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Sky News On The Hour 4pm -

View in ParlView

Subjects: Queensland floods; Paid parental leave; whaling

PM: Thank you very much for coming along and I've taken this opportunity to say a few words about
the situation in Queensland and I'll be very happy to take a few questions.

Of course the Christmas-New Year period is a time of joy and family celebration for literally
millions of Australians, but this year we know that there are far too many Australians who are
battling floodwaters. The floods in Queensland are particularly devastating, some communities are
seeing floodwaters higher than they've seen in decades and for some communities floodwaters have
never reached these levels before for the time that we have been recording floods; so unprecedented
levels of water.

In these situations what we see is Australians pulling together, working together to deal with the
situation at hand. I'm sure we can all imagine what it must be feel like to face the devastation of
your home, to face the damage and the destruction. It's certainly something weighing so heavily on
many Australians today. But at the same time, we can all be proud of the efforts of volunteers and
emergency services personnel who are assisting flood affected families and flood affected
communities.

As Australians we pull together and we're certainly seeing that.

Today there is another way that we can pull together as Australians. The Premier of Queensland,
Anna Bligh, has announced a special disaster relief fund and she has said that in that fund the
Queensland Government will make the first donation of $1 million. Today I can announce that the
Australian Government will match that donation with $1 million. Members of the public can donate to
this fund in order to assist the people of Queensland as they face these floodwaters.

Of course the work between the Queensland and Federal Governments extends beyond this, working
together for the disaster relief fund. 38 Local Government Areas in Queensland have been declared
as areas to benefit through our natural disaster recovery and relief arrangements. That means that
those areas are eligible for special assistance, we won't know until the floodwaters recede, the
total amount of damage done, but what this does mean is that the Queensland and Federal Governments
will work together in those areas in partnership with the rebuilding of critical infrastructure. It
also means that families can be eligible for emergency and hardship payments.

We know that the Queensland floods are particularly devasting, but Australians in other places are
also affected by floodwaters. We've seen flooding in New South Wales, in Victoria, in South
Australia and in parts of Western Australia. In total, 130 Local Government Areas around the
country can benefit through our natural disaster recovery and relief arrangements.

Finally can I say the Federal Government will also be assisting Queensland through making available
Australian Defence Force assets as that can be of assistance, we've already seen for example,
helicopters assisting with evacuations.

It's my intention in coming days to tour some of the flood affected areas in Queensland, but at
this time, to the people of Queensland, can I say my thoughts are with you and to Australians
generally, please consider donating to this disaster relief fund, as a practical way of showing
your help and your support to your fellow Australians.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister why haven't you visited Queensland yet?

PM: Well we're in a situation where obviously communities are directly battling floodwaters, for
many communities we haven't even seen the peak of the floodwaters yet, that's a number of days
away. In this period I've been in contact with the Queensland Government, we've been working
together, I've spoken to Premier Bligh today, she is touring flood affected communities today, and
I will tour flood affected communities. We want to make those arrangements so I'm there at the
right time, many communities efforts right now are on preparing for what will be the peak of the
floodwaters, or directly battling floods.

JOURNALIST: Given the extent of the flood is there likely to be any provisional or possible
assistance over and above the usual disaster relief fund made available for people?

PM: Well the disaster relief fund is there to provide emergency assistance. When it comes to
infrastructure, really the full extent of the damage can only be properly assessed when the danger
has passed and the floodwaters have receded, but under our disaster relief and recovery
arrangements, there is a partnership to help rebuild critical infrastructure like bridges, like
roads, like schools, but we're some way away from being at that point. At the moment many
communities are still preparing for the floodwaters and there are communities directly in the phase
of dealing with the floodwaters themselves.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: The declarations are made as communities face natural disasters and then there are arrangements
through the natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements, so there are guidelines that then
automatically apply once the area has been declared as one affected by those disaster recovery and
relief arrangements. Unfortunately, as a nation we deal with extreme weather events, with fire and
with flood, and as a result the Federal Government and the state and territory governments, have a
series of rules as to how we work together in these difficult circumstances. Those rules have been
practiced in the past because we've had to face these sorts of events in the past.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well we are certainly asked our Australian Defence Force to assist as best it can and as
quickly as it can including making helicopters available, so our Defence Force as soon as they're
tasked, get about the job. Sometimes there can just be practical issues about whether a particular
piece of equipment like a helicopter is ready to go.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I think Australians generally recognise that our Defence Force is hugely professional and goes
about its work diligently as quickly as possible and that's what's happening in these
circumstances.

JOURNALIST: There's talk of potential forced evacuation (inaudible) do you think they should be
forced or should they have the choice to stay?

PM: Look I think the best thing for me to urge Australians including the people of Rockhampton, is
to listen to the best advice available to them from emergency service personnel. I'm sure other
Australians like me have seen on our TV screens some people that got into trouble not having
listened to the best advice available. Floodwaters are dangerous and in those circumstances people
should be taking direction from police and from local emergency coordinators.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it should come down to force though?

PM: Well in the first instance I'd be relying on people's practical commonsense, and practical
commonsense dictates that if an emergency coordinator explains the danger and asks people to
evacuate then that's the right thing to do.

JOURNALIST: On paid parental leave (inaudible) there's still a loophole, some parents that are
eligible for the full payments (inaudible)

PM: Industrial entitlements like annual leave and maternity and paternity leave are defined through
our Fair Work system and our national employment standards. They're an industrial set of rules;
paid parental leave's set of rules is there to govern the entitlement and to make sure that
families can benefit and I believe families right around the country are looking forward to our
nation having a paid parental leave scheme. For too many years under the former government, we saw
other nations around the world provide this kind of assistance to parents but not provide it here,
I'm glad that paid parental leave is starting, it's starting on the 1st of January.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well they're different entitlements for different purposes, with different (inaudible) I should
say, obviously the industrial entitlements have intended as obligations between employers and
employees. The Government is funding paid parental leave in order to benefit families, and also
enable women particularly, who take time off, to maintain their connection to work. So paid
parental leave: it's good for mums, good for dads, good for babies and also good for our employers
because you keep that connection between skills workers and the workplace.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well the Australian Government is completely opposed to whaling, that's why we're taking
appropriate action through the International Court system, we view whaling as absolutely
unacceptable. So I'm opposed to it in every circumstance including that circumstance.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well we consistently put our opposition to the Japanese Government about our total opposition
to whaling.

Thanks very much.