Press Conference Sydney, NSW

12 Jul 2022
Prime Minister
Additional support for flood-affected areas in NSW; the Commonwealth and states working together in the best interests of Australians; COVID response; Private Member’s Bill into Territory rights; Defence spending and the Indo-Pacific

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much for joining us, and I’m very pleased to be joined by the Premier of New South Wales today, the Treasurer, and also my Minister for Emergency Management. The most recent floods of course have devastated homes, businesses and livelihoods in New South Wales and I'm very pleased that we've had complete cooperation, I think, and a seamless relationship between the national Government and the New South Wales Government. That's what he the people of New South Wales and indeed the people of Australia want to see, governments working together in the interests of the people who we're honoured to represent. We want to work with all states and territories when disaster strikes, because we know that it's a long road back for people who are suffering through the current period. Already, as of today, some 621,700 people affected by these severe floods have received more than $514 million in the Australian government disaster assistance program.

Together, we stand to announce additional funding as another step towards getting people's lives back on track. Clean-up immediate assistance at an initial estimated cost of $80 million with an estimated Commonwealth contribution of half that amount. Primary producer recovery grants of up to $75,000 at an additional estimated cost of $55 million with an estimated Commonwealth contribution of half that. Small businesses and non-profit organisation recovery grants of up to $50,000 with half of the amount coming to a cost of $27 million, shared between the commonwealth and New South Wales. And the flood property assessment program at an estimated initial cost of some $36 million. We'll also be providing $1 million grants to each council in the 37 disaster-related declared LGAs to assist with their immediate social built economic and environmental needs.

This support is absolutely necessary in order for people to get through what has been an extremely difficult time. We know that many of these communities have been hit with three flood events after those same communities were hit by the impact of the bushfires in 2019/20. So my heart goes out to these communities. I visited the communities of Hawkesbury and Richmond area with the Premier last week, to hear firsthand the impact that these floods events are occurring and I look forward to continuing to work with the New South Wales Government and, indeed, with all state and territory governments in a cooperative way when it is necessary.

DOMINIC PERROTTET, PREMIER OF NSW: Well, thank you, Prime Minister. As you've said, it's been a very difficult time for many of our communities right across the state. And to have 37 impacted LGAs gives an understanding to the extent of the devastation that we've seen, not just in this event, but for many events that have taken place before. I want to thank the Prime Minister and the Federal Government for the cooperative nature and the work that we have been doing together at a state and federal level, ensuring that we get every single person through this difficult time. We said from the outset that we would stand side by side with every single person, every single business that has been impacted but these devastating floods and for many people, they are at breaking point. It has been event after event after event. I was out in Camden just the other day and met Joe, who has had his restaurant go under three times in three events. But he stands resilient, as many do. He'll be opening his doors on Friday. But there are many challenges that will continue to face our people and we want to ensure that this financial assistance gets out to people as quickly as possible.

The assistance that we're announcing today, which is in addition obviously, to the Federal Government's support in relation to the payment, disaster payments for those people who have been affected in those LGAs, will be available for registration by the end of the week through Service New South Wales for the business grant of up to $50,000, the primary producer grant, through the Rural Assistance Authority of up to $75,000. The Prime Minister spoke about the grants to Councils and I had the opportunity to meet with many of the mayors across these Local Government Areas that have been affected and what was consistent through those discussions has been the need for government support for infrastructure, for many of the roads and potholes affected not just by this event, but by previous events in the past. This financial support today of $1 million per Council impacted is in addition to that financial support that we have provided in the past and we'll continue to work with our local government areas right across the state to ensure they have the financial support they need to get their communities back on track as quickly as possible. We know it's been a very difficult time, but I think what's most important is that you have all three levels of government working together to ensure that we get every single person through this challenging time.

We've gone through a lot in the past and we'll get through this too and I particularly want to thank the Commonwealth Government for their support, listening to what these challenges are and ultimately being in a position where, today, in a very short period of time, we are able to have this joint funding arrangement in place to get that support for families, for individuals and for businesses right across our state who have been affected by these devastating events.

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks Premier, thanks Prime Minister. Can I again just commend the incredible cooperation that we have experienced from the New South Wales Government throughout this crisis? And I think that that has been a godsend for people in the flood-affected areas. What it resulted in was very quick and early response by getting resources on the ground even before the floods had peaked and it's now continuing with the very quick approval of payments for people who desperately need them. This request was made of us on Friday afternoon by the New South Wales government. We worked on it and considered it over the weekend. Our Cabinet ticked it off yesterday and we're announcing it today. And I think that shows you the quick response and the positive response that can come for people who really need help when governments cooperate. So again, can I thank our New South Wales counterparts for the work that they've done? It's probably also worth mentioning the Prime Minister has given you the figures for the amount of money paid out under those federal disaster payments. We're also pleased to announce today that we've extended that support to a further eight local government areas in addition to the 29 that had been previously announced. So there's now a total of 37. The extra eight LGAs are Cumberland, Mid-Coast, Muswellbrook, Nambucca, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Randwick and Warren. So that’s a total of 37 LGAs around New South Wales that will be eligible for those payments and they will also be eligible for the payments that have been announced by the Prime Minister and the Premier today. The final thing I would say is that, again, we recognise that this is going to be a really long road for many people because in some cases, it's even people have experienced up to four floods in the last 18 months and it's not just in that Hawkesbury-Nepean area but it’s also places like the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast that have experienced multiple floods and are going to need support. I'll be travelling myself again this afternoon to the Hawkesbury to meet with turf farmers, because obviously it's people living in suburban areas that have suffered from this, but primary producers have copped a flogging again from the weather and that's having an impact on grocery prices. So we all suffer when we see these floods and that's why people need to know, and need to be assured that their Federal and State Governments are standing shoulder to shoulder with them throughout this recovery effort.

MATT KEAN, TREASURER OF NSW: Thank you, Minister, thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you, Premier. The dedication and resilience of our emergency services workers, our volunteers and our locals in protecting their communities in these extreme weather events has been nothing short of extraordinary. I want to thank them for their amazing efforts but I also want to let them know that the New South Wales Government will continue to stand by them in good times and in bad. We do so by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Commonwealth Government. We've learned during natural disasters, including bushfires, droughts, floods and also COVID that we're better when we work together and I want to commend Prime Minister Albanese in working so constructively with us to make sure that we're there looking after our people when they need it most and helping them get back on their feet. Today, we're announcing significant financial assistance for those impacted by these recent floods and it's a joint initiative with the commonwealth government. This includes grants to councils that will help with things like urgent repairs to infrastructure and helping them employ additional people to help with the flood recovery. In addition to that, we've also committed funding for the clean-up, primary producer and small business grants and also boots on the ground to assess and assist with the recovery process. We're at the start of the recovery and our two governments will make the necessary financial commitments to get these communities back on their feet as soon as possible.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, we're happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a total figure for your spending along with the State Government?

PREMIER PERROTTET: I'll take that. That obviously depends on demand and what we've achieved through these packages is setting what councils are eligible for in terms of $1 million in support. That's on top as well of the $1 million they've had before in relation to previous floods and many councils, from my understanding, have not been able to actually deploy those resources yet. So this will actually provide double support than they would have otherwise had. So obviously it's too early to quantify what the damage is. The Minister spoke previously about visiting turf farmers today. We know our primary producers - and I certainly saw that from above Maitland and those areas - the substantial damage to agricultural producers has been substantial during this period of time. That $75,000, we know, will provide significant assistance to those producers, and then obviously from the small business side of things, if they have been damaged and they're in one of those LGAs, they can make the application for up to $50,000. So we don't want to put a final figure on it, yet, until such time as those damage assessments are made. But I think it's most important, as we've learned from issues in the past, that we provide certainty to our people in relation to what grants they can apply for and from a commonwealth and state perspective, rather than wait for those assessments to be made. Let's make the funding available for people and we'll deal with the cost to state and commonwealth after.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I make this point in addition. The costs so far to the Commonwealth as has been $514 million of just the disaster payments, so this joint funding is separate from that as well. I make this point, we're making the payments, we're not holding them up in order to audit in advance. But we will be auditing in retrospect as well. So only people who are eligible for these payments should apply for these payments, but we didn't want to be in a circumstance whereby people were not able to receive support because some of these people have lost everything. So the idea that you can go through and check every application before payments are made would have had a severe impact on people and would have added to the trauma which people are experiencing. But there will be audit processes in place as well. So we want people who are eligible, by all means, we encourage them to apply, but only those who are eligible.

PREMIER PERROTTET: Can I just add to that. We have, from a state perspective, putting every resource we can through Service New South Wales to provide assistance for processing. But I want to reiterate the point he the Prime Minister has made. Whether it's through COVID payments or whether it’s through disaster payments, there are always people who fraudulently put registrations and applications in who are not eligible and that is disgraceful. And if you do that, we will catch you out. We'll catch you out. But from a state and commonwealth perspective, it is most important right now that we provide that assistance as quickly as possible to those who need it and, as the Prime Minister has said, significant audits will be in place following this period.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you noted last week on flood mitigation, you noted last week that the final business case for one option, raising the Warragamba Dam hasn’t been completed yet. You’re looking at flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean, and if raising the Warragamba Dam wall isn’t the appropriate option to go ahead, what other options will there be in flood mitigation in that area?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, what we're concentrating on at the moment is dealing with the real-world circumstance of people who have lost everything. That's our priority at the moment. Now, proposals will go through environmental processes, will go through business cases. That will occur and it should be allowed to occur. But what we're dealing with at the moment is the immediate concerns which are there. There's a range of other issues that need to be dealt with, development in flood-prone areas for example is something that governments need to look at going forward as well.

JOURNALIST: Pandemic payments end on June 30, casuals in particular are being forced to isolate and having to choose between earning and isolating. How fair is that for people who are often living week to week?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we inherited the former government's decision on this and we also inherited $1 trillion of debt. They are the circumstances which my Government faces. That was a decision that was put in place by the former government. As I said, we also inherited $1 trillion in debt. We're making an announcement today which will add to the Government's bottom line federally and we would, there are a range of things we would like to do, but we intend to be fiscally responsible in how we deal with issues and that is, as I've said, something that we've inherited, a decision from the former government.

JOURNALIST: Premier, does this sound fair given that we've seen an increase in cases lately?

PREMIER PERROTTET: Well, we'll always work with the commonwealth government. We want to make sure, as we have for two years, to get every business and every person through COVID. And whether that's at a federal level or a state level, there has been financial, significant financial investment to help our people through this pandemic, to help our businesses through this pandemic and I think what we're seeing today and the changes that AHPPC has recommended, which I know New South Wales and Victoria have taken on board today, which reduces the reinfection period from 12 weeks to 4 weeks, that that will provide further challenges as we move during this period.

JOURNALIST: But you will still need to isolate and many can’t afford to do that.

PREMIER PERROTTET: It does, it does. And there are obviously other areas of financial assistance that are still available in different ways, but I think to the Prime Minister's point, there are naturally pressures that are here today making a significant financial investment to get our people through this difficult time of the floods, and we'll continue to work with the Commonwealth Government to provide that support going forward but it has to be done in a balancing position as we move through this next period of COVID. And the other point I would make, very strongly today, is in relation to booster shots and we've said today, the Federal Government has made it clear, it recommends those over 50 to receive a booster shot, eligible if you're over 30. We know that if you look at the vaccination rates in this country, that's been incredibly successful in keeping people safe over the last two years. Now, when we have a 95% double vaccination rate in New South Wales but the booster shot is down at 60%, we can do better in making sure that we go out and get those vaccinations and by doing that, you ensure you keep yourself safe.

JOURNALIST: With case numbers standing, where do you stand on masks at this point? Are you personally prepared to start wearing masks again indoors?

PRIME MINISTER: I follow advice and have done so where it's appropriate to do so. If people can't socially distance, then the advice is there that it's recommended. You have to wear masks, for example, on public transport. Mandates on those issues, of course, are a matter for the State Government and state governments around the country. What I would say is that to back up the Premier's advice that he's just given, to get out there if you're eligible for vaccines, for a booster shot, do so. If you're eligible for a fourth booster shot, and for those above 50 it's recommended, for those above 30 it's certainly advisable perhaps to go and do so if you can, to make sure that you do that. I, myself, will be getting my booster shot today after this ends, my fourth shot, because that is what is recommended. So follow the health advice. We will continue to take advice on these issues by the health experts, and we've acted on all the advice that has been given during this pandemic.

JOURNALIST: There’s a private member’s bill being introduced into Federal Parliament in the coming weeks allowing Territories to get their own assisted dying laws. How would you personally vote on the issue?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my view is, we haven’t seen the bill yet. It will be a private member's bill. I'll look at the details of the bill. I've been on the record previously, I was an opponent of the Andrews Bill when it occurred, and I spoke on that in the parliament. But we'll wait for it to be introduced. I'll have a look at it. The Labor Party has a conscience vote on these issues and so I'll await the legislation that I read is being introduced by Luke Gosling from the Northern Territory and Alicia Payne from the ACT. I think there are two issues here of course, the issue of substance and also the issue of the right of Territory Governments to be able to determine their own legislation as well. And that's something that, in my view, people in Australia should not be treated any differently and with less rights if they happen to live in Canberra compared with living in Queanbeyan in the state of New South Wales, and similar issues apply to the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: Lismore has flooded before and it will flood again. I think this is fairly well known. So gave you two had serious conversations with relocating Lismore? And if not, is it just too expensive to stomach the idea of doing that? And one more question if I may, Premier, do we have a date on when the independent inquiry will report back to you about its findings?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't think we've had a discussion about relocating the whole of Lismore. But what we have had on a pretty informal basis is discussion about planning. I think we'd have a common view that you can't continue to commit the same issues and wonder why you get the same outcomes. And quite clearly planning and development in flood plains is something that is primarily the responsibility of state governments, but common sense has got to apply here as well and I'm confident that he the Premier will be doing just that.

PREMIER PERROTTET: Yes. I'll say a few things. So firstly, I agree with the principle that you can't keep doing the same things the same way and expect a different outcome. And there's no doubt these events are becoming more prevalent and I have commissioned that review. I expect to receive that review by the end of the month. I have said that I'll make that review public. Now, a lot of that will focus on the immediate response to these disasters but there's no doubt there will be a medium to long-term focus and our government is already, independently of that review, working through how do we plan for the long term? We need to make sure that we can stand here as leaders in a circumstance where an event like this happens in the future, which it will inevitably will, that we have done everything we can to make sure we don't make the mistakes of the past. And whether that's development on flood plains, in circumstances where not only does that cost and risk lives, but the impact on properties, homes, and businesses, which the Government, at a Commonwealth and state level will always be there to provide that financial support. That's our job. It's not our money, it's taxpayers' money and we need to look after every single person across Australia, but it would be remiss of any government in these circumstances for what we've seen, particularly over the last few years, whether that's bushfires or floods, to not look at new ways of doing things. I have said to both Mary O'Kane and Mick Fuller, in relation to that review that I don't want a political review. I want a frank, fair-dinkum review, that the Government will take on board and respond. And I'll make that report as public as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Richard Marles says we’ll boost our military in the Indo-Pacific. Will Australia lift its defence spending above 2% of GDP? And for Minister Watt, what is the Government doing beyond airport ad campaigns to reduce the biosecurity threat of foot and mouth disease?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we've said that we will maintain defence spending at at least 2%. That's our response there. National security and our security in the Indo-Pacific is about more than just defence spending. And tomorrow I'll be travelling to the Pacific Islands Forum, where our neighbours in the Pacific understand that climate change is a national security issue. Indeed, they regard, just as the United States does, as it being at the centre of national security and I look forward to the discussions that I'll have with the leaders in the Pacific. Murray?

MINISTER WATT: Thanks, PM. In relation to foot and mouth disease, obviously this is something that has been in Indonesia for some time now, several months, and it has worryingly spread from province to province and last week, while the floods were occurring, we also saw that outbreak reach Bali, which certainly did escalate the risk of foot and mouth disease being brought to our country, given the large number of travellers between Bali and Australia. Pretty much as soon as we had that confirmed, our Government instituted tough new measures at the borders. Certainly public information campaigns has been part of our response. Airport signage, fliers which will be distributed to travellers, increased social media campaigns. But we have also taken the decision to relocate a couple of detector dogs, biosecurity detector dogs, one to Darwin Airport, one to Cairns Airport, to supplement the number of detector dogs in those airports. We now have also implemented a change where every single flight returning from Indonesia or coming in from Indonesia will be boarded by biosecurity officers and a specific message will be played to passengers about the threat of foot and mouth disease and what they can do to stop it. We have increased the number of passengers who are being screened. We have increased the luggage that's being screened. We've increased parcels that are being screened, so we have really ramped up the measures that we put in place as a result of the spread getting to Bali. In addition, I will be travelling tomorrow to Jakarta for face-to-face meetings with the Indonesian Ministers for Agriculture and Disaster Management to see how we can continue to support them in their efforts to contain this outbreak. They are as concerned about this as we are, if not more so because it is running through their country. It builds on the discussions the Prime Minister had with the Indonesian President when he was in Jakarta where we offered vaccines, technical expertise and other support and I will be making clear to the Indonesian Government that we are more than happy to continue supporting them in their efforts. So it's a two-pronged approach, tough measures at home, and firm action and support abroad. We know how serious this is and we are determined to stop it getting into our country.

JOURNALIST: Did you ever describe the New York Trade Commissioner position as a present for someone?

PREMIER PERROTTET: No. I'd say in relation to that, obviously the reports that I saw yesterday are concerning. There is absolutely no place for gifts of government jobs, where they are statutory appointments or government sector appointments. As you'd be aware, a couple of weeks ago in relation to this matter, I instigated an independent review which is currently being conducted by the previous Public Service Commissioner in Graham Head. Once I receive that review - which I expect to have back in a couple of weeks - I will make that public and I will immediately respond to any recommendations that are made.

JOURNALIST: Premier, have you asked any of your government ministers - surely you right now are trying to get to the bottom of who said that to Amy Brown?

PREMIER PERROTTET: I've not received any information from anyone.

JOURNALIST: Are you actively asking?

PREMIER PERROTTET: I've spoken to the Minister in respect of that and I've seen his comments today which he reiterated to me last evening that he categorically denies that he would ever make any statement in relation to that. But ultimately as well, it's important that the independent process that I have set out reports back to me. I committed from the outset to make that review in relation to this process public and any recommendations, if there are any, that I will respond to and adopt immediately. The other point is, as Premier of the state, I want to make sure that there is complete transparency and it's important that there is public confidence in any government appointments. Now, whether they are made through a statutory role in respect of the executive and the Cabinet, or whether they are made through the public service, there are proper processes that need to be followed and obviously yesterday the reports are concerning and from my perspective, this independent review will look at that. I have full confidence in Graham Head as the former Public Service Commissioner, to provide me with advice in relation to those processes and if there are any recommendations that he makes as part of this I've committed to adopting them immediately.

JOURNALIST: Premier, you told Parliament that you were advised there was no suitable candidate identified by the recruitment process, right? But a signed briefing note from the Premier given to Jenny West identified Jenny West as the successful candidate for the job. So did you mislead Parliament? Or did Amy Brown lie to you when she said there was no suitable candidate?

PREMIER PERROTTET: Two points. Firstly, the statement I made in the Parliament is based on the advice I received from the Department. And that is the advice that I have still received and nothing has changed. And when pressed in the inquiry, the Secretary of the Department confirmed that that was the advice that had been provided to me in relation to whether or not there had been a suitable candidate from the first process. Now, in addition to those other matters, they will come through the independent review. I have asked the Department of Premier and Cabinet, through Michael Coutts-Trotter and through the former Public Service Commissioner, to make sure that all those maters through the information that's been provided, are ventilated and advice is given to me in relation to the process. I want, and certainly as Premier, I need there to be complete public confidence in the appointments that are made, either by the executive, or by the public service. So any changes to process, or any issues that have arisen in respect of the process that was made in relation to Trade Commissioners, that needs to be addressed, will be. And any action that is recommended for me to take, I will.

JOURNALIST: The ship that is now travelling from Brisbane to Sydney with 100 people on board with COVID. There's a lot of concern about what will happen in Sydney? Will there be biosecurity screening? Will they be allowed in Sydney?

PREMIER PERROTTET: The advice I've received today - and I'll follow this up later in the day because obviously this issue is developing - but the advice I've received today is that when that ship arrives in New South Wales, crew members will be unable to leave. Those people on board will only be able to leave in circumstances where they have a negative RAT test. Face masks will be required in settings for those passengers who are on that vessel and, as the situation develops over the course of the day, we'll make sure we provide further information.

JOURNALIST: When you talk to Adam Bandt on your climate legislation, what are you offering to bring the Greens on board, and also if I may, why isn't the Opposition invited to the jobs summit later this year?

PRIME MINISTER: Who says they're not? Are you banning them?

JOURNALIST: OK, so they will be invited? I’m just clarifying, will they be at the jobs summit?

PRIME MINISTER: We've announced when the jobs summit will be. We haven't announced an attendance list. We'll consider those things in the fullness of time. We have a mandate for our position on climate. We announced it in December last year. We announced 43% by 2030. We announced 82% renewables as part of the national energy market by 2030. It will create 604,000 new jobs. It will result in Australia re-joining the world effort to tackle climate change. If the Greens Party haven't learned from what they did in 2009, that was something that led to a decade of inaction and delay and denial, then that will be a matter for them. We will have our position going forward and we've already changed our nationally determined contribution and we've submitted it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We have, through the last National Cabinet meeting received the unanimous support of states and territories for our plan going forward. It's time to end the climate wars. I want to work with Dom's Government. I want to work with every government. I want to work with the business community. I want to work with civil society. When we signed our NDC, we were backed behind us by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Farmers' Federation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Clean Energy Council. What that represents is something that would have been seen as being impossible a couple of years ago. To stop the nonsense and to work to the clean energy future that will create jobs and create a better environment. And here today, when we're speaking about the impact of floods and natural disasters, where we have one-in-1,000 year events becoming one-in-100 year to becoming one-in-10 year to now becoming annual events, I don't know what it takes to wake up people, whether they be on any side of the political spectrum, to the fact that we need to work together and stop the conflict and work in a way that delivers outcomes. Our process will deliver an outcome. We'll put forward the legislation before the Parliament. Every member of the House and every member of the Senate should vote for it. If they don't, they'll be held accountable for it. But we'll get on with the business regardless of that. If there are sensible amendments being put forward, we, of course, will always consider that. I want to work with everyone of goodwill. I think I've shown that. But what I'm not about doing is revisiting the game-playing about figures plucked from the air. What we did is not to come up with a figure and then work out how to get there. We came up with a plan for real action, including fixing transmission, the extensive plan that we had, which happened to come out with a figure of 43% by 2030. That's what we'll take to the Parliament. That's what we'll stick to. Thanks very much.