Transcript: Raymond Terrace



24 April 2015

Topic: Additional Commonwealth assistance for disaster-affected NSW communities

Warren Truss: I'm here today in response to the serious flooding and storm damage that's occurred through these areas. It's obvious that this has been a major event. I know that local people are used to heavy rain and storms, but this has obviously been one of those extraordinary events that comes along not all that often. And that is the reason why natural disaster relief measures have been triggered. We particularly think of the families of the four people whose lives have been lost, and others who have been injured or lost property. The Government is keen to work with the New South Wales Government and local authorities to ensure that damage is repaired as quickly as possible, that roads and other facilities are back to normal as quickly as possible.

I'm particularly pleased to be here today with Bob Baldwin, and Lucy Wicks, and Karen McNamara. All three have made it very clear to the Government and reported regularly on the difficult circumstances being faced in this region, and I thank them for their continuing representations to the Government to do more, to do everything we possibly can to help communities in these difficult circumstances.

Now I can announce today that the Australian Government has decided to extend the Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance to eligible residents in the New South Wales flooded areas. These are Commonwealth-funded initiatives on top of the natural disaster relief arrangements that are supplied jointly between the New South Wales and the Commonwealth Governments. So these are additional payments, 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth Government, which we believe will provide additional help to families and individuals who are affected.

The Disaster Recovery Payment is available to those families who've lost a family member, had major damage to their houses, or suffered injuries as a result of the disaster. They can access a one-off payment of $1000 per adult or $400 per child. Additionally, the Disaster Recovery Allowance is paid to people who've lost income as a result of the disaster, and it represents 13 weeks of payment equivalent to the maximum Newstart or Youth Allowance payment. It's particularly valuable to employees, primary producers and sole traders who have been impacted by the disaster and need some help to get back on their feet. These are measures that we provide at the national level only in times of extraordinary disaster, times when there needs to be action taken by governments to help people who, even though they may have been prudent in their management, made sure that they had adequate protection for their properties, are faced with a disaster beyond what they could normally expect to cope.

So these measures will help to mitigate the problems that are being faced by communities at the present time. Ultimately we all have to work constructively together to clean up the mess and then look at ways in which we can build infrastructure that's more resilient in the future and able to cope better with these kinds of circumstances when they arise. Now we'll never do that absolutely perfectly, and governments need to therefore stand with communities to help in this recovery process.

Question: Acting Prime Minister, by talking about that infrastructure do you mean power and water?

Warren Truss: Well certainly power and—the reconnection of power and water—is obviously the highest priority in these circumstances. Some progress has been made, but it really is a challenge to get all of the power lines up and running, and I know that the New South Wales authorities are devoting all possible effort to make that happen. I welcome the fact also that emergency workers are coming from other states to help in this crisis so that hopefully things can be repaired as quickly as possible.

Question: What about the Australian Defence Force? Is there any thought of having them helping out? I know they've been checking out the situation in Dungog.

Warren Truss: Well New South Wales and the other state governments in these circumstances have the primary role in dealing with the front line of the disaster, but there may be certain times when they need additional assets, and sometimes the Defence assets are appropriate in those circumstances. Now, if we have approaches from the New South Wales Government to use Defence facilities, then we'll obviously consider those and there is an assumption that they will be provided if they're required.

Question: What's your intelligence, how many people in the Hunter-Newcastle region do you think are affected by this extreme weather event, this natural disaster?

Warren Truss: Well there are thousands who are affected, some more seriously than others. Now clearly our efforts are focused on those who have been most adversely affected, who have got serious problems, have got unliveable homes, don't have electricity and therefore they don't have phone connections and all those sorts of things. Those are the kinds of issues we need to deal with, and that's the first priority.

Question: How quickly could people get assistance?

Warren Truss: Well this assistance that I've announced today is available immediately. I appreciate there's a weekend coming up now but certainly as soon as the offices are open—and people can apply online so that they can do that over the weekend—it's available immediately.

Question: Minister can I just ask you to [indistinct] there. Sir, what are you considering in terms of your political career? Are you considering retiring?

Bob Baldwin: Great question on a day like today up here in the Hunter, I've got to say.

Warren Truss: Well just—I make only the same response I've always made when asked that question. Yes I've served 25 years in the Parliament, and that's been a great privilege. I'll make a decision about whether I would seek election for another term when we get nearer to the time of the next election. I need to give appropriate notice to my party if I intend to stand aside, and I'll do that. But that's a decision that's months away.

Question: On another note, Australian officials have been called in by the Indonesian officials—how close do you think execution might be of the Bali two?

Warren Truss: Well I am aware of growing concerns that these executions may now be being brought forward. The Australian Embassy is endeavouring to gather as much information as they can so that we are better able to respond to the circumstances. Our position obviously hasn't changed. We're appealing, and we'll continue to appeal to the Indonesian Government not to proceed with these executions. We abhor the drug trade, but the death penalty is also unacceptable to Australians. And that's a message we've conveyed in the past and will continue to do so, so long as there's hope.

Question: Has the President returned Tony Abbott's phone calls?

Warren Truss: Well you'd have to ask Tony that question, and obviously he's overseas at the present time. I'm not aware that he's returned the phone call, but it could have happened without my knowledge.

Question: What extra efforts are being made? Are you looking at special approaches from eminent Australians, the Foreign Minister, to go and make approaches?

Warren Truss: Look, we have done all of those things already. We've had everybody who's been prepared to be involved who may have influence, we've asked them to use that influence with the Indonesians. We've certainly also sought to lobby directly, leader to leader. Ordinary Australians have made their views known to ordinary Indonesians. I think there's been an enormous effort by Australians to make it clear to the Indonesian Government that this is a process that we find abhorrent and we'll continue to do that.

Question: Is there anything more the Federal Government can do?

Warren Truss: Well if we can think of anything more to do, we'll do it. Certainly, the efforts have been enthusiastic, have been committed and our embassy staff and others have been engaged in this as a priority now for a long, long time.

Question: What's happening right now, as far as you know, sir?

Unidentified Speaker: Sorry, we're going to go to Dungog now, otherwise we're going to get to some very, very difficult [indistinct]…

Warren Truss: I just wanted to give the local members a chance, if you'd like to say something as well.

Karen McNamara: In regards to Dobell, which is the northern part of the Central Coast, we have approximately 40,000 houses at the moment without power. The SES and also Ausgrid are working extremely hard to reconnect power in some areas and the rural areas, we still have roads cut off and also we have people without water supply and also access to sewerage and septic. I must commend the emergency services for the action they're taking and thank them very much. Also, a message to people who have been without power for over 24 hours, please do not use the food in your fridge and freezers, otherwise it could become a severe health issue as well. Thank you.

Bob Baldwin: I want to say thank you to Warren Truss for coming up to my electorate, in particular, going up to Dungog this afternoon. This is a community across the whole that is absolutely devastated. I've lost constituents. We can always replace buildings, we can repair roads, but we can never, ever replace people's lives. The communities are hurting and the actions of Warren and yesterday Mike Baird coming up to meet with the community is a very strong message that their governments actually care about them as people and communities as a whole. I want to thank not only our excellent emergency services people, but also those people in the community that have come to support the emergency services by simple things; helping making lunches, provision of food. It's been a very strong community effort. I appreciate it. We've got a long road ahead, but we will beat this back. Thank you.

Lucy Wicks: I'd just like to echo the words of my colleagues and to say a great big thank you to the Central Coast community. To see the way that people have come together in this hour of need. To see Mark from Gosford who came to the SES at Erina yesterday and said I'm making you dinner, what do you need? To see families actually opening up their homes for hot showers, for hot cups of tea or coffee, to make meals for the neighbours, it's been extraordinary. But I do have to say that the devastation is more than just seeing the very significant devastation that we have seen, with around 10 homes destroyed in the Gosford local government  area alone, completely destroyed, with hundreds more damaged by the strong winds, the trees and other infrastructure. We do have real challenges, but we also have families at the moment who have had to throw out food from their fridges because of a lack of—the issue of access to power and that is why I do want to commend the State and the Federal Government for their very important disaster relief packages that have been announced in the last couple of days to encourage Central Coast residents to avail themselves of these very important assistance packages, and to say that we will do all we can to help you get back on track.