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Transcript of joint press conference: Seaton, Victoria: 28 January 2013: Victorian bushfires; Queensland flooding



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PRIME MINISTER TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE SEATON, VICTORIA 28 JANUARY 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Victorian bushfires; Queensland flooding

PM: Today, we've been accompanied by Premier Baillieu, with Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, with local Member Darren Chester and we’ve been accompanied too today by the local Mayor Scott Rossetti.

We visited Heyfield and Seaton to talk about the consequences of this devastating bushfire.

This is a bushfire that moved five hours more quickly than expectations. That meant people had to respond to their emergency pagers at 2am.

A fire that has created a fire ground with a 200km circumference and a fire which has taken one life and also a number of homes.

I've been here today with Premier Baillieu to say a very big thanks to everybody who has fought this fire, to all of our emergency services personnel, to all of the volunteers, to everyone who has lent a hand as this fire has needed to be fought.

I've also been here too to say to the community that we are thinking of them and it's important to recognise that this fire danger isn't over.

We are yet to face what could be the worst of the bushfire season. Often in Victoria the weather in February is at its hottest and most dangerous.

This fire is not out; it is contained and so the community here will be vigilant and I’d be asking people here in Victoria and around the nation to recognise that the bushfire risk is not over and people do need to be prepared and need to be very careful.

To everybody who has made us feel so welcome today, a very big thank you.

At the same time that I've been here talking to people about bushfire, in Queensland we've seen the devastating consequences of wild weather, rain and flooding with that weather system now moving into northern New South Wales.

Whether it's bushfires, whether it's floods, we are being challenged by nature.

But we are a strong and smart nation and will get through this as we always do by pulling together.

I spoke to Premier Newman of Queensland yesterday.

Our agencies, the Federal agencies that work on emergencies were already working side by side with Queensland authorities.

I said to Premier Newman, if there was anything else that he needed from the Federal Government, then we would work with him to supply it.

We have made available as well assistance from the Australian Defence Force.

Across Queensland, the wild weather has broken a lot of hearts. It's a very tough period.

Bundaberg in particular has been a scene where so many people have had to wait for hours on roofs for evacuation.

We've got flooding in Gladstone, in Rockhampton - widespread flooding.

We’ve got flooding too in Ipswich and consequences for the Brisbane CBD.

Communities in Grantham and Laidley have been evacuated.

So communities are needing to pull together as we face this weather.

Given everything that has happened in Queensland over the last two years, this is a particularly heartbreaking time for people.

There will be people who are facing their second or third flood in a two year period.

Psychologically for people who went through the devastating events at Grantham in the Lockyer Valley, I think this is a particularly difficult time.

So our thoughts are with them and we will be there with practical support as well.

I've spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, who's out in Ipswich today and also getting all of the local briefings in Queensland.

He's already sighted the Mud Army out and about cleaning up homes, helping each other, the way that they did in the floods in 2011.

So to the people of Queensland, we will be there working with you, alongside you as we face the consequences of this wild weather.

As this weather moves into New South Wales can I reiterate to everyone, it is very important you keep yourself safe.

We have seen three fatalities and my condolences go to the families and friends of those who have been lost.

We have got grave concerns for a number of others.

Even what can look like relatively shallow water can be very dangerous if it is moving swiftly.

So please keep yourself safe, listen to local warnings and respond as you are asked to do.

The most important thing out of all of this at the end of the day is that people come through safe and we are looking after each other.

I’ll hand over now to Premier Baillieu.

PREMIER BAILLIEU: Thanks Prime Minister.

I join with the Prime Minister and Peter Ryan and others who are here, including the Mayor, to say thank you to the community here for all the work they have done.

It is remarkable to be standing here on blackened earth burnt by the fires with the smoke still rising from the forest behind us, behind the cameras, and at the same time to be talking about floods in Queensland and New South Wales.

And it is only a couple of years ago at this time of year we were standing in floodwaters as well.

So we say to the community here, we are here to help. We will work together with the local Government and the Commonwealth Government to ensure that all available assistance is online.

It's important at a time like this that everybody works together and that's what's occurring here.

This fire has a long way to go. There are other fires burning in Victoria as we speak and the effort that's been made by all the relevant agencies and all the volunteers is quite extraordinary.

And you have seen it here today. We have seen it here today.

There are a million stories to tell; some remarkable stories of survival.

You only have to drive down this road to see houses that have survived where everything else around them has burnt.

That comes off the back of passionate commitment from local people, from the CFA, from the SES, from all of those volunteers working with the local full-timers to do whatever is possible.

Again, this fire has a long way to go. We have some dangerous weeks in front of us and we will maintain all the effort we possibly can.

The Prime Minister obviously quite rightly referred to the floods in Queensland and the effort that is going on there.

I likewise spoke to Campbell Newman over the weekend and to the extent that they may require some assistance and to the extent that we can make that assistance available we have offered to assist.

We will continue to work with the Queensland Government on any requirement which may be useful to them.

We have all been through this many times and those of us in positions of leadership experience these crises, whether it is fire, flood or otherwise from time to time.

Australians come together, Victorians come together, and we will continue together to fight these fires, to deal with these flood events and to make sure our communities stay as safe and connected as they possibly can.

PM: We'll take questions but just on events; these natural disaster events here in Victoria or Queensland. I'm not dealing with anything else today.

JOURNALIST: Given the emergency situations up north is there any danger that this community and other communities like it will be overlooked at this time?

PM: No, there's not. We will be working around the nation.

We are being challenged in many parts of the nation.

We have seen bushfires in Tasmania. We're standing here on burnt ground and now we are seeing widespread flooding and wild weather across Queensland and New South Wales and we have still got all of the February fire season to go.

So we are being challenged around the nation but we are up to meeting that challenge, up to making sure that in each community we are responding to community concerns and needs.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister could the severity of this fire and I guess similar events have been reduced if cattle was allowed to graze in some of these very thick and high country areas where the fire started?

PM: There is certainly no advice to me that that's the case.

What this fire did was burn incredibly quickly and incredibly hot. It made its own weather. It defied predictions about how fast it was going to move.

So there are going to be many scientists and many people who know a lot about fire who are going to be analysing this fire but there is certainly no advice to me that says it is related to grazing issues.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible to counter these sorts of situations. As you say, as you explained as it moved in the front and the spotting was unforeseen, is it possible to counter these sorts of situations?

PM: I think we've always got to be pretty common sense about what we can do and what we can't.

We have got better and better and better at fighting fire - better and better.

Indeed, the things that get achieved today with helicopters dumping water, with the way in which containment lines work, with the science that's brought to bear, some of which we saw on display today, when you see all of that the sophistication with which we fight fires now is truly remarkable and it is a great credit to a very dedicated firefighting services around the nation that we've got that level of sophistication.

But we would be kidding ourselves if we said to ourselves we can control everything about fire. We can't.

The areas it burns, the intensity with which it burns, the fact that it makes its own weather.

When it makes its own weather then it makes its own lightning and that lightning can start new fires.

These are the truly destructive things that can happen with very hot fires and then our priority is save lives, look after property but you can't do everything and we shouldn't pretend to ourselves that we can.

So, we will get as good as we can but nature will always have a way of throwing up something that brings a big challenge, that even with our sophistication the best we can do is keep a focus on saving lives and that has always got to be the most important thing, and really that message holds true too as we fight floods and high winds in Queensland.

There was a lot that was unpredictable about that weather event, the creation of a number or tornados for example was a very unpredictable spiral off that weather front, so a lot of things that are unpredictable.

We know a lot about water now, a lot about how it flows, a lot about where to put the sandbags and those kinds of things but you can still get carried away in your car by a relatively shallow amount of water if it is moving fast enough.

Don't underestimate the power and don't get in anyway casual about the power that's in these natural events.

People have to be very savvy about keeping themselves safe and listening to local warnings.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what sort of support is going to be available for communities here in Victoria who have been affected by these fires from the Federal Government?

PM: We’ve already, through our Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements worked to make available a number of community supports including personal hardship grants, including money that helps people re-establish their homes and including concessional loans for primary producers and small businesses.

That’s already been done.

JOURNALIST: Has there been enough funding for flood-affected communities in Queensland given that some of them are still recovering from what happened only a short time ago?

PM: We made available resources to rebuild Queensland.

People would probably recall I fought a very controversial fight for a flood levy to make sure that we had the resources available to rebuild Queensland after those devastating floods.

Where we are now is we are right in the grip of this emergency so we can't take stock yet as to everything that has been lost and what the cost of replacing it will be.

We will need to do that a step at a time.

At the moment all of the focus is on getting the warnings out, helping people who have got stranded like they did in Bundaberg, helping people who are in evacuation centres, getting the sandbags down; all of those things that make a practical difference.

JOURNALIST: Do you know what sort of Defence Force resources have been deployed up there?

PM: We have deployed Blackhawk helicopters which we’ve deployed them before in circumstances of natural emergency and they can make a difference for evacuating people from all sorts of situations including the kind of thing we are seeing in Bundaberg where people are trapped on roofs.

JOURNALIST: How do you balance your priorities at the moment given the geography of these situations?

PM: It is fortunately not just me. We're supported by a fantastic emergency management team across Government that marshals all of the resources of Government.

In many ways I wish it was different but we've got tried and tested systems because we have had to use them a lot.

So they’ve faced up to some pretty rigorous tests and we now have good systems for working with state authorities.

We don't wait until an emergency starts. We are in there at the ground floor working together even as circumstances start turning adverse.

So we're there working together. We can deploy assets quickly as a result like ADF assets.

We can get payments and support on the ground quickly when that's required.

We can field Centrelink teams quickly.

We know how to do all of that and we track these emergency situations and do it as required.

These emergencies have a lifecycle where in the first instance it is dealing with the emergency and then we move into the recovery phase.

So right now in Queensland and northern New South Wales we are in the emergency phase where it is very important people are listening to local warnings and keeping themselves safe.

People are dealing with things like power outages; they're dealing in some sections of the state with loss of telecommunications.

So it is pretty rugged and pretty tough and that is the focus today.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you have the opportunity to discuss hospital funding with the Premier today?

PM: We are not dealing with any other issues today given the nature of the reason we are here.

JOURNALIST: When are you going to be expecting to visit Queensland?

PM: I will make an assessment of that as to when is the best time to go.

The Deputy Prime Minister is there and he is out on the ground today.

He has been to Ipswich today.

He will be directly in the emergency briefings and I will look to go myself but there is always a judgment call between when's the right time to go so that you're there and able to hear from people but the right time to go so you’re not distracting from local efforts to do what needs to be done in the moment.

JOURNALIST: It is unusual for a fire such as this to take place in January. Do you think with the increasing frequency of high fire danger days that there is going to need to have to be quite a large investment in emergency services?

PM: Our emergency services are responding well and there is no suggestion to me that we are facing resourcing constraints.

People are pulling together and pulling together well and we pull together across state lines.

I actually met particularly one red headed woman who I remembered very clearly from Tasmania.

She is a Victorian who deployed to Tasmania to help out in those fires.

As Premier Baillieu has made clear we have seen Victorians deploy and maybe some might deploy to assist Queensland, so there is a good system of sharing and maximising resources.

[ENDS]