I would formally, and most importantly, like with Melinda Pavey, my coinciding state member formally welcome the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and my colleague, Dave Littleproud, along with Premier Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro, Deputy Premier. So Melinda and I are really honoured that all of you have come to see firsthand what's going on. Now first of all, I would just like to say I'm looking forward to the time when both of you are here and it's not an emergency, but it has been a year to remember, and a year a lot of people would like to forget. It's uncanny that we had a drought, then a bushfire, and then we got a new Water Minister, and you've done too well, we've got too much of it now Melinda, but really, it is a real shock to people's systems to be going through so many crises, and that is what people are feeling. A lot of people are still running on adrenaline. Australians, their home and their farm or their business is often the centre of their life with their family and to have it washed away is really, a really scary event. We've got plenty of people who have been displaced out of their homes. But why the Prime Minister and the Premier and all these other important Ministers are here is because we want them to see what it's been like for people and we realise we are stoic country people, but we do need help and I'm so glad ADF are here as well. I'd like to formally also on my behalf, thank SES, the RFS, Marine Rescue, Surf Lifesaving, Police, Vehicle Rescue, Fire & Rescue and all the other services, counsellors, council staff, engineers. And I'd like to thank all the volunteers that turned up with boats themselves, rescuing people, and for electricians who are fixing up people's electricity for nothing. All these people are all helping and I'll hand to Melinda.

THE HON. MELINDA PAVEY, MINISTER FOR WATER, PROPERTY AND HOUSING: Thanks very much, David. It's just wonderful to have the support from our state leadership and our national leadership. We're on the ground today seeing the damage firsthand. I know the Premier, and the Deputy Premier are just about to leave with me we're going to go and visit some farmers, some dairy farmers, you know, milk going down the driveways because we can't get the trucks in. There's a lot of work we've got to get done. And I'm just so grateful for our communities pulling together and doing what we're doing. And now over to our leadership of our nation and our state. Thank you very much.

DR DAVID GILLESPIE MP: Prime Minister, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Melinda and thank you David, and to Gladys and Bara and to David who joins me, and of course, the Commissioner, who is here with us as well, and Joe Buffone, Director and General of Emergency Management, is also doing a terrific job. Can I just start by echoing my thanks to the amazing people we've been meeting here today, and in other parts of the Mid North Coast. It is quite humbling when you just sit and talk and listen to people who have been through an incredible last seven days and more than 20 rescues here alone, saving lives, putting themselves at risk, holding hands of children and others who are scared and going through something like this. It is just an enormously humbling and proud moment to see the wonderful resilience and character of Australians in times like this. And we have seen it so many times over the last two and a half years in particular. The Premier and I have stood here in this very spot not that long ago, back in 2019, as fires ripped through this area. Dave and I have been through here on drought and now we're here with floods. And over the last year, you've been dealing with COVID too. Earlier today when I was down in Port places like Telegraph Point and others, and just seeing the devastation of people's businesses, and it's not just that the businesses have lost their equipment and generators and all of these things. These are businesses that families have built up over a lifetime, and it's not just the loss of the income. It is the loss of a way of life that they have worked so hard to build. And that is just heartbreaking for them. And just as we have stood with people, whether through COVID, whether through bushfires, whether through drought, floods, tornadoes, cyclones, we're of course going to stand here with the people on the Mid North Coast, the Hawkesbury, others who have been devastated by these floods. Already, of course, we're rolling out the disaster recovery payments on that 180 2266 number, we have over two thousand people there taking calls. They've done a magnificent job getting emergency support to people, but we got to do a lot more than that. The clean-up now begins. The sun's out, the waters are receding, and there's going to be more difficulty ahead as we see what happens, particularly for primary producers, whether they're oyster farmers or they're dairy farmers or other producers across the district. They've got some difficult days ahead. I remember seeing this also firsthand up in North Queensland and the devastating floods that wiped out over half a million head of cattle in 24 hours. And there's going to be a lot of that devastating loss as we have to get into carcass disposal and cleaning out these sheds that have been in water up to their roofs. And so I want to thank the New South Wales Government of Gladys and Bara, the partnership between the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government has been extraordinary. We've been working closely together and I want to thank the Emergency Management Minister as well, Dave. They've done a great job working with my Minister to get the support where it's needed. Defence Force have now arrived, they're here, they're part of the recovery team, the clean-up team. 70 are already here being drawn from the 44th Battalion who are already on the ground. They're going to be joined by more than 400 more as we work with all the other teams. It's been so good to see SES working with RFS, with the Fire and Rescue, the whole team working as one unit with our Defence Forces to ensure that we can get the job done, just seamlessly working together as a team. It's tremendous, but we've got to back this up with a number of new measures to support. The Premier wrote to me yesterday and outlined their plan. I will let the Premier and John Barilaro speak to that more specifically, but a key part of that is what's called category C and D funding support, which is what comes in place when you get a big disaster like this. That means that New South Wales and the Commonwealth Government will share the cost of the recovery 50/50. We will carry this load together as we have already carried so many other loads together over these last few years. What that means is, we will be able to support small business grants for those directly impacted and John can speak more to that, of up to $50,000 and importantly primary producer grants of up to $75,000. Now, those $75,000 grants are critical for those producers to get back up on their feet, but know we are backing them in and that we will be there to help them restock and rebuild and get their machinery up and running again and be able to get their operations up and running again. These grants have been so critical in previous disasters, in particular flood disasters. It's just not cash, it’s a message of hope to each of those producers and those small businesses, who are going to need that help, who have been directly impacted through these arrangements. The broader clean-up arrangements they will continue. The ADF support that is all over and above what we're talking about here. And so, this is not just a helping hand, this is an enormous embrace that is coming from the Commonwealth Government along with the State Government to ensure that we stand with the people of the Mid North Coast and across the state to ensure as the waters recede their hopes rise and we see this part of the country once again realise all of their expectations. Gladys.

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Thank you. Thank you, Prime Minister. Also having travelled through the Mid North Coast today, it's unimaginable the kind of trauma and devastation people have experienced in the last few days. Yet what really struck me today is the way everybody's come together to support one another. But what I do suspect is that a lot of people who have lost their homes or have experienced the devastation are still in a state of shock. We just say to everybody, please know that the Federal and State Governments are working together to get you what you need in the next few days, weeks and months ahead. We know for some people the clean-up and recovery will be a shorter period than others. But we also know, regrettably from all the experience we've had, that sometimes the clean-up and recovery is more difficult than the crisis itself. I just want do extend my deepest gratitude to all of our emergency services workers and volunteers who have worked so well together from all the different agencies to really support our communities and Commissioner, you're from the SES - you have lead the charge and I want to thank her publically for all her efforts. To all the agencies the Prime Minister mentioned, everyone stepped up and worked together. Who would have thought Fire & Rescue and RFS would be supporting SES in a fire, in a flood rather, but that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s been all resources on deck and we’ve got through the last few days and as the sun’s come out we know this is when the clean-up and recovery starts. I am grateful that the Prime Minister has made available those categories of funding. It means that we can really kick in that support for many who are doing it tough. We have unfortunately seen many businesses today up close and personal and seen what they have lost, but also of course also individuals and their homes. That is why a few days ago I moved quickly to appoint the Deputy Premier as responsible for the clean-up and recovery of New South Wales. Regrettably, he's had too much experience in this category, having previously supported the community in the bushfire category. I also want to acknowledge Minister Melinda Pavey, who has not only done an outstanding job here locally supporting her community, but also supporting the New South Wales Government more broadly and getting assistance where it is required during this difficult time. It has been a team effort. We know that New South Wales and Australia always does better when we work together and I again want to thank the Prime Minister and his team for all the support we've received, and I also want to more than anything thank the community for restoring our faith, restoring our faith in good citizenship and restoring our faith in helping one another. No matter where I have gone today, I have just been struck by people saying thank you to each other. Even though they are going through the most horrible time. I met volunteers today in Port Macquarie who had lost their own homes but were there helping other people and that is the kind of spirit that brings us together and makes us feel proud of who we are and I just urge everybody to please get help when you need it. We know how difficult it's going to be, whether it is financial, physical or mental health. Please know that we're here to support you in the coming weeks and months. I think Mr Littleproud and also the Deputy Premier John Barilaro will outline recovery efforts that have already commenced. Thank you.

THE HON. JOHN BARILARO, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND MINISTER FOR REGIONAL NEW SOUTH WALES, INDUSTRY AND TRADE: Thank you,Premier, and Prime Minister, and to both David and Melinda, at a local level, yeah the Premier's right. We're still in the midst of recovering from bushfires. That architecture of government is still in place. For us to roll from recovering to fires to recovering from floods is going to be easier when we first started post-fires. I want to acknowledge David Littleproud, the Federal Minister, who worked along with me during that perioda nd what the Prime Minister has announced today with the Category D funding allows us to get on the ground quickly. There are three stages to the recovery. The first stage of course was managing the crisis itself and I want to say thank you the emergency service personnel for the effort, but also to the citizens for keeping your neighbours safe. That’s the first part and now it is safe to enter, we begin the clean-up and as of last night, the multiagency strike forces has hit the ground. That is all the agencies, emergency service agencies of the State Government, along with the generosity of the ADF and the Federal Government were on the ground. You’ll start seeing bins in streets, you’ll start seeing machinery in streets, and assist the citizens to clean up after the floods. Then of course the rebuild. The rebuild is going to be that long journey. We are still rebuilding from fires and unfortunately for me, when I come to this region and across the state, I'm visiting the same places that I visited as the Minister responsible for bushfire recovery. In one way it is sad, but the other way, because the architecture is ready to go, those $75,000 grants for primary producers, like our oyster leases or farmers, or dairy farmers, that mechanism is already in place. We can start rolling that out as of next week and we will have more to say about that. All the other assistance will be there and we will quickly roll that out because we know how important it was to respond in a timely manner. My commitment to the Prime Minister and the Premier in this role, along with David Littleproud, we will get on the ground, we will be back and we will be supporting the community as we go forward.

THE HON DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks Bara. Look, to everybody, help is here but more help is on the way. We have worked collaboratively with New South Wales, Resilience New South Wales and making sure we have boots on the ground. That’ll be 500 ADF personnel deployed into the Mid North Coast in the next day or so, some are already here. We want to make sure that we take away that emotional strain of the clean-up with a practical measure, having boots on the ground, people cleaning out all that damage that's there. We're also, as part of this program, this $75,000 that are going to primary producers and $50,000 grants to small businesses, let me tell you from the experience of the North West Queensland floods, that saved lives. There are primary producers in North West Queensland, I have sat with after, that said had they not had that comfort of knowing that we were there with $75,000, the emotional toll was too much. So it is important to understand that this will just take away that, not only the financial burden, but the emotional burden as well. Understand that we will also be surging in further mental health support. We will be working with the state, as well as our Primary Health Networks to make sure whatever it takes, they'll be there. I also advise that we have now added another 26 New South Wales Local Government areas to the Disaster Recovery Payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child, that takes it to 60 local government areas across New South Wales, which just shows the sheet gravity of this event. So, obviously we will continue to now work collaboratively through Shane Stone, who will be leading our support with Joe in EMA to make sure we are working with New South Wales in simply getting out of everyone's life and just getting money in their pockets and getting them back into the swing of life as quickly as we can. We're here to help and we are going to keep going until the job is done.

PRIME MINISTER: I have another piece of good news for you. For people in the Mid North Cost, despite these terrible floods, we got that last shipment of the vaccines this morning through the Taree. That was the last one that had to get through to the GPs all around the country. And so even the floods can't stop it. When you got people who are just working to do everything they can for the local community. So, well done to the team for making sure they got through. Happy to take some questions. Let's please focus the questions at first on the matters that obviously have been the subject of the announcements today. Happy to deal with other things, I suppose but we are also on a schedule the Premier and I. We’ve got a lot of people to see also this afternoon.

JOURNALIST: Farmers we’ve spoken to have said that with some of the help that came after the drought, came after the bushfires, came a lot of red tape and paperwork for them. It was very difficult when they were mentally struggling. Are you going to have these boots on the ground for a long time? Or is it a stop in, step out situation and they are on their own to access the help?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I will let Bara comment on this as well. The $75,000 grants we’re keen to get that in people's hands as quickly as possible, and with as little fuss as possible. The good example is how we now do the $1,000 payments, no-one has to fill out any forms, they get on the phone, it’s processed on the phone and they’ll have money within an hour when it comes to those disaster recovery payments, the $1,000, the $400. We’ve learnt a lot working with states on how we can delivery those things as quickly as possible. The agency, headed up by Shane Stone, the federal agency, which is effectively our resilient agency, equivalent to what’s in New South Wales. The agency stays on the ground. They are still on the ground up in North Queensland from the floods of 2.5 years ago, working with local communities, because you’ve got to hang in there for the rebuild and recovery. What I like about the plan that Gladys has Premier presented to me is those phases. Of course, the immediate response phase, but then there’s three phases of clean-up, then the recovery, and then building the resilience further. And that's not a couple of months' job, that's years. That is years. In the same way with the bushfire grants, it was a two-year program of funding and more than $2 billion and but Bara, you might want to talk about how the process rolls out, because it’ll be administered by New South Wales.

THE HON. JOHN BARILARO, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND MINISTER FOR REGIONAL NEW SOUTH WALES, INDUSTRY AND TRADE: There was learnings in the early part of the bushfire recovery, and we simplified the primary producer grants with the Rural Assistance Authority and then through Service New South Wales, which is the one-stop-shop, we have a customer centre approach. We allocate an individual to look after each applicant that comes through customer service, so that consumer gets looked after and we will be able to assist them. We have a tell us once sort of policy in us, if you have ever dealt with Service New South Wales before, all your data is collected, it is on file. I'm confident we will be rolling out these assistance packages quite quickly, compared to what we learnt post fires. As I said, we have learnt a lot. Those learnings, the architecture of the post-fire recovery is in place, and as the Prime Minister touched on, even as late as last week, I was issuing another $50,000 grant in relation to bushfires down at Cobargo. So, we are not shutting this off. There is no timeline. We have said with people from the start of the bushfire recovery, we will do the same here, we‘ll stick with you until we know we have left nobody behind.

JOURNALIST: It is estimated between 200 and 250 dairy farms have been impacted by the floods. They are throwing out milk, they’ve got cows with mastitis. What will be available to that industry in particular to help them get back on their feet?

THE HON. JOHN BARILARO, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND MINISTER FOR REGIONAL NEW SOUTH WALES, INDUSTRY AND TRADE: Well, the primary producer grants, as we’ve just touched on would be $75,000 grants. So, that's the first part. Local Land Services are also working with getting fodder and feed in place. Of course, the unfortunate and tough job of removing dead carcasses, we're taking responsibility of that and we're working with those farmers. But, you know, we will be going to see a couple of dairy farmers, a dozen dairy farmers shortly. The more that I hear on the ground, that’s what we are here for, not just to talk. It’s to listen, and if we’ve got to be flexible in what we need to do, we’ll do that. We showed that in, with bushfires, with David Littleproud and I made changes to the program whenever were required, so we’ll do that.

JOURNALIST: Will you be making sure the supermarkets support them through it, too? We saw some real problems after the drought with supermarkets controlling the prices.

THE HON. JOHN BARILARO, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND MINISTER FOR REGIONAL NEW SOUTH WALES, INDUSTRY AND TRADE: We'll have a look at that. I don't recall that being a big issue, as in price gouging I'm assume you're talking about?

JOURNALIST: Just ensuring their own brands were supported through, and not necessarily looking after the locals.


JOURNALIST: Can we expect, as well, to see programs like fencing disaster recovery?

THE HON. JOHN BARILARO, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND MINISTER FOR REGIONAL NEW SOUTH WALES, INDUSTRY AND TRADE: Yes, so we touched on that. And again, that, that fencing program that we set aside, I think it was something like $85 million in part of responding to bushfires, and again, you know what the sad thing is? Some of these fences that have gone under water are the same fences we've built during the fires. That program still is alive. There's funding in that program, and so we'll just move that program along to assist those with fencing needs and we may even engage with BlazeAid again to see where they can set up camp.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on obviously the Brittany Higgins issue, do you think you’ve misjudged the mood of nation lately?

PRIME MINISTER: I have made a number comments in my earlier press conference today, so it’s a very serious important issue. I am doing everything I can to ensure we do the things we need to do get this right.

JOURNALIST: You said you'd be willing to meet with her. Will you extend that invite to her?

PRIME MINISTER: I already addressed that this morning.

JOURNALIST: You said you were willing to meet with her, not that you’d asked her to meet with you.

PRIME MINISTER: We are working through those processes.

JOURNALIST: You said you misunderstood the issue. What would it take to make you understand? Who can explain it to you?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that's a very fair way to put it. And I think, what I was simply saying is this is a very deep and difficult issue which has so many different dimensions. We all have an understanding to, at one level. But I think this is a very important conversation the country is having, and I'm having it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Australia's Ambassador to China has labelled Beijing's trade punishment as vindictive. Do you agree with that assessment?

PRIME MINISTER: We want to have a positive trading relationship with China. We are obviously facing some difficult issues in that relationship and really appreciate the great support we've had from liberal democracies around the world. None less so than the United States. Keen to work through the issues. We’ve always been keen to work through the issues. But while we're big on trade in Australia, we don't trade away who we are. We don't trade away our values, ever.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, back to the floods.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, let's talk about the floods.

JOURNALIST: One of the things we're hearing, over and over again on the ground at the moment in this region, is that the flood insurance was too expensive. A lot of homeowners and businesses weren't covered. Is that something we need to look at?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I might hand over to my state colleague, if they’d like to address that. I mean, it's different in different parts of the country. And obviously as the Federal Government we’ve been very heavily involved in trying to address some of those issues up if in Far North Queensland. That’s a very complicated issue, as in how it impacted premiums, and reinsurance policies and things like that. But you know, that’s what resilience policy is about now. I think, particularly as we have gone through so many of these disasters in recent times, a lot of those issues are becoming part of the policy challenge. We want the regional parts of our country, whether it is here in the Mid North Coast or in south western Western Australia or up there in Far North Queensland, we want Australians to be able to live their lives safely and prosperously and ensure that we can provide the right settings that enable them to do that. That's what we want to achieve here. I’ll tell you one of the great things today was, and David will remind me of the exact date - I think 11 April, is that right? 14 April the Blue Whale down there on the Mid North Coast. He said, "We will open up on the 14th." I thought he meant May or June, perhaps. He meant April. That small business is keen to get back on their feet and that was incredibly inspiring. Inspiration is what you find in the middle of all these dreadful events and we’re finding a lot of it here. So, with that thank you all very much.