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Transcript of press conference: Adelaide: 29 December 2010: Queensland floods; paid parental leave; whaling

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29 December 2010 Prime Minister Transcript of press conference Adelaide Subject(s): 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.