Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB

04 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

LUKE GRANT: Good afternoon PM

PRIME MINISTER: Gday Luke, and mate thanks for the work you guys are doing today. It's a very difficult day, particularly all around the state, but a lot of the other areas you've just been talking about as well. So, you know, thanks for helping people today and all your listeners.

GRANT: Good on you. It's amazing, isn't it, to think, PM, that they say Penrith is the hottest place on earth right now?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, mate I've experienced some pretty high temperatures out in Penrith over the years, but this one has obviously set a new record. I remember when I was a kid, we'd be, you know, in the back of the combi van coming back from the Blue Mountains on a Saturday, Sunday afternoon. And I remember some pretty hot afternoons because they didn't have air conditioning in the cars back then.

GRANT: That's right.

PRIME MINISTER: A few listeners, I'm sure, can remember that. But this one's a scorcher out there and it’s a very dangerous day, Luke. Terribly dangerous day.

GRANT: Indeed. We've already lost two people on Kangaroo Island. They fear it could get worse?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I've been talking to Premier Marshall very regularly. I was just down there at the fire affected areas and Lobethal just before Christmas, visiting those communities, and Kangaroo Island basically half of it's gone in terms of what's been burned there. And there is still some concerns for some individuals. Many people were evacuated off the island, others to safer places on Kangaroo Island. But that has been a very ferocious fire. It was a bit cooler today and the humidity was a lot higher today. The premier told me earlier today so that improved conditions. But some very grizzly and some very devastating news.

GRANT: Now this morning you've come to a conclusion that we need to send reservists to some of these fire zones. I think the number PM is about 3,000. How soon will they get there and what can they do to help?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're raising that call out now this is a compulsory call now. This isn’t just would you mind reserves coming in to volunteer? We've already had a lot of reservists that have already done that, I should stress. But this is a compulsory call out signed off by the Governor-General under a specific authority. It's the first time we've ever done that to our knowledge, in response to a disaster like this. Now they will have a range of different of roles, they've been called out in four brigades and they will be doing everything from just supporting safety of life operations, supporting evacuations, making contact with isolated communities, dropping supplies, providing medical assistance and supporting the state managed evacuation centres. There's also roles for clearing roads, supporting traffic management, supporting civil order in areas that are desperately affected. And there's a big recovery job, too. And I know Luke, that you’ve on 2GB already started talking about this. And you're right to. I’ve also said today that we'll be setting up a national recovery agency. I'll have more to say about that shortly. Today's focus, though, was on responding to these fires. Two other things we've done today, importantly, is we've sent the HMAS Adelaide now that is our largest amphibious ship that'll be steaming south very soon. That'll go down to about the Victorian and New South Wales border. And they, I mean they have a hospital on that ship, that's been stocked with supplies to support isolated and cut off communities along the coast. A very similar job, if necessary, for evacuation, as the Choules did out of Mallacoota in Victoria. I was down that way yesterday, and so they're deployed. But the big difference with what we're doing now, Luke and before,  and it's really got to this point is the national arrangements, which were set up together with the states and territories, has always been for the federal government to respond to requests from the state. So they initiate all actions. And we've been respecting that rightly for many months now. But when you are fighting fires and stretching resources right now across four states, in particular, two of those in the state of disaster and emergency, then we have moved from what is said a posture of respond to request, to move on and integrate with local commands. So we're stepping in now. We're not waiting to be asked. But when we will move in, then we will ensure that we're operating hand in glove with those local authorities.

GRANT: Now, you're adding, I think, some aerial capability. I just want to understand this. Earlier this year, if I heard David Littleproud when we spoke the other day, he said that the head of all the firefighting groups of volunteer organisations, et cetera. And the states get together and they give you a list. Normally in April or might be March for the summer ahead based on the best advice. So they gave you that list and as a result, you act upon it. What you're doing today is you're adding 4 aircraft at their request but you’re saying, listen, we've got to go a bit further.

PRIME MINISTER: Both. They asked us for 1 and I'm giving them 4. Last night we received a request at eight o'clock, 8pm for an additional large air tanker. Now that takes 11,000 litre capacity. That's available within 7 days. So we said, yes, of course we will do that. But on top of that, we're going to get one very large year tanker, which is long range, that has a 36,000 litre capacity. We'll be getting one of those as well. And we'll be getting another 2 additional large air tankers, which are at the 11,000 litre capacity. And that will cost around about up to about $20 million and we will meet that cost to the Commonwealth. And that will all be available to our state firefighting agencies to deploy as they see fit to fight the fires. I mean, we're not here to direct what they do. I mean, Shane Fitzsimmons is the best in the business and he knows what he's doing. And we just need to, you know, respond to this specific request, but actually go beyond that and anticipate the next one.

GRANT: Things like, as I mentioned earlier, essential energy's problem today, 30,000 people, Batemans Bay without power. Some of those probably since New Year's Eve and some of them isolated. There's nothing really government can do to step in and help here. Or is there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the energy companies themselves are best placed to try and re-stand up transmission and things of that nature. They've got the people who are skilled and qualified to do those things if they need any help from us then obviously we can provide that. What is being done by both the federal government through the Defence Force and the state government is to get generators into these communities. I mean, one of the, particularly when they're cut off. I've seen that occurring now in two states, and what- that’s often done using the additional rotary wing, the helicopters that we're putting in place to access those cut off communities. The HMAS Adelaide, obviously, because it's a loading helicopter dock, as it's called, means it can use the Navy's helicopters also to go in and out of those affected communities along the coast. But what this really is, I mean, it is, there were preparations made based on the advice provided by the fire chiefs. Additional resources were put in to support going into this fire season. What is different about this fire season is it's running in many states concurrently at a very, very high level. And the fire’s are running for longer. So normally when you'd get some dousing rains after a period of fire and that would settle it down or extinguish those fires, that's not happening. So they are remaining smouldering/ burning at a low level. And when the climatic conditions change, as we've seen in recent days, then they flare up again. And that's really the challenge of this season. So with that stretching resources, this is, what we're doing today is I should stress, no criticism of state governments - they're doing an amazing job. But as I've seen when I've been out there on the ground talking to people and, you know, I've had a you know, I've had good responses and I've had some angry responses. Look  I expect that when I go in to places, Luke, I mean, I was the first leader to go into Cobargo the other day, and I expected to get, you know, some angry voices. I mean, I would expect that people are angry. They're hurt, they've lost everything. So you just don't take it personally. You listen carefully. You try and comfort people and you just get back to work and get on with the job.

GRANT: This is only January and we know sometimes it gets worse in February and March. Is anyone telling you, PM this is nothing, wait until you see what happens, you know, in February and March?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no one's telling me it is nothing. People are telling me this is very severe, obviously. But when I was in Victoria yesterday, a lot of the concern there is their worst season usually does come in February. And the fires currently in Victoria are very focused in the south east of that state. The rest of the state is in pretty good order except for one fire down towards Warrnambool, or spot fires, things like that. But that's where its focused now. Now god forbid that Victoria would see those fires move across its west. We are seeing some things more up towards Albury and Wodonga and obviously Wodonga’s in Victoria, in New South Wales, though, that's where the most fires still rest. I mean, it is like, this morning it was around 136 fires. But, you know, there's 10 fires in Western Australia. There's 39 in Victoria. There's 9 in Tasmania. There's fires in South Australia, Queensland and the only state, the only places where we don't have registered fires this morning was in the ACT and the Northern Territory. So some of them obviously more severe than others. But New South Wales is bearing the load and that is really stretching things. And that's why we weren't going to wait to ask. I mean, it's not being impolite. That's just knowing that we've got to get in there and provide that support as quickly as possible. And we think the New South Wales government for their cooperation and support.

GRANT: You touched on what you came across yesterday. And I really don't want to get into the politics. But at some point, a young Scott Morrison would have said, gee, I hope I'm PM one day and then you become PM and you see reactions like that. I know you've got to focus and it's something many would be envious of because you are just able to put your head down and get on with the job. But you wouldn't be a human being if you didn't walk in there as a Prime Minister just offering support and help and to hear that response and not think yourself, you know what a people expect me to do, as you've said before, you don't hold a hose. If you get asked to do something, you do it. In my experience, I think what you've done today is brilliant. You've answered the calls of the other states, but as a human being, you hear that, it's got to affect you PM?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, look, Prime Minister’s don't get those indulgences and nor do they seek them. I understood going down there with Jenny the other day that people would be feeling very raw. And when you were there, you could understand absolutely why. And there was a mixed response. I got to say, Luke, I mean, some of the media is just focused on one element of that. That doesn't surprise me. The broader response was much different to that. And I want to thank many people in Cobargo who were, you know, were pleased, expressed their thanks for coming. They shouldn't have to. I mean, that's where I thought I should be. I hadn't had the opportunity to get down to the south coast. I'd been at Geoff Keaton's funeral that morning with the commissioner and then the premier. And I was keen to get down there knowing I'd be in Victoria the next day. I was keen to get there and see these things on the ground. And when I was in Cobargo it was very clear to me that why people feel so isolated in these circumstances. I mean, it's dark, it's hazy there’s an eerie quietness to it as well. Luke. And you normally when you know, at that time you can hear cicadas and all those sorts of things, mate, you can hear nothing. And so, look, I totally get it. And I'm obviously not, don't take it personally and so it's all good from that point of view, but it's obviously extremely difficult for those people. And that's what I really care about. I’m not overly fussed about the other stuff.

GRANT: All right. Stay well, thanks for what you're doing. Good to chat.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Luke. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you.