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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Winmalee, New South Wales: 18 October 2013: New South Wales bushfires; and disaster recovery payments.

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18 October 2013



Subjects: New South Wales bushfires; disaster recovery payments.



I'm here at the Winmalee Rural Fire Brigade command post. I have had the benefit of a briefing from Shane Fitzsimmons, the New South Wales Rural Fire Brigade Commissioner. I have also had briefs from some of the local incident controllers. I am here with Marise Payne, the Minister for Human Services with Louise Markus, the local member and also with Senator Doug Cameron, who is a local resident and is now the newly appointed Shadow Minister for Human Services.

I guess the first thing to do is to say on behalf of the people and the Parliament of Australia how much we feel for everyone right around the state of New South Wales, but particularly here in and around Winmalee, how much we feel for everyone who has suffered through these devastating fires.

Today is a much quieter day than yesterday, but this is a fire emergency which could go on for quite some time. There are hundreds of people who are grieving the loss of property. Tragically there has been, it seems, one life lost further north, someone who was defending his house. We grieve for everyone impacted by these fires and we thank and congratulate everyone who is working to keep the state of New South Wales safe right now. We've had hundreds of police, we've had hundreds of New South Wales fire brigade workers and we've had literally thousands of Rural Fire Brigade volunteers and State Emergency Services volunteers out over the last 24 hours.

These are ordinary people who, on extraordinary days, come together to support their community and to protect their fellow Australians. We are incredibly lucky to have them. We're also lucky to have supportive employers and supportive families who allow their loved ones to go out and do this kind of work when it's needed.

I want to say thank you to the employers of New South Wales for making so many of their staff available to serve in the emergency services, particularly in the New South Wales Rural Fire Brigades at this time. It could be a long, hot, dry summer. Over the last three months, most areas of New South Wales have had


above average temperatures and below average rainfalls. It's projected that over the next three months, most parts of New South Wales will similarly have above average temperatures and below average rainfalls.

I trust that the employers of New South Wales will be patient with those of their staff and workers who need to get out and serve with the emergency services, particularly with the Rural Fire Brigades in coming months. This is an important way in which families and businesses can serve our community by supporting those of their members who are out with the Rural Fire Brigades. But again, I just want to say how sorry we are on behalf of the people and the Parliament of Australia for the heartache which so many hundreds of people in New South Wales are currently dealing with, but how proud we are of the thousands of volunteers and full-time professionals who are out there keeping us safe on a difficult day.


Prime Minister, you've seen many fires over many years. How serious are these compared to others that you've been experiencing before?


Look, I will take a couple of questions and then I will ask Senator Payne to talk about the Centrelink response which the federal government has made available. Look, I’ll leave the incident controllers and the New South Wales Commissioner to comment on operational aspects of the fire, but plainly, this was a very big fire. It's quite a long time since we’ve had property losses in the order of hundreds here in New South Wales. So this was a very, very big fire. Marise, do you want to just talk about the Centrelink response?


Thank you very much Prime Minister. First of all, let me say that the emergency response number for those seeking support from Centrelink who have been impacted by the fires right across New South Wales is 180 22 66 and the call centre is staffed and people will be able to take your details now and ensure that the support that you need is provided to you. We are able to support people whose homes have been tragically lost in the events of the last few days, whose homes have been significantly damaged and those people who have suffered serious injury as well, and there are a number of people who are currently in hospitals around this area and elsewhere who have been impacted personally by injury from the fires.

The Centrelink office in Springwood specifically will be open over the weekend to support the people here in this local area and Mrs Markus, the Member for Macquarie, has been assisting us enormously today with making sure that the resources her constituents need are available to them.

We will also have a mobile service centre up and running from first thing tomorrow morning in the Winmalee area itself, with Centrelink officers that are able to assist people in this community who have been so badly affected by these events and Centrelink officers in other areas of the state where significant damage has also occurred will make themselves available as well and we are very, very keen for those who are concerned and who have suffered these impacts to call the emergency response number: 180 22 66 and hopefully we can support those people at this very difficult time and to make sure that the Australian Government backs them in every way we can.

Thanks Prime Minister.


Thanks Marise. Are there any further questions then?



These fires that we see all around the world seem to claim many more lives in other countries. Australia does seem able to cope with them much, much better. Why is that?


Look, we have had a long, long experience of bushfire in this country. We’ve been dealing with bushfires in this country almost as long as we’ve had European settlement here. For thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, Aboriginal people were practicing a form of fire management which in some respects was more successful than that which has been practised since, but we do have very long experience dealing with fires.

We have a very strong, fulltime, paid and volunteer professional infrastructure to cope with fires. As you can see here at this command post we’ve got the Rural Fire Brigade, we would no doubt have in the area the New South Wales Fire Brigade, we’ve got police, we’ve got ambos, we’ve got a whole range of volunteering community groups that come together to support the fire fighting apparatus.

So look, we’ve just got a very, very long experience and I guess it’s engrained in our culture. We’re not called a land of droughts and flooding rains, a sunburnt country, for nothing.


Prime Minister, the Premier has indicated that you may be close to or have already reached an agreement on disaster funding. Are you able to shed any light on the details?


Yes, the standard disaster relief arrangements are now in place. The New South Wales Government will be dispensing money under those arrangements and the Commonwealth, under the standard apportioning arrangements, will be picking up at least 50 per cent of the tab.


I know it’s early days, but is there any figure on the cost of rebuilding?


Look, it is very, very early days. We think that property losses are in the hundreds but it’s too early to say what the precise number of homes destroyed, buildings destroyed and damage is and it’s far too early to put a price on how much it would cost to restore the situation.

Thank you so much.