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Transcript of doorstop interview: Wagga Wagga: 7 March 2012: Wagga Wagga Floods; Clean Energy Finance Corporation; ACTU

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Transcript of doorstop interview, Wagga Wagga

WED 07 MARCH 2012

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Wagga Wagga Floods; Clean Energy Finance Corporation; ACTU

PM: I’m here with the local member Michael MacCormack and with the local Mayor and I thank him very much for showing me around - thank you very much to Kerry Pascoe.

It’s been a great opportunity to come along and say hello to the people of Wagga and the Wagga community as it deals with this flood. I’ve had the opportunity today to be briefed on the flood, to see it from the air and to meet with so many of the remarkable volunteers who are making such a difference.

So can I say very, very clearly to everyone, to the local Police, the Emergency Services workers, the local council personnel, the local SES, all of the people who have volunteered, to everyone who has filled a sandbag - thank you very much for what you’ve done.

To our Australian Defence Force personnel who have done great work filling sand bags and door knocking to help this local community out - thank you very much too, this has really been a great effort across the whole community.

What we know now is the CBD hasn’t flooded. An evacuation order was made and it was the right thing to do to make it, but fortunately the CBD hasn’t flooded but many people have been impacted by this flood particularly in north Wagga. And these flood waters are going to have an impact right across the region. Now other townships are on alert - Griffith, Forbes and the waters will make their way through to Victoria and townships there are bracing and obviously feeling the anxiety that comes with waiting for flood waters to hit.

As I said this morning in Sydney when I was with Premier Barry O’Farrell, we will be working with the state government and with the local council to keep supporting the local community here. Already in accordance with our natural disaster arrangements we’ve triggered assistance which helps people in hardship, helps them with repairs to their homes, helps primary producers and helps small businesses.

We’ll keep working with the state government, they are the ones who make requests of us as a federal government and then we stand ready to respond to those requests.

When the flood waters subside, and that’s a while yet, we’ve been talking about the need for pumping and the movement of so much of this water, but when the flood waters subsides then we’ll be able to count the costs in infrastructure damage and we will be working with the state government and with the local government to assist with getting infrastructure back in order.

We’ve got longstanding natural disaster arrangements and will work through those arrangements with this community here.

In Australia we know that we face these kind of disasters only too often. We’re a nation who over the last few years has seen so much hardship caused by flood waters, now we’re seeing that hardship here, but whenever we see that hardship come we see some great Australian spirit too and I’ve seen that in spades today.

I’m very happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) able to offer us any additional funding or aid from the Federal Government?

PM: Well we’re standing ready to work with the state government. They way our natural disaster arrangements work is the state government makes requests of us and we respond to those requests. We’ve given a big tick to every request we’ve received so far and we’ll keep working with the state government. We can’t count the cost in infrastructure until flood waters subside. It’s just not possible to get a good account of the damage until you know what’s under the flood waters - roads and bridges and other infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: How did you feel when you saw extent of the flooding?

PM: Unfortunately as Prime Minister I had opportunity to see too many homes that are flooded. Getting to see it from the air gives you a really good sense of the impact and when you see a house that’s got floodwaters up to the eaves then you just know the damage that’s been done inside that home is truly devastating.

So for people, when they’re able to get back to those homes and start the clean up, it’s going to be a very heart breaking time. And I know too from visiting communities months after floods have hit that it’s often when the initial event is over and the TV cameras have gone away and the media’s attention has understandably gone elsewhere in the nation to other issues that it’s at that time that it really

hits homes and hits hard to people.

So this is the start of what is going to be many, many, many long months of recovery.

JOURNALIST: What kind of estimates are you hearing in terms of the damage bill?

PM: Anything I heard now I wouldn’t really pay attention to because you cannot get a good account of the damage until flood waters subside, you simply can’t know what’s happened to a road until the water’s off the road and then you can get the engineers in to have a look.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you concerned it might put a dent in the Government plans to return to surplus?

PM: The budget will be returned to surplus in 2012-13 as promised. As a Government we’ve always made the decisions necessary, some of them very tough ones but the decision’s necessary to support communities in need and we’ll keep taking that approach.

JOURNALIST: Have there been warnings about the (inaudible) have all been affected and what impact that will have?

PM: We’ve been talking about some of those issues as we moved around, the issues with stranded livestock for example which is being worked on right now. Once again, we don’t have full accounting yet but flood water is very damaging and the economic costs of floods is higher than other forms of natural disasters because it does knock around our primary producers, it knocks around small businesses and it does a lot of damage to infrastructure. We won’t know the full toll yet, even the farmers involved probably can’t give you the full toll themselves yet, but that cost I imagine will be considerable and we’ll get further details in the weeks and months ahead.

JOURNALIST: We are hearing estimates of at least a billion dollars in damage to the Riverina alone. Does that give you pause for thought?

PM: I know from my experience around the country - flood waters are incredibly damaging. They do a lot of damage to infrastructure, to

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roads, to other forms of infrastructure. We know that in economic terms floods do more damage than other natural disasters. Now other natural disasters - bushfires etc, can often be much more threatening in terms of loss of life, but floods do the most economic damage.

But we cannot know what the economic damage is yet, it’s just not possible to know.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, (inaudible) when are you coming back to Wagga to talk about some of the issues - non-flood issues we want to talk about?

PM: Well I’d be happy to come back, I’ll talk to your local member about that and see what we can do to come back in the future. I always think it’s important to be able to get out on the ground when a community’s facing this kind of stress and strain, just to be able to say thank you to people who have helped out but also so I’ve got a very clear picture in my mind of what it’s meant for that community and seeing it from the air does give you a very clear picture of the damage done and the number of homes that are inundated with water.

JOURNALIST: Can you describe for us some of the sights you did see today.

PM: The view from the air shows you the homes that have still got water up to the eaves. It shows you the pattern of it, so there are neighbours who will be in quite different positions - some have got flood waters right through their home, some on just that little bit of higher ground have got flood waters on their land but not in their home so neighbours who are going to be in very, very different positions.

From the air too you can get a sense of what it’s been like to move the number of people that needed to be moved. Fortunately the CBD is getting back to normal now, it’s a lot different than it would have been but it was the right thing to do to do the evacuation. If that levy had been breached, if the water had gone in it would have risen very, very quickly so it was the right thing to do to ask people to get out - in fact to tell people to get out so that they weren’t in those circumstances.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) the thought might be of people flood mitigation (inaudible).

PM: We’ve got longstanding arrangements with the state governments and they work well and how we respond to this will be done in accordance with those arrangements. So we get involved when a state government asks us to. The Commonwealth is (inaudible) problem which is appropriate because obviously as an issue gets bigger then it’s more important that the national government steps in and plays a bigger role. When we do have a role in getting infrastructure back in order it is possible to get that infrastructure rebuilt to a better standard. The guidelines we work under specifically talk about betterment so if there is a clever way, a different way of doing the engineering (inaudible) then that is of course a course we can go down and work on. But at this stage our focus has been on responding to what the state government has asked us to do. They’ve asked us to trigger what’s called Category A and Category B under our natural disaster arrangements which is long way of saying they’ve asked us to trigger payments that help people in difficult circumstances, that help people in difficult circumstances with costs of repair and clean up, that help primary producers and help small businesses and that’s been done.

JOURNALIST: What kind of money is that (inaudible) say an individual who has their house flooded right now?

PM: Well we can give you all of the details on that, I’ve got a very long list here but to give you some examples: Category A can provide grants of up to $16,600 for repair or replacement of essential furniture and personal effects; grants of up to $122,966 for essential repairs to housing. It can provide maintenance of tarpaulins and the list goes on - removal of damaged household contents, clean up of asbestos because that can be an issue and it provides loans and support for primary producers and small businesses.

Everybody’s in a different position, everybody needs to have their own circumstances assessed so if they get on to our disaster assist information lines then they’ll be able to have someone work through their own personal position for them.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you spoke of the budget surplus a minute ago - pretty poor economic figures came out this morning. Is there a risk that by committing to the budget surplus you’ll (inaudible)?

PM: No, there’s not and I don’t agree with your characterisation of today’s figures. Today’s National Accounts figures are solid given the international circumstances that they were delivered in.

We’ve seen a lot of uncertainty in the global economy arising out of anxiety about the position in Europe so these are solid figures in those circumstances. Overall the Australian economy (inaudible) resources boom because of the hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the pipeline, because of the real opportunities we’ve got being in the growing region of the world.

When we deliver the budget in May this year we expect the outlook for the economy to be one of solid growth and in a solid growth economy the right thing to do is to return the budget to surplus and we remain determined to do that.

JOURNALIST: With the environment and the economy, Bob Brown said today that all the benefits of the carbon tax environmentally would be wiped out by all the coal mining growth in Queensland (inaudible).

PM: No I don’t. We’ve always said and always will say that the coal industry’s got a great future in Australia. We are a coal mining nation, we export a lot of coal, we use a lot of coal, we can continue to have a strong coal mining industry but we also need to do the right things to be seizing a Clean Energy Future.

So this morning I stood with Premier O’Farrell to announce Sydney would be home to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Our nation’s going to have greater energy needs in the future, I want to see a greater proportion of those energy needs come from renewable and clean energy sources and that’s what putting a price on carbon is about and it’s what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is about.

JOURNALIST: Was Jeff Lawrence pulled out of his position at the ACTU?

PM: What I’d say about Jeff Lawrence is he’s made an incredible contribution to the lives of working people around Australia. He’s been in the trade union movement for more than 30 years, he’s a quietly spoken man but he’s a very determined man and his lifetime determination has been to deliver fairness to working Australians - he’s got a proud track record of that including being pivotal to the campaign to get rid of WorkChoices.

JOURNALIST: Was he pushed?

PM: These are all questions for Mr Lawrence, what I think is appropriate for me is to indicate what an amazing contribution he’s made to the nation through his advocacy for working people.

JOURNALIST: Would Dave Oliver make a good replacement?

PM: These are matters for the ACTU.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is a need to build more dams after all these floods in the last week?

PM: I think you’ll find that the question of dams and flood mitigation is not a simple one. A lot of people like to talk in slogans about this, not about all of the details. I don’t have any evidence available to me that suggests what we’ve seen here would have been made different in terms of a constructed dam.

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There are dams in this region - I’ve flown over a dam today for example, so let’s not whilst people are still working - volunteering, while people are still thinking what’s happened to their home, pretend that there’s an easy solution here - that’s not the right thing to do.

Page 3 of 3 Transcript of doorstop interview, Wagga Wagga | Prime Minister of Australia