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Transcript of joint doorstop interview with Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and Ray Jasper, Incident Controller, State Emergency Service: Horsham Victoria: 19 January 2011: Victorian floods; budget surplus



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

19 January 2011

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIAN PREMIER THE HON TED BAILLIEU MLA & MR RAY JASPER, INCIDENT CONTROLLER, STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE

HORSHAM, VICTORIA

Subjects: Victorian floods; budget surplus.

E&OE……………………….…………………………………………………………………

TED BAILLIEU:

We’re pleased to be here, Tony and I, in Horsham today. The threat has substantially passed in Horsham and the systems that have been put in place have done their job here and there still are a number of, obviously, houses and facilities that have been inundated and the phase now moves in here to clean-up.

Nevertheless, there is still a vast amount of water making its way down these northern rivers, in this case the Wimmera and then obviously the Avoca, the Loddon and the Campaspe. That water is heading for the Murray and Lake Hindmarsh and others and along the way many other towns will be facing flood alerts and flood warnings.

So, the issue is not over, the crisis is not over. There are more towns facing these alerts and warnings and we trust that those systems will do for those towns what they’ve done here for Horsham.

Can I simply say, right up front, well done to the SES. Well done to Ray and his team, to the CFA, to all the volunteer groups, the assistance we’ve had from other states and other areas of Victoria and I think the people of Horsham can be well pleased with the way this has been managed.

Nevertheless, the threat remains and everybody needs to remain vigilant. As far as downstream towns are concerned there’s obviously an immediate concern for Warracknabeal today and the prospect of flooding later and I’ll let Ray speak about that and obviously in Kerang.

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Now, as I understand it, the work that’s being done on the power station in Kerang is holding and the work that was done here in Horsham on the power station was obviously successful.

There have been some issues about levee banks in Kerang. The latest information I have is that they’ve been holding and repair work is being done. There’s nevertheless been an evacuation and that’s proceeding and again it’s important that people in downstream towns remain vigilant, that they look out for local conditions, that they listen to community broadcasts and that they be prepared to act. It is essential that communities in these downstream towns be prepared to act in a timely way and to follow the instructions of the emergency broadcasters and indeed authorities in those towns.

There’s still a way to go with this but we can be pleased that the outcome has not been any worse than it has been in Horsham.

Tony, I don’t know whether you want to make a few comments and Tony, welcome. Thank you for coming.

TONY ABBOTT:

Ted, look, it’s good to be in your company. I’m sorry it’s under difficult circumstances. I’d obviously want to echo Ted’s advice to downstream residents to take the instructions that they are given from local emergency service workers.

I think that people can be confident that this crisis has been well managed in Victoria. Ray, thanks very much for your briefing earlier. It does seem that with the assistance of volunteers the emergency services here have well anticipated and well dealt with the flood emergency thus far and I think we can be confident that that level of organisation and expertise will persist.

If I could just make two points, the first point is that it has been really heartwarming right around the flood-affected regions of Australia to see the way neighbours and communities have rallied together to help people in trouble and I’ve come across people who’ve suffered terrible damage here in this region this morning but the one thing that gives them heart is the support they’ve had from their friends, from their neighbours and indeed from total strangers who’ve pitched in to help and this is the Australian spirit at its best.

The second point I want to make is that there are obviously going to be long term consequences for our country, for states, for councils, for businesses and for individuals. A lot of people are going to bear heavy financial costs arising from this and it’s going to be very important in the weeks and days ahead that government at all levels responds appropriately, that insurers and banks also respond appropriately because while we have responded well to the first phase of these floods, while we have responded with courage and generosity to the first phase of these floods, there is going to be a long recovery and reconstruction process and that’s where we will need Aussie true grit at its best. So, I think we’re at the start of this, not at the end of it.

QUESTION:

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Mr Abbott, do you think the Federal Government is doing enough when it comes to disaster contingency funding?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I don’t want to get into the specific detail of who could have done this differently or who could have done that better. There’s obviously going to be a lot of inquiries arising out of these floods, particularly in Queensland, and I think we should let them take their course.

I think the important thing right now is for governments, insurers and banks to respond appropriately to people and businesses that are trying to reconstruct their lives, trying to get their lives in order again after what has been a very traumatic experience.

QUESTION:

Heather Ridout from the Australia Industry Group has come out to say that the Government should forget it’s obsession with a 2012 surplus and just focus on jobs and businesses. What do you think?

TONY ABBOTT:

I think it’s very, very important that we get those businesses going and that we keep people employed. Very, very important. On the other hand it’s also important that we act prudently and I think what prudent governments do in these sorts of circumstances is appropriately prioritise their spending and right now the best thing that the national government can do for flood damaged areas is get that infrastructure working as quickly as possible. That is the unavoidable spend that we’ve got to see, largely from the Federal Government.

TED BAILLIEU:

Can I just make a point in that regard. On Monday the Victorian Government announced clean-up grants for small businesses, for primary producers and for not-for-profits with $15,000 grants available. We indicated at the time we would be reviewing that and today we’ve announced that that grant will increase to $25,000. So, there will be available for small business, for primary producers and not-for-profits a $25,000 grant and not only that, we will make that retrospective to include those from the September and December floods. We think that will be a significant boost to the clean-up process. So, there are many businesses and many farmers that have obviously done it tough and a lot of not-for-profits that this will assist. So, we said we would review, we’ve done that and it will be increased.

QUESTION:

Sorry Mr Abbott, before we hear from Ray, very quickly just a question from my Canberra colleagues. The year ahead politically and your priorities for the year. Will any of them change do you think because of the flood situation?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, what will never change is my commitment to try to do the right thing by our country and obviously the very urgent, unavoidable priority for all levels of government in flood

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impacted areas is to as far as is humanly possible restore normal living and working conditions quickly and plainly that is going to be an absolutely urgent task in the days, weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION:

Will it be harder to, I suppose, attack the Government on budgetary matters, on surplus matters given that there has to be this massive spend on flood relief?

TONY ABBOTT:

The important thing is that that is done effectively and quickly and I will be constantly vigilant to ensure that the Federal Government performs far better here than it has in other spending programmes and I think that is my job. To make sure that as far as is reasonably possible the Government is doing everything it can to restore peoples lives.

TED BAILLIEU:

Can I make one observation. In part of the recovery and rebuild something we learnt after the fires is that it’s very important that the support be used to support local businesses in the recovery and rebuild and not to replace those businesses and not to replace those businesses as much as there will be a generous response. The more we can use local business and local industry to provide that recovery and rebuild, the better for those communities in the long term and the more other businesses can support them, the better we will all be.

QUESTION:

Mr Baillieu, is it disappointing that some victims of the flood crisis here now need to be wary of contractors taking advantage [inaudible]?

TED BAILLIEU:

I, like others who have read some reports about that, but I’ve got to say I don’t think that’s widespread. Anybody who is doing that is clearly completely at the wrong end of the community spirit which is on display here right across Victoria. I don’t believe that’s either widespread or it’s systematic in any way. I think a couple of individuals have been pulled up and let’s make sure that they see the full weight of the law in response. But what has been on display, what has been demonstrated in Victoria and indeed in Queensland in the last few weeks is an extraordinary community and Aussie spirit. Everyone’s coming together and working together. We’ve seen it here at the control centre; visitors from interstate, visitors from other parts of Victoria, various agencies working together, service groups and volunteers and permanent staff doing a magnificent job and the bottom line is they’ve done it successfully and we hope the same success can be repeated downstream and we’ve got a lot to do yet and this will go on for a number of days before we can take a breather.

QUESTION:

What other area will you be touring while you are here today? Will you be…

TED BAILLIEU:

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I’m sorry, what other areas…?

QUESTION:

Yeah, will you be heading to Warracknabeal or to [inaudible]?

TED BAILLIEU:

We will be going to Warracknabeal provided we can still get in and the facility is there. Yesterday I was in Kerang and Charlton. I’ve obviously been in Carisbrook and Rochester and Echuca and Creswick and Clunes and about in the last five days and that will continue. There are nearly 60 towns in Victoria that are impacted where I think over nearly 4,500 people have been affected, 1,700 properties and more than 20 municipalities. So this is across the board, northern Victoria, north-western Victoria, central Victoria and some in the south-west. There’s going to be a huge clean up and one of the enduring images of these floods is going to be these piles of personal belongings out the front of people’s houses. The mattresses, the furniture, the books, the toys, the clothing and that clean-up is no doubt starting here in Horsham today and has been going on yesterday in some parts. That’s going to go on for some time and that’s one of the reasons why we want those clean-up grants for businesses and primary producers not-for-profits and why we’ve set aside a substantial sum for those municipalities to engage in clean-up. After that there’s going to be a significant recovery effort and a re-build effort on the infrastructure

QUESTION:

Ray, just very quickly, how lucky was Horsham in the end? We understand there was just a little more than a dozen or so home actually inundated over the floorboards?

RAY JASPER:

Yeah look, unfortunately, the records as of this morning has about 32 houses inundated over the floors. Look Horsham, well prepared community. It’s a community effort. They had three days to prepare, they’ve sandbagged well, they’ve done a lot of preparation work. So I think it’s more a case of a very well prepared community saved themselves from a lot worse destruction. So the 111 houses that were imminent, at this stage there is 32, might go to sort of 40. But certainly a well prepared community has done a great job of protecting themselves in Horsham.

QUESTION:

Obviously Warracknabeal is next. Any other towns in the area, I heard Dimboola was a little bit of a concern for a while?

RAY JASPER:

Yeah, look Warracknabeal has peaked there, 117 houses in threat. They’ve all been sandbagged, it’s a watching brief in Warracknabeal. We’ve got a lot of resources in there as well as community resources to do it. And Dimboola will peak tonight, tomorrow morning. Once again 29 houses in what we call the imminent flood area. Been preparation work today

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to prepare them for work. Then we move on to Jeparit and other areas. This will continue in this area for another week at least while we keep moving from town to town in relation to it. Don’t forget Horsham, even though the imminent threat is there, we still have about 45 houses still are using sandbag walls to protect themselves because there is a lot of water there as we said and I’ve said all the way through, the peak is lasting 14 to 16 hours before it subsides and if you’ve been around town it’s subsiding very slowly in relation to those residents. Thank you.

[ends]