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Transcript of interview with Derek Peterson: ABC Newsradio, Canberra : 3 February 2011: Tropical Cyclone Yasi; Commonwealth Disaster Assistance

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Hon. Robert McClelland MP Attorney-General

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WEDNESDAY, 3rd February 2011

Subject: Tropical Cyclone Yasi, Commonwealth Disaster Assistance


DEREK PETERSON: Well Attorney-General Robert McClelland is in charge of Emergency Management Australia whose primary focus is overseeing financial assistance and other support to the cyclone recovery amongst other things. He joins us on the line now. Thanks for your time Attorney.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: It’s my pleasure.

DEREK PETERSON: Tell us what are you able to do in terms of the recovery after this cyclone? What’s the role of your department?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well the Department’s role is essentially to co-ordinate assistance and in particular we have pre-planned assistance which might be available, in particular from the military but also other agencies and other organisations.

We’re still waiting to get a stock-take on the extent of the damage.

Indeed it’s probably the case now that there’s military aircraft up in the area to have a look at the extent of the damage and you’ve identified Tully and then Innisfail and Cardwell of course. That region is very badly affected, but in addition they will be monitoring the extent of damage to electricity power-grids and so forth. So that will give us a better handle of where we need to prioritise assistance.

DEREK PETERSON: Yes. There could be areas that we don’t really know about yet. Some very significant issues that you’ll have to deal with. In your experience, how long does it usually take before you get a really clear picture?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Certainly it’s going to be better in hours, but more complete in days. I’d say several days to get a full picture of, for instance, the extent of damage to the electricity grid. We were reminded this morning that in respect to Cyclone Larry it took about four weeks to get electricity resupplied to all areas. Having said that the military have

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indicated today that if they can have identified to them specific areas then they’re prepared to assist in transporting generators. There’s been some pre-planning and pre-thinking of those sort of things that can be done to assist.

DEREK PETERSON: Now this group they call the Queensland State Disaster Management Group- I know that the Prime Minister and Queensland Premier involved in the meeting there this morning. Were you involved in that too?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Yes I was. That was very useful. There was, if you like, a listing and a calling of the list from the various areas. The first responders - the police and emergency service responders and also the local mayors - as to how their respective areas have been impacted so that gave a good picture, but it’s still the case, particularly in respect to Tully and Cargill that we had less than a complete picture.

DEREK PETERSON: And it’s Australia’s main banana growing region there. Will support for fruit growers be forthcoming from the government?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Traditionally under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements there is assistance to small business including primary producers and that’s being considered. Now, we expect regrettably that there will be a lot of tourist infrastructure that has been taken out, and I think you’ve got to assume that those agricultural areas under the cyclone have pretty well been destroyed so that’s going to be obviously a significant hardship for the primary producers but it’s also going to affect local communities.

DEREK PETERSON: Is the cyclone recovery going to be very expensive, do you think?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: It will be expensive. I mean, just the Australian Government Disaster Payments to assist people affected will be quite significant. People are entitled to it if they are without electricity for more than forty-eight hours or if they are kept out of their homes or their homes are significantly damaged. I expect there will be literally tens of thousands in that category.

And then of course down the track we’ve got infrastructure plus potential assistance to small business and primary producers.

Having said that, and I think as a result of a lot of really excellent work done by the Queensland emergency services, or first responders, that the damage has been minimised.

I think it’s a classic example of a resilient community or communities working together and that pre-planning and work I suppose we have the lessons of Cyclone Larry has proved dividends in minimising to the greatest extent possible the damage that otherwise could have been suffered from a category five cyclone.

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DEREK PETERSON: We carried the Prime Minister’s media conference live here on ABC Newsradio earlier. She confirmed that cyclone victims won’t have to pay the flood levy. Any chance of a cyclone levy?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: No. That’s been ruled out. The costings of this will have to be found through internal savings. These are events that happen in Australia and that will be done.

DEREK PETERSON: And lots of people I suppose would be wanting to offer help to people in Queensland but we could be suffering some donor-fatigue, do you think, after all these disasters?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well I mean I’ve been listening to the radio, there’s been a lot of good will that’s being shown. You’d hope that that would follow through. The Australian community traditionally is a generous community. I expect there will be generosity but obviously everyone will be trying to spread the assistance they can provide.

DEREK PETERSON: Attorney-General Robert McClelland- thanks for your time.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: That’s my pleasure.


Contact: Ryan Liddell - 02 6277 7300 or 0427 225 763.