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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8953

Western Australia: Bushfires

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:28): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Justice, Senator Brandis. I acknowledge the Prime Minister's statement this week in the other place paying tribute to the firefighters and community members who have bravely battled the firestorm that tragically claimed four lives in the farming community of Esperance in WA's remote south-east. Can the minister update the Senate on the estimated damages so far to agriculture and public and private assets?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:29): Senator Wang, I am sure all of us in this chamber share the sympathy that your question exhibits to the victims of the Esperance bushfires. I actually do not have a brief on the cost to the agricultural areas of Western Australia affected. I will make an inquiry of the Minister for Justice who has direct portfolio responsibility for this area and I will have those figures to you shortly.

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:30): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise of any progress between the WA and federal governments towards the activation of the Natural Disaster Relief And Recovery Agreements which would give emergency payments to individuals who have suffered personal hardships, state and local governments for the restoration of essentially public assets, and help get small businesses, primary producers and not-for-profit organisations back on their feet?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:30): I am advised that 300,000-hectares were affected, 4½ thousand livestock were affected, 75,000 hectares of crops were destroyed and, as you have said, Senator Wang, four lives were lost.

The arrangements under the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements are exercised by the Minister for Justice and, where appropriate, emergency relief is provided to families affected by those bushfires, according to the criteria for the NDRRA system.

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (14:31): Mr President I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate what the federal government is doing to ensure the people of Esperance have sufficient mobile telecommunications services and when the 10 new mobile towers, jointly funded through Telstra and the state government's Royalties for Regions program, will be installed to supplement the sole tower installed currently in the program?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:32): Senator Wang, the government has announced, as I am sure you are aware, that in rolling out the NBN there will be 499 communications towers erected across Australia in coming years to cover black spots.

I am advised by Senator Fifield, who has, as you know, portfolio responsibility for this matter, that several of those towers will be in the Esperance region. When those towers are erected, they will address the problem of mobile coverage in that area, which among all the other beneficial effects, Senator Wang, will of course be of utility in bushfires situations to enable people to communicate telephonically with each other in circumstances where, perhaps at the moment, they are not able to do so.