Doorstop at Kawana Fire and Rescue, Marcoola Queensland
Andrew Wallace: Well, I'd just like to acknowledge and welcome to the Sunshine Coast the Deputy Prime Minister; the Minister for Drought, Water Resources and Emergency Services; my good friend Ted O'Brien, the Member for Fairfax; and of course Deb Frecklington, the state Opposition leader.
So, we're here today to acknowledge the great work that's being done right across Queensland and in fact Australia, and in particular the Sunshine Coast by all our firies. Across Queensland at the moment, we've got 1000 firies actually fighting fires at the moment, and some of the firies we've spoken to this afternoon have been fighting fires over the last 18 hours straight. So hats off to them. They've done some tremendous work and we're so very, very appreciative of the great work that they're doing. And DPM- sorry, Deb, would you like to take the lead?
Deb Frecklington: Yeah, sure.
Thank you, Andrew. And can I as well just thank the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and the Emergency Services Federal Minister and local members for everything that they are doing and thank you for being here in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast.
Look, really all I want to say is just thank you to all the volunteers and emergency service workers; everyone that has been involved in these disasters, the fires that are raging across Queensland. Like Andrew has said, over 1000 hardworking volunteers and firies, police, ambos, emergency services workers, and what I just want to say is to everyone in those affected communities: just listen to the experience of the emergency service workers. It is important that we do everything we can to help out, particularly the police when they are asking communities to stay out of their homes, that they do that. And I know that the conditions don't look necessarily like they've going to improve any time soon, but our hearts and thoughts are just with everyone in these fire-affected communities.
Thanks, and now to-
David Littleproud: Thanks, Deb.
Look, can I just say: this is a serious situation and it is not over yet. In fact, we are going to face some even more challenging times on Tuesday. And not only here in the east but also in Western Australia, where we believe there will be catastrophic - catastrophic - fires in Western Australia, both in the Southern part of the state and the northern part. And we're working as best we can with the state government and the Defence Force to make sure those Western Australians aren't left behind in this. But it is beholden on each and every one of us to have a plan: have a plan at the household level, at the community level, and then that feeds into the state and national level. But it's important that we all take responsibilities for our actions over the coming couple of days and until this fire season is over.
We've already, already over this season, seen five fatalities. Three in this even alone. So please do not take this for granted, that it will all be okay, she'll be right; it won't be. There are brave men and women who are sitting a couple of metres from me who have just been on their feet for 18 hours protecting you and your property. You owe it to them to have a plan and do exactly, exactly what they say.
But it is important to understand that we are prepared and we're going to support each and every community as best we can. Resources are being deployed as they are required and we are working with state agencies. Yesterday, the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government initiated Disaster Relief payments for those affected people in New South Wales. And in fact, this morning the Commonwealth Government has increased that through the Disaster Recovery Payments. They are $1000 per adult and $400 dollars per child. They went live at lunchtime today. We are working closely with the Queensland Government for their application to make sure that those impacted people by this fire will also come under those arrangements, and in fact the Queensland Government and Commonwealth Government will have a joint arrangement, and then we will pass on the recovery payment from a federal level in addition to that.
That is just a start. Let me make that clear: this is just a start. That is for the here and now, those payments of $1000 and $400 per child. That is just to get people through the couple of days after these fires. We're working with the insurance industry and we will work with the states. They will continue to make assessments of the damage but they can only do that when it's safe. So we're just asking people to be patient. We are risking people's lives if we send them in too soon to make assessments. And that's why I'd just say: be patient as you can. These professional men and women are doing their best but they just need some breathing space.
We'll continue to work with the state governments as quickly as we can to get funding out and to make sure the recovery is there. We will put our arms around you. We will get through this. We've been through disasters before and, as a nation, this brings the best out of us. And this is above politics and above personalities. This will be making sure that every Australian that's impacted by this is looked after by state and federal governments.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack: Yip.
Well said, David. And certainly in the worst of times you see the best of Australians. And we see the best of Australians out there on the fire front fighting the fires; but also back at these service centres making sure that those hardworking firies, whether they're full time or whether they're volunteers, are well-fed, are being well looked after. And certainly whether it's church groups or the Salvation Army, or whatever they are, making sure that our firies have the necessities that they need to be able to go back to the fire front when they're called upon again to do so. And as David Littleproud has just said, just a few metres from us there are examples of hardworking volunteers who've been out on their feet for 18 hours. Well, when they could have been home, when they could have been doing other things, but they've given up their time, they've given up their efforts and they've placed their own lives on the line to protect property and to save lives. That's what Australians do. You see the best of Australians in the worst and the most difficult of times. And we're seeing those right now.
I've just got off the phone from the Member for Cowper, Pat Conaghan, who tells me that catastrophic conditions are being predicted tomorrow and the next day as a fire belt comes down from the mountain and challenges and threatens both Port Macquarie and Kempsey. As I say again, these are the most difficult of times and as you've heard from Deb Frecklington, as you've heard from Andrew Wallace and you've heard from the Federal Drought Minister and Fire Management and Disaster Management Minister David Littleproud: please, if you are asked to leave your house, if you are asked to leave your property then do so. Please make sure that you listen to the advice by those emergency personnel. They know best. And I know it is difficult because sometimes the fire seems a long way away. Sometimes you just see a smoke haze and you think: well, I'll be safe. But if you're being asked or being told to leave your home by somebody who's in charge, who's in authority, then please do so. It is for your own sake and your own safety and your own life.
So make sure you follow the instructions. Make sure you save your life. We can always rebuild homes. We can always rebuild property. We can't, we can't rebuild lives if they're lost. And it's been very, very tragic that in this event alone we've lost three lives. It's very tragic that we've got seven people unaccounted for. And so I also urge and encourage people to make sure you contact loved ones, to make sure you contact necessary authorities to be sure that they know that you're safe. And if you are seeking assistance please go on the various websites. Make sure that you look at the Social Services website: .gov.au/disaster to see if you are eligible for assistance because we want to make sure that that assistance, as David Littleproud has just said, is available there. State governments are working very closely with the Federal Government to make sure that cash and shelter is on hand for you right now.
Question: Can you tell us, you were up in Noosa. What did you see? You talked to people there. What were they telling you it was like?
Michael McCormack: Well, we certainly- and I'll get Michelle Young, the Assistant Commissioner to add to my remarks because she's been there for some time. And what we've seen and what we've heard is the fact that one of the suburbs there has been evacuated, but there's all- every likelihood that those people may be able to return this afternoon. There is some concern by some people that they want to get back home for their pets and the like. But the fact is, unless it is very, very safe and unless the all clear has been given then authorities will keep people in those emergency centres for as long as it takes. As I say, we can always rebuild houses, we can always rebuild properties; but we can't, we can't restore life if it has been lost.
I'll get Michelle, if you like, to add to my remarks because she's been on the ground for some time.
Michelle Young: Thank you, Deputy PM.
Yes, we have extreme fire conditions for the last week and we're going to see that up until at least the weekend. We are working with local government to ensure that we keep the community safe, and as the Deputy PM and the Opposition leader has already stated, we need you to be vigilant. Look at our website. Keep your radio on. Enact your fire and evacuation plan if you have one. If not, you can go to our website and download one and start preparation. But we do ask you: if you are asked to evacuate please do so in an orderly manner. We are out on the ground in force. We are not dropping the ball. We are working very closely with our local government to protect all the communities. We have a lot of staff and volunteers that are out there every day and doing an extreme job to keep that community safe.
Question: [Inaudible question]
Michael McCormack: Well of course, the firies are saying that it's a fire that has been like no other. In some parts of Australia and indeed even here, the smoke haze is making it difficult. We've just heard from the local firies here that, you know, they were right on the edge of the fire and the fuel load is quite severe because they've only had a short window of opportunity this season to be able to back burn and to do firebreaks and the sorts of things that would otherwise prevent, sometimes, fires from even spreading further. Once a fire takes hold and once it is fanned by strong winds, you know, no matter- despite the training, despite the best efforts of firies it sometimes is very, very difficult to contain.
We've got 82 incidents right across Queensland and perhaps even many more and even more severe in New South Wales. And as David Littleproud, the Minister has just said, in Western Australia they are bracing themselves for what has been described as catastrophic conditions over the next few days. So, we're certainly by no means out of harm's way yet and it's going to be a long hot summer.
We're lucky. We've got the very best trained firefighting people. We've got help coming from interstate. As I say again, and I can't, I can't overstate this: the fact is, in these worst of times you see the best of Australians. People who will literally give the shirt off their own back if it means helping somebody in need. And we've seen that in this situation. We've heard examples of it from our volunteer and from our full time firefighters. They are very much experiencing terrible conditions out there on the fire front. They're doing their best. And again I stress: please follow their instructions and put your life at number one, because you can always rebuild properties; we can't restore life.
Question: Defence reinforcements are in New South Wales. Will Queensland ask for the same help [indistinct]?
Michael McCormack: Absolutely, and certainly I know the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds - the teleconferences I've been on - she's been very much involved and very much engaged. The Prime Minister, the Government stand ready to provide that Defence assistance when it's called upon.
I'll just get David to add to that remark, if that's okay.
David Littleproud: I think it's important to acknowledge the Defence Force actually has already started to be utilised. They've moved firefighters from South Australia into New South Wales and into Queensland and will continue to do that. And the Defence Force is ready to add other means of assistance, whether that be through catering. In fact, Linda Reynolds the Defence Minister's also engaged those volunteers, the volunteers within the Defence Force, to be part of this as well. They won't be put into work at the frontline. They are not trained. Those men and women that sit near us are the professionals. The Defence Force will be there in a support mechanism: in making sure there's fire breaks, making sure water's carted, making sure there's all those behind-the-scenes things done rather than actually being put on the frontline. It is not safe for them to do that. They're not trained professionals. But the Defence Force stands ready and in fact has already initiated a number of movements to assist state governments as they call on that. And if state governments make that plea, obviously the Federal Government will move very quickly, and the Defence Minister is very agile around making sure that will happen.
Question: This one for the Deputy Prime Minister. We've been hearing from Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington throughout this fire emergency about the contributing factors of climate change, that areas of the shire are burning that traditionally and historically wouldn't burn, and the need to take climate change seriously. What do you make of comments like those?
Michael McCormack: Well, the Government does take climate change seriously and that's why we're meeting our international obligations. And I spoke to Tony this morning and we had a good briefing with him. And the fact is, we do need to be vigilant. The fact is, we do need to be able to back burn. The fact is, we admire and acknowledge and commend our volunteer firefighters for the efforts that they do - go to - to ensure that we've got every provision in place to ensure that we don't have fires spreading out of control too early in the season, or indeed at any time of the season. But I also abhor the comments made by the Greens Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, who absolutely should be ashamed of himself for coming out and saying that in any way, shape or form the Prime Minister or the Government should be responsible in some way for the lives lost. I mean, this is despicable. The fact is, at this time, as David Littleproud has just said, we want to put this above politics. People who are at risk of losing their homes or people who have already lost their homes or pets, indeed lost family members, don't need to hear politicians coming out and starting to play the blame game. And Adam Bandt should think very much of that before he makes such stupid and absolute callous comments like that.
The fact is, the Government does take climate change very seriously. The fact is, we are meeting our international obligations and we will continue to do so. These fires, yes, they're tragic. Yes, in some cases they're unprecedented. But we've also had a very, very prolonged drought. We've also had a built-up fuel load. And the trouble is when you get those two factors combined with hot weather, with windy weather, this is unfortunately the Australia that we, all too often, have seen in the past. Fires are not unusual or not uncommon to Australia; nor are droughts and nor are floods. But Australians get through these because we are a resilient bunch. We stick together, we band together, we make sure that we help those in need. And comments coming from a little Melbourne apartment, from a little individual with a little mind, should not be accepted or tolerated at this time.
Question: Now I might just ask Michelle, if I could, just a couple of questions about this fire that we've been seeing on the Sunshine Coast. Can you tell me about the way this fire has been behaving? I know that you are obviously well involved with the Peregian fires too and that firestorm that we saw there. Can you tell me about how this fire has been behaving?
Michelle Young: The fire is a fast-moving fire, and with the dry conditions - we've got low humidity, we've got low soil moisture - with the strong winds and we're going to see that weather for the next few days. So the fire is acting accordingly to what fire does with the wind blowing and the dry-heat conditions. It causes spot fires and that's what’s actually a real concern to QFES with those spot fires. We don't know where they're going to land. And we had converging winds yesterday afternoon which did accelerate the fire spread and turn that fire back on itself. So, while we can keep it in containment lines, we feel safe. We're using aircraft and water bombing to ensure that the fire doesn't spread. But if the wind changes direction the fire will change direction as well.
Question: Are we expecting that this fire emergency on the Sunshine Coast will be passed in the next week or so, or are we expecting that conditions could worsen and we could be facing this again?
Michelle Young: Look, the weather conditions aren't getting any better. The predictions are that we're going to see a spike in temperature and wind on Tuesday. QFES will be vigilant and we'll stay and monitor this fire. We won't let it go until we ensure that it is out. However, if the winds do get up and we have sparks and embers - there are still smouldering logs inside the containment lines - but at the moment we are fairly assured that it is safe. Not all residents are able to return to their homes at the moment. We are working closely with Queensland Police and we need to check with Energex to ensure that it is safe for people to return to their homes at the moment. But we are working as quickly as we can to ensure that we get all of those residents back into their homes as quickly as possible. We do understand that it is very frustrating, being evacuated, but it is for their safety and it is precautionary. If that wind does come up and that fire blows, it's not only the fire, it's the smoke that can cause lots of damage. People get blocked and we see traffic accidents and we see people trapped in their cars in a smoke, heat and then fire environment. So we beg of you: please stay away until it is safe to do so.
Question: And just finally, there's been obviously three days or so of fires on the Sunshine Coast, and then a few days before that we even had Teewah Beach. That must be taking a toll just on the energy levels of your team and the Rural Fire. How's everyone going? How are you going?
Michelle Young: It has been a long fire season and an early start to the fire season. We do have good fatigue management practices in place and we do rotate our crews thoroughly and make sure that they are all fed and watered. That doesn't, you know, get us out of being exhausted, but we won't let the Queensland community down. We're here for the long haul. And there are 40,000 volunteers in Queensland and over 3000 firefighters part time and full time that are here at the service of the community.