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Transcript of interview with John Morrison: ABC Statewide Drive NSW with John Morrison: 17 January 2013: bushfires

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Subjects: Bushfires

HOST: Prime Minister welcome to the program.

PM: Thank you very much.

HOST: Yes we were able to see some of your press conference from Coonabarabran today where you had the opportunity to meet so many of the firefighters who were involved in the battle, and not only them but their support, their family and everybody else who is lending a hand.

What was your impression of being up there?

PM: A mix of impressions and I think a mix of emotions too. I mean, so much damage has been done. The fire there, such a ferocious one, such an intense one.

There’s blackened ground that if someone just took a photo and sent it to you and said that’s a photo of a part of the moon, you’d go oh yeah that makes sense.

So devastating, intense fire and yet with all of that devastation and intensity, because of the way in which it was fought - the bravery, the dedication of everybody who got out and did it - we haven’t seen any loss of life and that is truly incredible given this was kind of the perfect fire storm.

And then you’ve got a community that’s just pulling together in every way. I met a five-year-old girl, Tilly, who has been handing out ice blocks to people after they come from fighting the fires, so just an incredible sense of community spirit.

HOST: Yes you get that impression, and we’ve had coming through on the program too obviously broadcasting into the area where so many people have just been speaking about the number who are willing to lend a hand to do anything.

PM: Oh, everywhere. The spirit of goodwill is everywhere, but lots of tears in peoples’ eyes too, with people, tears in their eyes telling me that their home was gone.

HOST: I was going to ask about that. You would have met some of the people who had lost, if not everything, certainly their homes and perhaps everything involved with them. Again, what stories did you hear and what effectively did you say to them?

PM: I met with Bob Fenwick who has been in our newspapers - such a senior volunteer firefighter and out fighting the fires as his home was lost, the home he shares with his wife Jeanette.

They’re incredibly stoic Australian people, determined to rebuild. You can look at their property and imagine how beautiful it is at other times, a wonderful place to live, but obviously a place with real dangers too.

And it says something that Bob, towards the end of our discussion is saying, I’ve actually got to go now, I’m off to a meeting of the recovery committee. So he’s continuing to volunteer even in those circumstances.

I met a woman on my way in to the community meeting which they have around the middle of each day to keep everybody informed, a lady called Chris who said, my home’s been vaporised, was the way she put it.

And she was relying on her kids, who I think would be adult kids to help get her through and get her organised and able to face it all. But the first thing she said to me as I started to sympathise with the loss of the home was, I’ve got my children, we’re all here, we’re okay, that’s the most important thing.

HOST: And that is the side of it, as you pointed out, the efforts of everybody pulling together and the loss of life is still zero and hopefully it will stay that way throughout the rest of summer as well. But Prime Minister you were also able to make an announcement while you were there about the relief payments that are available?

PM: Yes I was. So we’ve already got some assistance out there working with the State Government through our natural disaster arrangements.

But I was able to announce today that we’re adding to it with a Federal Government payment called the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, which is a long way of saying there is some immediate help available; $1,000 per adult, $400 per child for people who have lost their homes, been evacuated, been put in difficult circumstances by the fire.

And if you are in one of those communities, for example in Coonabarabran itself, there’s a recovery centre operation at the bowling club, we’ve got Centrelink staff in there.

For others who want to check their eligibility they can ring 180 22 66 or get on the Human Services website or the disaster assist website.

HOST: And get all that information which will help them. Prime Minister the irony is there in some ways I suppose that this time last year you were in Queensland with the floods, and the year before that looking at the Toowoomba situation. It seems that every year Australia moves from one crisis to another.

PM: Last year I was out in the same federal electorate - the Member there is Mark Coulton - I was out with him around the same time last year in another part of his electorate and we were wading through flood water. And I’m out with him this time, this year and we’re looking at the consequences of such a devastating fire.

HOST: What do you come away with because seeing the situation as you’ve seen today it’s pure reality, isn’t it? It is what people are facing with and dealing with straight away. Does it give you - and I mean this in the nicest possible way - a reality check about what’s important to people overall?

PM: Oh yes of course it does. These circumstances really make people come back to just absolute core basics about what’s the thing that you most value. And what’s the thing that you really couldn’t do without.

For all of the pressure under which we all live in this modern Australia of ours, the pressures of getting on and working and paying off the house, and getting the kids to school, and juggling the fact that the kids are still young and the parents are getting older and you’ve got to try to meet all of their needs.

With all of those things that we face every day, and the things I face as Prime Minister, when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more important than people staying safe. Being there, being alive, being with family, being supported by their communities, that’s kind of the baseline.

HOST: And the values you’ve seen on display so clearly today. Prime Minister obviously this is a big year and I’m not going to ask today any other questions about the year ahead because there’s another time for doing that. But look forward to having you join us if we can more regularly this year on Statewide Drive and talk about some of the issues as we approach the federal election.

PM: Certainly will and to everybody that I met today out at Coonabarabran, thank you, thank you very much for welcoming me at what is a difficult time for people

and fantastically well done to everybody right across the state of New South Wales in all of the places who have fought the fires or stood watch and kept alert.

And we can’t say this is over yet, there’s some stressing weather to come, so people need to stay in touch with the warnings and keep safe.

HOST: Prime Minister, appreciate your time in joining us this afternoon.

PM: Thank you.

HOST: And thank you for the opportunity to talk to the people you visited today.

PM: Terrific, thanks a lot.