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Transcript of interview with Keiran Gilbert: Sky News Channel: 15 January 2011: Queensland floods

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THE HON WAYNE SWAN MP Deputy Prime Minister Treasurer


15 January 2011


SUBJECTS: Queensland floods

GILBERT: Treasurer Swan thanks for your time. First of all, as a Brisbane boy yourself, what’s you reaction to the events of the last few days?

TREASURER: Well, I think the outstanding feature of what we’ve seen in the last few days has been the community spirit. I think every Australian and every Queenslander can be really proud of the way in which people have come out to help their neighbours or to go and help people that they’ve never met before. The community spirit is absolutely extraordinary and it’s not that often you see the heroes wearing gum boots or carrying brooms but that's what you’re seeing today right across Brisbane. An extraordinary turnout even in areas not affected by the flood. Fortunately the area I represent has not been significantly affected but people there are turning out, they’re travelling across the city. People are coming out everywhere to help their fellow Australians.

GILBERT: Were you surprised by the numbers? Because you look at the volunteer mustering points, the assembly points, people have just shown up in massive numbers. Yesterday just walking down streets seeing if they could find somewhere to help. It’s been quite amazing to watch.

TREASURER: It’s been the case all week. Over in my area, they were filling sandbags in the middle of the week and people just came from everywhere. At one point in Zillmere there were a couple of hundred people that just turned up to fill up sandbags. So what we’re seeing is an extraordinary community spirit and it’s something that we can all celebrate. It’s quite remarkable, the likes of which I’ve never ever seen before. It just shows that the floods can wash away our possessions but they can’t wash away that community spirit.

GILBERT: You were here in 1974 as a uni student. Everyone is making these comparisons. In your mind how does this year compare?

TREASURER: This is much more significant because the city is so much bigger. There are so many more people here. So many more people who are also living in the south-western corridor. So what we are seeing now is an event which in social terms is much

bigger but also in economic terms, it’s having a much more significant impact. I was living here as a student and I was living in a flood-affected area and I was also working at that time for the Brisbane City Council in a pretty unique position, I was a sewerage maintenance man. So I got to see the 1974 flood inside and out. This impact this time is much more significant than 1974 because there are many more people in the city. The place is much more developed.

GILBERT: What about - I want to get your reaction to the inland tsunami that we saw in Toowoomba and Grantham and Murphys Creek. You saw the images. It looks so horrific.

TREASURER: Well heartbreaking. It’s hard for Australians to imagine an event like that. The pictures and the stories of those who lost loved ones in the flood, who were just snatched away. It’s just heartbreaking and what we have to do in the days, weeks and years ahead is commit ourselves to doing everything we possibly can to help those people and to help those communities because this is going to take a long time for us to work through all of the issues that flow from this experience.

GILBERT: In terms of the Federal Government response it’s going to cost a hell of a lot of money isn’t it? Because it’s the biggest military response to a natural disaster since Cyclone Tracy.

TREASURER: Well, it’s quite extraordinary to think that we’ve got a mine sweeper out in the bay. I’ve just been down in my electorate at Sandgate looking at the remains of the floating restaurant, which have ended up on the bay down in my electorate. It is quite extraordinary what we’re going to have to do in the immediate recovery, which is what we’re concentrating on now. Making sure that everything is safe. Making sure the power goes back on, providing immediate support but this isn’t going to stop in a week or in two weeks or in two months, or for that matter two years. There’s going to have to be a massive effort which is going to have to involve the Commonwealth Government, the State Government, the local government, the business community and the whole community to make sure that we can get the recovery right. And there’s going to be difficult issues in doing that. I don't want to put dollar figures on that amount but I think everybody knows that this is going to have a very, very big economic impact. We’re working our way through those issues but at this stage it’s far too early to come to any conclusion about the quantum that will be required but what’s most important is we’ve got to maintain this spirit because the recovery will get more difficult the longer it goes on. People who are immediately affected will have to take decisions about what they’re going to do with their life over the next year or few years. All of these things are going to be difficult and that’s why we’re going to need to marshall every ounce of the community spirit we’ve seen today in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

GILBERT: What’s your message to insurance companies today?

TREASURER: Well, my message to insurance companies is do the right thing, give people a fair go. We’ve sat down and talked to the industry. It’s not clear at this stage what percentage of people will be insured for flood. It’s not clear at this stage what percentage of people don't have any insurance at all but what we do know is a lot of people are going to be in great need. But when it comes to those that have policies, what we want to see from the insurance companies is a degree of compassion, giving people the benefit of the doubt but what we also know is that there will be a number of people who have no coverage at all. Where there is a dispute with an insurance company that will need to be resolved quickly and

fairly and we’ve talked to the industry about that, but over and above that we are going to have to somehow generate the resourses from our whole community to support those who’ve got no support at all and that’s going to be a very big issue in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

GILBERT: Anna Bligh said yesterday I think it was that some people who’ve paid their home insurance for 20, 30, 40 years might end up being told by the insurance company - `oh sorry there’s this clause, you don't get your money’. Is that sort of set up

good enough?

TREASURER: Well, what we’re going to need here is a dispute resolution mechanism if there is a dispute and that’s what we’ve talked to the industry about. It’s going to be very important that people are dealt with fairly. That’s what’s going to be most important.

GILBERT: And some leniency -

TREASURER: We’d like to certainly see that. We’d like to see some compassion. We’d like to see people get the benefit of the doubt. So we’ll need to have a means of resolving that. That’s being discussed with the industry. There is an ombudsman who can come into play where there is a dispute. We need to make sure that that information is available to people. If people have got an insurance claim they do need to make contact with their insurance company as quickly as possible. Understandably at the moment many people have not made any contact with their insurance company because all they’re really focused on is surviving day to day.

GILBERT: It might be too early to get a sense of this but do you think that the insurance framework might need to be looked if for example we get a circumstance where people don't have cover when they thought they did. That insurance companies, like the banks, need to be a bit more transparent?

TREASURER: Well, it does need to be as open as possible Absolutely as open as possible.

GILBERT: (Inaudible) terms of reform. Do you think that there are prospects?

TREASURER: Well, there may be lessons that can be learnt from this in terms of future reforms. That’s also true. But the most important thing we need to do now is for people to make contact with their insurance company, for that to be assessed as quickly as it possibly can and if there is a problem, for that to be dealt with as quickly as we possibly can. But the fact is that there will be many people at the end of that process with insurance or without insurance who still will be severely impacted. So the resources that are going to be required overall to assist people across the board with insurance and without insurance are going to be huge.

GILBERT: What about the banks? I know that they’ve put in some hardship measures, some are moratoriums on the repayments of loans and lifting credit limits, scrapping ATM fees in flood affected areas. Are they doing enough? Are you happy with what you see from the banks because in recent times they’ve not been very popular.

TREASURER: No they certainly haven’t, but at this stage they’re doing the right thing and I think their decision on the ATM fees in terms of flood-affected areas is the right decision. They also have indicated they’re going to put in place special arrangements for people who may have lost their job or they do not have an income on a temporary basis and so on. All of those things are out there but we will deal with issues if they arise and we will take them up with the banks should that be necessary.

GILBERT: I heard one idea this morning from someone on talk back radio who suggested -- a listener -- who said what about they scrap the interest on home loans while these people are cleaning up. That’s not a bad idea is it?

TREASURER: Well, we’ve got to go through all of the issues. These are commercial arrangements that are entered into, contracts and so on. The fact is there will be a variety of different circumstances, different conditions which will affect different people in different ways. But as it is with the insurance companies, it should be with the banks that they give the customer in these circumstances where they are traumatised, the benefit of the doubt.

GILBERT: Just finally, a message to your fellow Brisbane residents and Queenslanders. Is the Federal Government going to spend every cent it needs to get the job done? Are you willing to open the cheque book to make sure it’s done?

TREASURER: Well, we will do what we have to do to ensure there is a successful recovery. This is going to be difficult and it’s going to take all our reserves and patience and it’s going to take enormous financial resources over time. But we are absolutely committed to working with the local community, working with the State Government, local governments right across the state to get this right in the long run, but it’s not going to be easy but we are

absolutely committed to doing what is required to ensure there is recovery.

GILBERT: Treasurer Swan, appreciate your time, thanks a lot for that.

TREASURER: Good to be with you.