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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1042

Natural Disasters

Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs) (14:07): My question is to the Minister for Justice. I refer to the disaster recovery payment provided by the former government to victims of natural disasters, including victims of the Black Saturday fires and the Queensland floods. Why has the government cut emergency payments for bushfire victims? Isn't forcing them to face the Abbott axe the cruellest cut of all?

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. That question at the end contained argument and epithets—obviously an epithet. I ask you to rule that bit of it out of order.

Mr Burke: Madam Speaker, on the point of order: we simply ask that the ruling be consistent with a similar issue that was raised yesterday.

The SPEAKER: I must be honest and say that I did not hear the tail end of the question, but I will let it stand.

Mr KEENAN (StirlingMinister for Justice) (14:08): I appreciate this question because it allows me to update the parliament and place on the record what has actually happened in relation to the New South Wales bushfires and certainly to correct some of the misleading statements that have been made by the opposition on this.

Can I firstly say, in relation to the New South Wales bushfires, that, in line with very longstanding arrangements with New South Wales, the Commonwealth has jointly funded relief for people who are in need of it as a result of this serious natural disaster. That means that, through these longstanding arrangements, we make sure that people in need of short-term accommodation, people in need of emergency food, people in need of clothing and people even in need of things such as cash grants can have them available through the services that the New South Wales government runs in the wake of bushfires and which we fund.

On top of this, we have also announced that we will fund the disaster recovery payment, which is for families who have been severely impacted by these bushfires, which means that they have had lost or damaged homes, or they have had somebody who has been severely injured or have lost a loved one. That is in line with very longstanding practice of the previous Howard government, and, most importantly, it is in line with longstanding practice of the previous Labor government. The Labor Party are running around saying that we have changed the guidelines, even though on many occasions when they were in government they activated the disaster recovery payment in exactly the same way that I have done in relation to the bushfires.

Let me just run through the circumstances in which this happened. In January 2008, with storms and flooding in Mackay and on the Whitsunday Islands, the Labor Party activated the disaster recovery payment in exactly the same way as I have just done in relation to the New South Wales bushfires. In February 2008, with flooding in Mackay—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Husic interjecting

The SPEAKER: There is too much noise. Member for Chifley!

Mr KEENAN: the Labor government activated the disaster recovery payment in exactly the same way as I have just done. Look at them conferring. Check the facts, and I will keep running through it. You might want to ask the shadow minister there, Jenny Macklin, because she was the minister that activated it in exactly the same way as I just have. In November 2008 it was activated in exactly the same way for storms in Queensland.

Mr Dreyfus: Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order on direct relevance. The question was why this government has cut criteria from the disaster recovery payment—

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr Dreyfus: I have not finished. And the minister has—

The SPEAKER: Your point of order has concluded. The question was about emergency funding to victims. The answer is in order. There is no point of order.

Mr KEENAN: Okay, the deputy leader of—

The SPEAKER: I call the member for Isaacs but would remind him that he has had his point of order on direct relevance.

Mr Dreyfus: On the point of order, Madam Speaker: I was interrupted by the Leader of the House—

The SPEAKER: No, I am sorry—

Mr Dreyfus: before I had finished the point of order—

The SPEAKER: you had finished.

Mr Dreyfus: and you permitted it.

The SPEAKER: The member had made his point of order, and I said there was no point of order. I said that this question is relating to the payment of emergency payments.

Mr KEENAN: Just to reaffirm to the parliament: there has been no change in the guidelines for the funding of the Australian disaster recovery payment.

An opposition member interjecting

Mr KEENAN: We have declared for the New South Wales bushfire in exactly the same way as the shadow minister who just interjected did on five separate occasions—in March 2010 in relation to storms in Victoria; in May 2009 in relation to flooding in Queensland. We will continue— (Time expired)