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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Rochester, Victoria: 19 January 2011: floods in Victoria

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19 January 2011


Subjects: Floods in Victoria.



I’m pleased to be here with my friend and colleague Sharman Stone here at the Murray Goulburn Factory in Rochester. Obviously the town of Rochester has been very dramatically affected by these floods and this particular factory by far the biggest employer in the town has been put out of action. Now, it’s going to take a couple of weeks perhaps to get it back into the swing but there’s going to have to be pretty considerable expenditure to bring that about, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then there’s the lost production in the factory and the lost sales of the farmers who would otherwise be supplying this factory. So what we’re going to see as a result of the flood is ongoing economic pain for everyone in the region and what I think we need to understand is that for flood impacted regions the pain is not just now. The pain is ongoing.

Right now with the nation’s attention on the flooded areas there’s a degree of, I think, comfort for people who have been hurt by these floods. But in the weeks and months to come they will be living with the consequences and a lot of people’s attention inevitably will have moved on. I think it’s very important that all levels of government work with residents, with business, particularly small business, to ensure that there is a swift reconstruction and everything that is reasonably possible to keep business going is done. Because if business doesn’t continue to function these communities will be in big, big trouble.

So I think that’s what we need to understand. The ongoing social and economic difficulties that these areas are likely to suffer as a result of this devastating floods. Having said that the community spirit thus far has been great, really terrific. But it’s one thing for people to pull together in a crisis, it’s another thing to keep that effort going for weeks, for months, maybe even for years and when the crisis has passed and it’s just true grit that keeps people functioning. Sharman.


Well, it’s great Tony is here because of course a lot of this is state and local government business, but it’s also federal business. The whole nation will be affected if our dairy industry for example becomes less competitive. Murray Goulburn is our biggest Australian-owned co-op in the country. Our dairy farmers around here are Australia’s best. So we’ve got to make sure we get over this as fast as possible and I’m so pleased that we, the Opposition, that Tony will make sure that our Federal Government heavy lifting is done too. So let’s just say again fabulous job from Murray Goulburn. They’ve helped their shareholders, their actual dairy farmers, in the drought. Now they’re helping them through the flood. A lot of pain and suffering out there. A lot of animals in distress, the dairy herds themselves, not to mention all of our other livestock and so we’ve just got to work our way through this. And I just have to say the sun is shining which is amazing, but we have a lot of water still to get through.


Ok. Any questions?


What are your main priorities for the near future for Victoria?


Well, I’ve got to make sure as Sharman says that the national government responds appropriately to these crippling floods and I’m not going to be a knee-jerk critic but the Government has got to do a lot of heavy lifting here and Sharman and I will be on their hammer to make sure that that gets done.


Have they done enough heavy lifting so far?


Oh look, I’m not in the business of playing the blame game at this point in time. I think that Australians generally at every level from the top down have responded with concern and generosity to this crisis. But in the end governments are here to solve peoples’ problems, they’re not just here to feel their pain and that’s what we’ve got to make sure. That as far as is reasonably possible, the Government is solving peoples’ problems, not just feeling pain, important though that is.


What do you think are the biggest problems going into the next few days, weeks and even months?


Well, here at Murray Goulburn there’s the immediate cost of getting the factory up and running again. There’s the lost production, there’s the lost sales for the farmers who supply this factory, there’s the fact that they’ve lost sales and many of them will be out of production for a period or they’ll have reduced production for a period. Many of them will have suffered stock losses, many of them will have suffered equipment damage, almost certainly that won’t be insured and that means they’re going to have to find the financial resources to restock and rebuild.

Now, yes, the Government has announced some recovery grants and good on Premier Baillieu for increasing the value of those recovery grants earlier today but I’ve been to businesses today which are going to need tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore their viability and there’s no way that the Government grants currently on offer are going to come close to that.

So, I think there’s a big challenge for Government in the weeks ahead to respond appropriately. I’m not in the business of faulting what’s been done so far but we don’t need to just talk about the problem, we need to deal with it. That’s what governments are elected to do.


You’ve been to other areas of Victoria, what are your impressions of the Victorian floods so far?


I think that by and large the emergency services have performed with their usual professionalism. Certainly as the crisis has developed I think the quality of the response has very much improved and that’s to the credit of everyone involved.

I think that there’s been the usual upsurge of community spirit which you would expect of Australians faced with a difficult problem but again, I think that the real test is going to come in the weeks ahead when the immediate crisis has passed and yet there are still ongoing problems to deal with, people having to get their houses at least partly rebuilt, people needing to do very extensive work on their businesses. Eventually, it’s just business as usual with your friends and neighbours, people aren’t coming in to help with a bucket and a mop, with a plate of scones and things like that. So, I think it’s important that we remember that the crisis is not just now. The impact and the heartache and the backbreaking work is going to go on for weeks and months.


Just one more question. Have you had a chance to have a look at Rochester on your way in?


Yeah, we’re just about to do that, but plainly it’s obvious that there has been an extraordinary inundation in this whole district. I mean, from the air and from the road it’s virtually an inland sea still and that’s going to have extraordinary consequences for residents and farmers and businesses in the area.

Ok? Thanks so much.