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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

SCOTT BUCHHOLZ: Firstly I want to acknowledge the Mayor Greg Christensen who’s done an outstanding job communicating not only with the community, but to the rest of the state and the country as these disasters have been unfolding. And I know Greg’s task is still ahead of him yet in working with the community as we move through this phase and into to rebuild. Can I acknowledge John Krause the state- local state member here who’s been basically my eyes and ears on the ground for the last couple of days. Thank you John from me to you for all the work that you’ve done and I noticed today that you’re joined with the Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington today. It’s always good to have you here in the electorate. Unfortunately these are not the circumstances that we we look for these visits but nevertheless we welcome you here today. To the emergency services personnel. Ben Markus from Queensland Police. Thank you Ben for the work that you’re doing and the leadership that you’re showing in this space. Ben and I unfortunately worked together on Grantham floods some nine years ago and I don’t know, we just always seem to catch up in under these disastrous situation. So Ben thank you for the work that you’ve been doing. And please pass on our appreciation to all your team. Kevin Welsh from the Queensland Fire Brigade thank you Kev. Not only just for the amazing work that you’re doing but the work that you guys do with your volunteers and coordinating the rural fire, the SEC and the fire brigade through the comms, we’ve been this morning up to the ICC and it is just nothing short of exhilarating to see those those people at work. They’re professionals. The best advice we have, from people on the ground is when they ask you to do something do it. But the Prime Minister, can I say thank you again for making your way to our electorate. I remember when you were first elected you showed a compassion and an empathy for those that had been affected by the drought. You- your presence here today I’ve seen it firsthand once again has lifted the spirits of those that have been affected by this disastrous- this disastrous event. Before I pass on to the PM I just want to acknowledge also the resources here at Canungra barracks under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Arran Hassell. Arran’s an amazing operator and he is currently housing in excess of 100 volunteers from the different states that have come here to lend their shoulder and their hand to help out while this disaster unfolds. He’s also made available water assets for our aerial- aerial aviation pieces of equipment to fight the fires. He’s provided mapping and of course his leadership will be at the fore as we move forward in this place, to everyone that’s contributed. Thank you. The volunteers from our CWA personnel, it’s nothing short of outstanding. The rebuild is still in front of us but without further ado can I please ask the Prime Minister to come forward, PM thank you for coming to Canungra.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s Scotty. It’s great to have my state colleagues and also David Littleproud, the Minister that deals with natural disasters and our response to them and its, this is why we’re here today. I’m glad that Jenny and I could come here today to offer our comfort and to offer our support on the scene of what were inferno fires just a few days ago. And to be able to be here today and see the incredible spirit of the response of those directly affected that have lost their homes, through to those who are standing in canteens, standing in response groups, organising accommodation and logistics. It really is a tremendously impressive operation but it is one that is completely motivated by the great spirit and the big heart of Australians. These these natural disasters always have the most terrible of impacts but they bring out the best in Australians in every aspect whether it’s those who are fighting fires who have come from locally here in Canungra or those who have come from South Australia and we met one of those Adelaide crews up there today near Binna Burra, or those who have already been here from New South Wales or the ACT particularly while the local firefighters here can get a well-earned break. I mean for some of them they are out there about 10 days and they need that break because when they’re fighting fires we need to keep them safe as well. And that’s what I’m so impressed about today when we see how the national coordination effort comes together so quickly, so professionally and it’s so focussed on dealing with what might come, with what’s already happened and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everybody who’s involved. Now Scotty’s right. We gotta fight the fires that are still happening and there’s another wind change this afternoon and those from the fire service are better placed to advise you on on those issues, and I’d be happy for them to do that but there’s also the impacts of the rebuild and I’m ensuring that people get support during that period of time as well.

I mean the area within this morning I remember camping there when I only was about 17, many many years ago with my brother and a few other mates. And this is a tourist area. One of the most beautiful parts of the country and it’ll be some time before these areas can open up again and the visitors can come back through. And so it’s important that during this period where business is obviously going to be soft and jobs are going to be affected. Binna Burra itself they’ve had to lay off 70 people and that’s heartbreaking. I was talking to the chairman Steve this morning, who I’ve known for many years from my days back in the tourism industry and you know these are local people and Binna Burra is an important part of their local economy. And so today we’re announcing a Disaster Recovery Allowance will be payable in these circumstances and that will be payable from Monday and I’ll allow Minister Littleproud to go through the details of that but it supports people who are suffering income loss as a result of the economic impact of this disaster and of these fires.

So if you can’t get those shifts or you’ve had to go back from full time to part time or you’ve lost your job completely as a result of these things this is an allowance that helps you work through that very difficult period when you’re waiting for the businesses to reopen on things like that. Now these payments have been very important in other disaster areas it was great to see some people up on the instant response centre where I’ve got to say Kaye’s doing an absolutely amazing job. We got people there from Townsville and they were seeing the same coordinated response swing into action on that case and it was floods, here it’s fires but it’s the same support structures that come together to support people in these circumstances. I’ve also been really pleased to see, and Roxy from Emergency Management Australia and I know that David would be particularly pleased about that the work that’s been going on over many years now to better coordinate the national effort in getting assets and resources and systems in place to respond to these disasters.

These are not the only fires that are going on as we know these fires over in Stanthorpe in David’s electorate, up on the Sunshine Coast, down in northern New South Wales fires even further south in Lithgow a week ago. But to see how the nationally coordinated effort is actually really working now in place it is very encouraging. And when people can see the crews turn up the resources coming to back them in, the digital communication systems working this I think is it should be of great assurance to Australians all over the country where we face a difficult environment and particularly the moment with the drought. These are the additional risks that are being realised. I want to thank all of the volunteers whether you’re fighting on the frontline of the fire or you’re coordinating all of the wonderful donations that I’ve just seen just here, all the things that people need and they’ve been working just as hard in there as others have been out there on the fire front. I want to thank them all for being wonderful Australians and showing that tremendous Australian spirit in the depths and the difficulty of the fires, as always we’re seeing the best of our country. Now I’m going to ask David to just briefly run through the nature of the DRA payment and a couple of other matters and then I’ll ask Deb to have a few words and it’s great to be here with Deb and I’m glad we’ve been here together today Deb and I want to thank also I should say the Queensland Government for the work we’re doing with them in these in these circumstances. These are these are joint efforts that are done in these circumstances. There’s no politics here. You’ve just got to get in and help people and that’s what we did in the floods up in Townsville. That’s what we’ll do with the fires here in Canungra. And people can expect the same level of support and the same level of cooperation. Thank you, David.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thank you PM and to Scotty and to Deb, and John it’s great to be up here with you today and today’s announcement around the Disaster Recovery Allowance is to look after those that are most vulnerable who have lost their income as a result of these fires. This is a temporary 13 week payment to allow people to get back up on their feet. It is predicated on their own personal circumstances and what we would say to people is please do not self assess. It is important that you reach out to human services. These payments are live and well on Monday. So please do not self-assess in your own individual circumstances. You need to understand that these payments are there to help you but it is a temporary support payment for 13 weeks but it also complements the already arrangements that we put in place in partnership with the Queensland Government and the New South Wales Government around support payments where individuals can get up to $180 or $900 per family there is also allowances for rebuilding of infrastructure as well as household items, as well as freight subsidies for farmers to bring to bring fodder and water. And in addition, there’s also which I think is most important there are some small grants for those not for profit community groups that are- put the shoulder to the wheel for their fellow Australians here today and over the last couple of weeks it is important we understand the risk has not passed and the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line for you need to be respected and listened to. Tragically we had one New South Wales firefighter that was hospitalised and I’m pleased to say that he is recovering he didn’t- despite that his own property came under threat he sacrificed his safety for each and every one of us. And in my mind these people, these great men and women are true Australian heroes and they need to be respected and we are not out of the woods yet. Please listen to them as we go through these next couple of weeks. But you can have confidence as the Prime Minister said we have a world class emergency management system predicated and supported by world class emergency management personnel. So we’ll continue to work with the state government. They’ll make further assessments around further support that both Queensland and New South Wales and the federal government will make. But we can only do that when it’s safe for them to go in and make those assessments. So we’re collaborating with those state governments very closely and we’ll continue to be agile and if they make application as we’ve got a very strong track record as was in the case up in north west floods in Townsville we act very quickly and we will make sure that the assessment of those applications is done straight away. So thank you for coming today. But we hope that over the coming weekend that conditions continue to ease otherwise these brave men and women are going to have to put the shoulder wheel again but can I thank them, from behalf of a grateful nation. Thank you.

DEB FRECKLINGTON: Thank you very much Minister, and thank you to you and to Scotty Buchholz, local members Scotty Buchholz and John Krause. Thank you so much to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny for coming here today to actually just see on the ground, PM it’s really heartfelt and thank you so very much. I know that people like Pamela and Stewart who we met up here earlier this week were just so grateful to see your smiling face and and to really just understand what has been going on here in this local community. And of course my thanks go out to each and every one of the volunteers- the emergency services, the rural firies who are desperately needing a break right now. And I know they’re desperate to get back out and contain the fires that are still going but they do need to have that break. It is very heartwarming to hear of the recovery payments that the Prime Minister has announced here today and particularly for those volunteer groups who have given up their time to help coordinate this recovery effort that we’re going into. So we thank you again very much Prime Minister and to his lovely wife Jenny. It’s just been wonderful to be able to spend this morning with you, thanking those hardworking firefighters, the volunteers, and to this local community just all I say, is just hang in there and everyone’s here to help. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Deb. Let’s take some questions on the fire issues and then we’ll go from there.

JOURNALIST: Do you think 13 weeks of payments is enough to help people get back on their feet here?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s what we’ve, that’s the standard arrangement that we’ve had and that we’ve applied in similar circumstances. And these are things that then can be ongoing, assessed for those payments. The whole point is here is it’s based on the level of, and time period that we think people might have their businesses and other things disrupted, it may will get much longer than that. And if that’s the case then obviously we’ll address that at that time. But it is a help or support payment and you can still access it even though as I said you might have had an income of that amount, and it’s been reduced to that. I mean it’s there there are rules around the payment that’s why I think David makes the right point. You know you can get in touch online on the phone or go into the centre of which ever way you choose to do it. But those processes work very well and the Department of Human Services I think has done a great job up in North Queensland when we turned round those payments so quickly, so incredibly quickly and people just need to know when these things happen that you know we’re here and look and look around everybody’s here. Everybody is here to help and we’re part of that team that’s here to help.

JOURNALIST: Will the payment amount vary for each person?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Well it depends on their circumstances and what their loss of income is and things like that.

JOURNALIST: What was it like seeing area that’s usually rainforest been burnt?

PRIME MINISTER: Whether you walk into a community that’s been devastated by flood or fire what I notice is the people. There are the charred remains of buildings or the or the mud soaked carpets of people’s homes. But what I see are the people and I see two things I see great sadness. But at the same time an indomitable spirit. And that’s when you see the best of people. So what do I see when I see disasters I see amazing Australians.

JOURNALIST: In terms of specifically the rainforest, you said it’s quite beautiful up there?

PRIME MINISTER: It is. And it’s quite uncommon for rainforest to burn as the firies here were telling me I mean at Pam and Stewart’s place I mean they’ve been there 25 years and they’ve never seen fire over that period of time. And so you know we are dealing with challenging conditions and it is very dry at the moment, I mean that’s, that’s what happens in droughts. And I’m pleased to hear that a lot of the water that’s been able to be used with the with the water bombing has been able to have been taken here at a Canungra in other parts of New South Wales for example I mean having taken out pretty much almost empty dams and that’s just compounding the problem but here as Scotty and David mentioned there’s also the issue was there was a lot of feed here and it’s going up in smoke and that feed while these and some of these places aren’t big big big runs at the same time, I mean their feed’s gone. And so that’s that’s going to put further stress on that but the feed drops are happening and that’s an important part of the immediate response. But Australians I think and all the agencies state federal working together, local are quite good at planning out now I think, ok I will need this this week we’ll need this next month, we’ll need this two months from now and even up there this afternoon the South Australians are up there charting the course of where the fire might go with a change in the wind direction this afternoon and what it’s force might be and how they can forward plan where they can get people and how they can sustain them. So it’s you know it’s a, it’s a pretty calibrated effort.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Binna Burra resident Lisa Groom has linked to emergency here to climate change. She said the government urgently needs to declare a climate emergency. What do you think her thoughts?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the government believes we need to take action on climate change and we are and we’ll continue to do that. We’re one of the few countries that will actually exceed our Kyoto 2020 targets. In fact we’ll exceed the by three hundred and sixty seven million tonne. We make commitments, we keep them. We’ve made commitments for 2030 and we’ll keep them. This is one of many factors that go into these incidents. One of many factors. I mean one of the key factors here has been the ferocious winds. I mean the houses that burned down at Binna Burra, the fire started, what was it, around 30 kilometres Scotty? And the carry on the embers was multiple times over what they would normally anticipate. And this is this is quite complicated terrain too. And so that’s why rain here is very important in seeing a lot of these fires go out. So look it’s one of many conditions and that’s why the government does take action on climate change.

JOURNALIST: Should a climate emergency be declared?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not even sure what the policy response that that entails, if it entails that you should take action on climate change then we have already responded. We have already responded and we will continue to respond to take action on climate change. But I’ll tell you what people here are very focussed on, just helping people. There’s not a lot of philosophical or ideological scientific arguments taking place here. There is a discussion taking place about how to support crews how to help people get sustained. How do they get their income back in their pocket while they have to go through a difficult time. I mean in disasters that’s what matters and to be honest my focus is on that. But you know the broader issues that are at play, well this is why we take action on climate change and we are. And I I don’t accept any suggestion that we don’t, because we do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister it’s so early in the year to be seeing these conditions, are you concerned for the fire season ahead?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m always concerned for the fire season ahead. I remember this time last year I was concerned for the fire season ahead and we had some very debilitating fires last season as well these, I mean fires are not strangers to Australia whether it’s here or anywhere else. And that’s why so much of the planning and the coordination and the management and the placement and organization of assets and resources and training and systems and communications. We’ve done all this over many years now because we are always concerned about the fire season approaching. And that’s what good governments should do. They should focus on putting the resources in to ensuring our preparedness. And so you can see the sort of response you’ve seen here. I mean the sophistication of this response here you’ve seen right before you is very impressive. Now that doesn’t happen by accident that happens because of good planning and good people and the resources that go in behind those planning programs and that’s what you’re seeing on show here. And I think that is one of the things that really set Australia apart. We have to deal with a lot of natural disasters and we got very good at responding to them and managing them and we’ve learned some very difficult lessons from some horrific, some horrific fires, some horrific floods. And each time they happen we always learn from them and we always increase our preparedness for the next one because we always know there will always be a next one.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister why was it racist to question Gladys Liu’s connections to China but it wasn’t racist to call Sam Dastyari Shanghai Sam?

PRIME MINISTER: I didn’t use either of those phrases so, I think people here today are focussed on the fires, not Canberra. Thanks very much.

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