Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

10 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning every one, just two brief issues I want to provide brief updates on today. Of course, a very quick update on what's happening with bushfires today. But I will direct people specifically to the statements being made at the state level in New South Wales and Victoria. We have severe and extreme conditions in both of those states today and we should be taking the advice and instructions from those state authorities and local authorities in relation to those matters. I know the New South Wales Commissioner and Premier have already stood up today, and in other briefings provided in Victoria. And so I won't go over those matters at length today. Firstly, though, I want to address the issues in relation to the terrible events in Tehran. As has been noted and spoken to by our colleagues, both in Canada and the United States today, I can confirm as I have on the radio this morning, that Australia has received similar intelligence to that which has been spoken to by both the Prime Minister of Canada and from out of the United States, this underscores the terrible nature of these events, all of that intelligence as presented to us today does not suggest an intentional act and that is the basis of the information that has supported the comments I've made today. We are obviously working closely with the Canadian Government, particularly with so many of their citizens affected, as we have an embassy in Tehran, they have been supported also by other partners to support those families that are affected but there are many other nationalities that have similarly lost loved ones and citizens in this terrible event, that includes from the United Kingdom, from Germany, from the Ukraine in particular and I'm hoping to speak to my counterpart in the Ukraine later today. But that is an awful event, our thoughts and sympathies and condolences are with the families who have lost so many loved ones. Whether they were Iranian citizens, Canadian citizens, British citizens, German citizens, or Ukrainian citizens. It is a terrible, terrible event and we'll provide whatever support we can. It is absolutely critical that a full and transparent investigation is undertaken into this terrible event and that would include undertaking all efforts to ensure we get recovery of the black box recorder that can obviously inform that investigation. But- as apart from what I've just said, there is nothing further for me to add really those events. We have had and shared the same intelligence that has been available to those other jurisdictions and have already commented today.

If I can turn to the bushfire events of today, I've noted the severe and extreme conditions that are across two states, what I've said in my briefings this morning with the ADF is I've given them very clear instructions that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately in the event that they are needed in the wake of what we hope we will not see today but we must prepare for today. The conditions we have already seen in South Australia as they are affecting communities there as we speak. Those conditions, same conditions, are now moving through southern New South Wales and Victoria, and my orders to the Defence Force, as communicated to the chief of Defence Force today, is to ensure that they are standing ready to move and provide support to those communities as and when required and to work obviously in close liaison with the state agencies and emergency service and RFS and the CFA authorities that are operating in those States. I can also say that Defence has been taking proactive actions in recent days in particular to ensure that communities that have been isolated and some contact has been able to be restored, similarly could be affected in the course of the next 24 hours and become isolated again so proactively through the Chinooks they have been dropping supplies into those communities so they are pre-prepared in the event that they are cut off again. Equally the Defence Force have been very active working with the state agencies on stock disposal which becomes a serious health issue. There was a lot of work going on with that yesterday. That has been already taking place on Kangaroo Island but that's obviously hampered at present because of the fire front that they are confronting there and that is something that the Defence Force can add considerable effort to and that will be of great relief I think to those farmers and graziers for whom the disposal of their stock and the stock losses is a very difficult issue for them. So, the other part of the work and effort that is being undertaken by the ADF is in the engineering side of works, clearing roads, working with local authorities to re-establish contact with isolated communities but again that will all come under threat again today. So, having put the Defence Force in a position to move quickly in the event of fire activity today, they will move and ensure that they can provide that support as swiftly as they can, but again working in concert with local, state and territory authorities. In addition, I'll ask the Minister to run through the deployment of the announcement we made yesterday. Pleased to say that all those payments were provided to the state governments yesterday. It had been our intention that they would go through at the very latest today but I thank Treasury for getting moving on that as quickly as possible. Those funds have been transferred and the Minister together with the Coordinator of our recovery agency has been in contact with those council areas, so I might ask David to provide some details on that.

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks, PM. Can I just reinforce your comments particularly around today. It's the responsibility of every Australian in the path of these fires, to take the adequate precautions required of them, to enact their plan when they are asked to do it, and if those brave men and women, those emergency management personnel ask you to do something, do it, it's imperative. This is a very serious situation and we have prepared meticulously for this. Our fire commissioners have done an exceptional job, before the season and during the season, but they need your support now. Obviously, this is also hampered some of our pop-up centres, unfortunately because of the weather today some of those pop-up centres have been pulled out because of the dangerous conditions, but they will continue and I have to congratulate Services Australia for the way that they have engaged with those communities in getting that first response of relief to those people out there, the thousand dollars per adult and $400 per child to give them some dignity and respect just to get the essentials of life. In fact in Batlow yesterday, there was an estimate of probably 50, would be wanting the services of Services Australia all up, we had over 25 come to the pop-up tent there yesterday, so these are effective conduits of the Australian government to its people, right at the coal face. As we’ve said, this is going to be a locally-led recovery, not a Canberra-led recovery so we'll continue to made sure we deploy those services when it's safe and we'll continue to make sure, where it's needed. With respect to our announcement yesterday, I was fortunate to be with Andrew Colvin to go to Wingecarribee?

PRIME MINISTER: Wingecarribee.

MINISTER LITTLEPROUD: And I met with the Mayor there, and to see the joy and his face that the Australian Government was going to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, to relieve the financial pressure that they were feeling, with respect to the recovery, not just in an infrastructure sense, but in a human sense. The human toll that's been taken on a lot of those communities was significant. And we met with a number of those, Andrew and I, and some who'd lost everything. To know now that their council was empowered to help in the clean-up, we are expecting obviously insurance agencies to do their bit but to help in that rebuilding of not just the community but the lives of those people that lived there was an important aspect and the first step. That is the first step of this comprehensive plan that we will have in the recovery of these communities. We'll be making further announcements and every Minister has been tasked. Can I say particularly, as we met with David who owned the small business, the shop in the community there yesterday, he obviously is feeling the brunt of no tourists, no people using his shop, those small business owners across the country, we are working closely with Peter Strong from COSBOA and we are making sure that our response is effective and is being led locally. We are hoping that will be announced very soon. But those small businesses that are hurting, particularly in those tourism areas, they can take great comfort in the knowledge that their industry leaders are working with us to make sure that our response is effective. And it’s also in tourism, it’s in agriculture and it’ll also be particularly in the environment. And I know that we are working quickly on that. It's important that we are methodical about this and we are going to make sure that we give the time that is needed to make sure that our plan is comprehensive but this will be a matter of days for the balance of this money to be expended to make sure that we get the balance right. But again there is a responsibility from both us and the State Government to ensure we take this opportunity. It is actually our responsibility to make sure we build back better, we use betterment to build the infrastructure and build the resilience of our communities for future disasters.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks David, and the Defence Force I should also stress have been very active in supporting with fodder drops into a lot of those isolated rural properties for those stock that have still survived, that is a very important element of what they need at the moment. So look we have got time for a few questions today.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the Iran tragedy, could you clarify what you mean by it was unintentional, ie. was it a case of mistaken identity, they were aiming for something but didn't realise it was a passenger plane or in fact it was a total accident they shot anything out of the sky?

PRIME MINISTER: All I'm saying is that the intelligence that we have is similar to what our partners have, and that there is nothing to suggest there at this point, an intentional act. Now I'm not going to go any further than that at this point. There'll be further reports I'm sure made by others who are more closely associated with this terrible tragedy. What I'm simply saying, is that, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Canada have also said and I'm basically saying exactly the same thing as them, what this intelligence suggests is that it is difficult to come to the conclusion at this point that there was some sort of intentional act here.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what are the implications for civilian air travel ongoing around that region and what is the advice that you have for airlines, Australian airlines?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me deal with travel advice. That is all set out on the DFAT website and I encourage people to look at that very closely and do not travel to Iraq- as it related to Iraq, and in terms of Iran as well, it's a very restricted advice on that locality as well. I should also say that our Consulate there- I should say our embassy there, working together with DFAT has been just looking to ensure we have a good handle on who is there and where they are and so we can be aware of that is important in these types of environments. The normal arrangements for dealing with what I would call very dangerous areas, presently, would be in place, that's all overseen through the national aviation protocols of which Australia is a participant and all of the airlines would be operating in accordance with those advice and instructions. There are international arrangements in place to deal with this and that is how we are responding.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister do you expect fire emergencies of this magnitude to become more common in the future with climate change?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we have covered that on a number of occasions now. There'll be the reviews that take place as you would expect and I've already indicated in response to questions that we'll be working closely with state and territory authorities on how they are undertaken. The links and the implications here have been acknowledged.

JOURNALIST: Do you accept that community sentiment has changed and shifted somewhat on climate change, that some that perhaps didn't want more action maybe do because of the bushfire season and will you consider perhaps bringing back the National Energy Guarantee, something that you were a big supporter of, or something similar?

PRIME MINISTER: I accept that community sentiment today when we have got severe and extreme fire conditions in New South Wales and Victoria, would have me absolutely 100 per cent focused on ensuring the response effort that may have to role in within the next 24 hours is ready to go and that I've given the order of the Defence Force to be ready to go and get in there. That's what I believe the community wants me focused on right now.

JOURNALIST: And the National Energy Guarantee?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve already addressed-

JOURNALIST: Back on Iran, you talk about providing the support to Canada, can you clarify what assistance we are actually providing right now, and with the investigation, will Australia be offering any assistance? For example we’ve got AFP officers that helped with MH17? Could we see them help in this case?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure. Well I've simply offered to the Prime Minister any assistance that they need. That's also been provided through our DFAT channels through to their counterparts in Canada and so we will just respond to their requests. On those matters, the direct consular support has been provided by another partner but of course we have been there for some time and we are able to provide whatever additional assistance is necessary so the Prime Minister has an open invitation on that front and which he understands and in relation to any investigation, well, it's up to those authorities that are directly engaged here to set up such an investigation but of course, whether it's through the many international partners who've lost citizens in the course of this terrible tragedy and when I speak to the Ukrainian, my counterpart there, hopefully later today, then I'll obviously be offering the same assistance and support as they want to take up.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you have been asked a lot this week about your response times for the bushfire crisis. You are human like the rest of us. Why is it so hard to admit that you could have acted more quickly?

PRIME MINISTER: I've already given I think quite detailed responses to those questions. What we have got here is the single largest federal response to a bushfire disaster nationally that the country has ever seen. Both in the scale of the Defence response, the Call-Out of reserves, the establishment of the recovery agency and deployment of $2 billion on top and beyond category A-to-C to assistance on top of the Defence effort, on top of the standing services and support that comes out of our Social Services agencies. The government's responding to an unprecedented crisis with an unprecedented level of support. Thank you very much.