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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News: 12 January 2011: Queensland floods

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The Hon Julie Bishop, MP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Deputy Leader of the Opposition Member for Curtin

Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Subjects: Queensland floods


KIERAN GILBERT The Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, thanks for your time. You’ve been out there and seen what people are going through this afternoon. Can you give me your impression of what you’ve experienced today?

JULIE BISHOP Well Kieran I’ve just come back from the evacuation centre at the QEII Stadium. It is very well resourced; we’ve got Red Cross there, St John, Lifeline, the Salvos. There are about 150 there at present but they are gearing up for up to 1300 people. An aged care home has evacuated its residents to the centre now, families are there, there was a Sudanese family I was talking to and they’ve set up a playground for the kids. Some of the football players are offering to come down and have footy games to keep the children amused. The spirit is determined, resolute, but people are concerned because it is only going to get worse.

Earlier today I was out in some of the riverfront suburbs, out in the electorates with some of my colleagues, Jane Prentice from Ryan, and we were helping people sandbag. Just the human interest aspect of it is quite compelling. I was watching people moving a grand piano out of their house and furniture was being moved. I came across an artist who had a thousand paintings in the basement of her house because she’s got an art exhibition in Brisbane next month so she had to quickly move all of that to a safe place. And so people are just having to get on with it. The floods are inevitable, there is nothing they can do now, the water is on its way so people are just coping as best they can.

KIERAN GILBERT It is extraordinary when we see the debris. I mean there is a pontoon just behind us with a speed boat on it. It has just been flowing relentlessly and I suppose symptomatic of what is happening further up and further down the river with these individual stories of hardship. It is heartbreaking for these people leaving their homes, they don’t know when they will be back.

JULIE BISHOP I had a briefing from the Police Commissioner just a little while ago and we were talking about the amount of debris in the river. It is causing great concern. Parts of restaurants, floating restaurants, and old ferries and moorings and parts of footpaths are now being washed into the river and of course that can cause problems as they crash up against bridges and the like. So we are concerned about a lot of the buildings here in the Brisbane CBD. As you would have seen a lot of the major roads are closed and we are expecting levels of the ’74 flood and we know what devastation and damage was cause to Brisbane at that time.

And also as the Police Commissioner explained, some people in outer areas are experiencing second, third, fourth lots of flooding and they are getting to a point were some people are just saying, “I’m not leaving my home any more, I’ve had enough”.

KIERAN GILBERT Which makes it very difficult doesn’t it? Because I was speaking to Kevin Rudd earlier and he was saying one of the older constituents of his own in Griffith didn’t want to leave. He said, “No I am staying”. It is difficult when they’ve be there for a long, long time.

JULIE BISHOP You can understand that and also people are hoping that the flood isn’t as bad as 1974. They’ve all worked out, if they were around at the time, they’ve all worked out "well the flood got to this point in ‘74 so I should be right." But we can’t be sure of that because as we know with Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley when there were those flash floods people were just caught in such unexpected circumstances as the water came rushing down.

Now I had a briefing from the Lord Mayor this morning and we were looking at the Wivenhoe Dam and while that is at record levels they are controlling the flows at present. All you need is another flash rainfall and the dam will then be overflowing and that will cause great chaos.

So at this point everything is under control, people are calm but they have to do what the Emergency Services ask them to. If they got to move on they’ve got to move on.

KIERAN GILBERT The enormous disruptions as you alluded to there - the CBD, the powers out, roads are blocked, the garbage service has apparently been suspended - so it is an enormous disruption to people’s lives. But what is the sense you are getting? Are people co-operating, are they helping, are they doing and showing the sort of camaraderie that you need at this sort of time?

JULIE BISHOP Queenslanders are remarkable people. I get this real sense of determination and people are just resolutely, grimly and resolutely, going about their business. They are helping out other people, the volunteer effort is extraordinary. Back at the evacuation centre an ice cream truck turned up from one of the ice cream makers and gave all the kids an ice cream. Some restaurants are - no point in having the restaurants open in the city - so they are offering their food down in the evacuation centres. Neighbours are helping everybody and doing what they can. So people are, and there is a sense of inevitability about it now. Because we have time to prepare here in Brisbane people are just getting on with the job of rescuing what they can, getting to a safe place, offering assistance to others and those in areas on the higher ground are offering their homes and there is a real sense of camaraderie. And I think Queenslanders can be very proud of themselves that they are coping so well.

But Kieran it is just the beginning of the wet season and the authorities fear there will be a lot more to come.

KIERAN GILBERT Which is hard to sort of contemplate especially when we think about the devastation of the last few days in Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley. We heard another two bodies were found today, the bodies of two men, that is just so devesting out there. It is such a tragedy and the number is almost certain to climb even more possibly as soon as this afternoon.

JULIE BISHOP I understand that is the case. 12 confirmed dead but we fear there are more. As you know a number are still missing, a significant number, in the high 60s, it has been as high as over 90 people unaccounted for but that has come down, but we fear that it might increase as the waters subside in some places. Whole homes have been washed away and cars and buildings and infrastructure, we just don’t know who’s been trapped. So the focus is on the search and rescue and recovery effort, that is where our priority must remain.

And I am keeping up to date with briefings whomever I get one from. Everybody is assisting with information and support and the morale is still very high. I know people have been through weeks of devastation in some areas and here in Brisbane they are bracing for the worst but the morale is still very strong.

KIERAN GILBERT Okay, I should remind our viewers that we are waiting to go to a news conference with Anna Bligh in just a few moments, but if I can just keep you for a few more minutes. I wanted to put to you what I felt today in terms of how surreal it has been to have this brilliant Brisbane sunshine with what you would normally associate with this time of the year in Queensland and yet you look out here there is a swollen raging river and we know the devastation, the sadness, that has been brought as a result.

JULIE BISHOP Yesterday it was very overcast and gloomy with steady rain falling and it felt quite ominous and I was expecting the worst overnight. I was evacuated from where I was staying and we

were told there were going to be power shortages and outages and so I was expecting the worst this morning. But I woke to brilliant sunshine and blue skies and there was this surreal feeling that that the weather was so warm and typically Brisbane and yet the river was flooding so quickly and it was dark, brown and swirly. And out in the streets people were putting sandbags around the buildings, hotels and businesses in the lower central business district area, but you knew that somewhere along the line the river was just going to burst it's banks and all those places will be underwater.

But yeah, the weather is quite deceptive. You think it is going to be one of these beautiful humid Brisbane days - well I don’t know whether humid days can be beautiful, but anyway a humid Brisbane day - and yet we know the flood waters are on their way.

KIERAN GILBERT A lot of sadness this afternoon for people as you were talking about there, the experiences you had from the artists home and others having to leave their homes. But how long will you be remaining in Brisbane? Obviously it is going to be a fair while before the flood waters subside, what are your plans?

JULIE BISHOP Well I came here on Monday night. I decided over the weekend - when I became Acting Leader of the Opposition - I decided over the weekend that I would come to Brisbane but by the time I’d left Perth and arrived in Brisbane the tragic circumstances had unfolded in Toowoomba so there was no opportunity to visit those flood affected areas.

I am working with my colleagues who are out in their electorates, or trying to get to their electorates, some of them have been isolated not able to get home. But I am in contact with them constantly and if I can go out, if they need me out there and want to show me different things that are occurring in their electorates, well I am available to do it. Otherwise I am going to head off to another evacuation centre shortly, the one down at the showgrounds, and see what is happening there.

But the emergency crews are doing an extraordinary job in just extraordinary circumstances and under considerable duress. So I think the men and women of our emergency services can take a bow. They are doing a fantastic job here.

KIERAN GILBERT As always it seems it is amazing just how they all rally. We’ve got a lot of offers of support from overseas but it doesn’t seem to me that we are going to need that much given the Black Hawks have been flying, the personnel on the ground. Is that the sense that you’ve got?

JULIE BISHOP I do at present, but I think the recovery effort is where we are going to have to need a lot of support. And just here in Brisbane, imagine with the floods of the ’74 level, the increase in the population and buildings and infrastructure here, we are going to need a lot of help here in Brisbane.

And of course with 80 percent of the state now deemed to be a disaster zone the clean up costs, the bill, will run into the billions and billions of dollars. This is going to be a real hit to the Australian economy.

KIERAN GILBERT Julie Bishop I appreciate your time, thanks very much for that.

JULIE BISHOP Thank Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT So that is the Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop reflecting on her experiences today in and around Brisbane attending the evacuation centre, one evacuation centre, going to another one this afternoon