SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
ABC GOLD COAST
THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: NSW Nationals MP Geoff Provest says he would struggle to vote for Scott Morrison after “disgusting” and “deplorable” flood response; NSW Liberal MP resigns over Morrison’s “unethical” flood assistance; Morrison making flood victims wait for more assistance so he can use them as props in his TV footage
MATT WEBBER, HOST: We're yet to receive extra disaster relief from the Commonwealth. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced extra financial support would be available immediately for people in Lismore, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley, they all sit in the Nationals held seat of Page. Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader said she supported the need for targeted funding, but the delay in emergency funding to hundreds of people in her region was simply not good enough. She complained directly to the Governor General. The issue of additional emergency disaster funding has been the catalyst for North Coast based Liberal Member of the Legislative Council, the upper house in New South Wales, Catherine Cusack, to announce she'll leave Parliament. ‘I can't defend it, I'm outraged by it’, she said. State Member for the Tweed, Nationals MP Geoff Provest, was exasperated when speaking with Nicole Dyer on the breakfast program.
GEOFF PROVEST, MEMBER FOR TWEED: I'm extraordinarily disappointed and we've all driven around the areas and seen the massive damage within our local areas and we've been lobbying. I've spoken to Bridget McKenzie, the Federal Minister for Emergency and was told that they're reviewing it, but that was a number of days ago. I just see the Federal Government has really messed this up, Nicole. I can put it no other way that they've lost the faith of the people, right. I can tell you, whether I'm down in a caravan park or one of the little villages, there’s real venom out there directed at the Prime Minister. That he doesn't understand what's occurred on the on the ground and this is like a remake of the bushfires some two years ago. So look how, I'm hopeful of a positive outcome but as the days keep on people are getting very desperate out there. I’ve been up in the little villages through the mountains yesterday, massive landslips etc and they’re doing it really tough. And what it's actually doing is hurting the people that can least afford it to rebuild their lives and we just hope to be included as all Australians. To segregate us like this and to put Lismore in and Richmond Valley and exclude the north of the state, I think it’s deplorable and disgusting. I’m really disgusted with the Prime Minister. And his office in the way he's handling this. You just have to drive around the area and talk to the people and you see that they've lost everything. They've been devastated. And to be told, oh it's a bureaucratic thing and it's a bit of a blame shifting game. Yeah, I don't accept that at all. I mean, the Prime Minister and the Federal government's put in place to look after all Australians, not just a select few. And yeah, I think they should hang their head in shame, right at this point in time. You know, I'm very proud of the way the state has handled it. We've got a number of state agencies here, both emergency wise, we've got housing here. We've got Service New South Wales, and a lot of funding has been given out through those agencies, but that’s state directed, it's not federal directed. That's where I think the problem is and I think currently the Federal government is disconnected with the good people of Australia and we’re paying the price of it here. If you look at the anguish in people’s eyes, as I’ve done day after day, you really feel a pain. It’s like a stab in their heart in all honesty, what’s happened. We need to be able to giving them all the support, not just words. We’re sick and tired of words, we want some real action. And, as I said, the state agencies are working 15 hour days in delivering that. It’s the Federal government by making an announcement in one area and excluding an other is just deplorable. Well I would even go out on a limb and say I would struggle to vote for him, you know being part of the state government Coalition, I would struggle because what I’ve seen out there is just a failure of the Federal government to listen and more importantly to deliver.
WEBBER: That was Geoff Provest, Nationals MP remember, and I emphasise that. Also a member of the National Party at federal level is Emergency Services Minister Bridget McKenzie, who Mr. Provest referred to directly there. We did put calls into, or at least send messages, to her office this morning. She was unavailable to answer our questions about all of this, we're told. To Shadow Emergency Services Minister, Labor Senator for Queensland, Murray Watt. Senator, good morning.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT: Good morning Matt.
WEBBER: We know as you will tell us no doubt, if given the opportunity that you would do this differently, you would do it better. But we're not really in that place at the moment. We've got people who are desperate, people who want help, who say they're not getting it, and they're saying that that help has been promised. What on earth is going on here?
WATT: It's a really good question, Matt and I really hope that Bridget McKenzie has the guts to come on your program and explain this at some point soon, because people are desperate. I spent all of last week in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, having spent the previous week going around to all of the Queensland flood regions. And anyone who's spent any time with these people will know they are completely desperate. The number of people who have lost everything they own, who do not know where they and their families are going to live, is immense. People are incredibly traumatised. And I think that's the killer blow here is that these people are in such a bad way already. To then find out that flood victims in one National Party held seat of the Federal Parliament are getting three times the level of disaster assistance than people just up the road in the Labor held seat of Richmond, or further up the road in Queensland are getting, has incensed people. Because if you've lost everything, it doesn't matter where you live, it doesn't matter whether you're in Lismore or Coraki, or Murwillumbah, or Milton in Brisbane or Oxley or Gympie, you should qualify for the same level of support. But the situation we have at the moment is that there's one electorate in New South Wales held by the National Party that is getting three times the amount of disaster assistance as the Labor seat next door and as any Queensland based seats. So I'm not surprised that we've seen State National and Liberal MPs speaking out, with one of them saying they're going to resign over this and labelling Scott Morrison's behaviour as “unethical”, and the other saying that he “would struggle to vote for him” himself. I mean, people might take what I'm saying with a grain of salt being a Labor MP, but we've got Nationals and Liberal MPs, saying they would struggle to vote for Scott Morrison and that his behaviour is unethical. He can fix this today. All it takes is a stroke of the pen to give the same level of flood support to people in the electorate of Richmond, so people from Chinderah through to Murwillumbah down to Ballina. And also he can do that for all of the parts of Southeast Queensland that have been affected and are getting a third of the support of the National Party seat in New South Wales.
WEBBER: Now we have heard earlier Senator Murray Watt that there might be issues with assessment and you know, that things would be recalibrated and it was an evolving situation and once more detail was made available, then you know, more LGAs, local government areas, could be added to the list. I'm paraphrasing the Prime Minister's own comments from earlier on. Can you think of any reasonable reason why it is that some LGAs would be preferred over and above others beyond the political that you're alluding to?
WATT: I cannot think of any other reason Matt, because as I say, you know, I've now met with flood victims in pretty much every part of southeast Queensland who've lost everything. I've been to the Chinderah caravan parks with Justine Elliott, the Federal member. I've been in Murwillumbah with Albo and Janelle Saffin, the State member. And the pain that these people have experienced is exactly the same as the pain that people in Lismore and other parts of Page I've experienced. I mean, I'd like to know from the Prime Minister why it was that he was in a position, on the day he travelled to Lismore, to announce that people there were going to get three times the level of assistance of others. But he requires some comprehensive analysis to be undertaken before he can grant the same support to other parts of the country. He wouldn't have had any more time to do that analysis for Lismore and those other areas than he has for the places that have been excluded. And please, don't get me wrong. I totally support the people in Page getting that extra support, they are in a world of pain, but so are other people in other places as well. And I think the only conclusion you can come to Matt is that this is about politics. You know, this is a government that has a record of using colour coded spreadsheets for handing out sports grants and the car park rorts and every other rort under the sun. It appears that they're doing the same thing here. And the other thing that's clear from this is that Scott Morrison only wants to announce these kinds of assistance packages when he’s got the TV cameras with him. You know, he delayed announcing a national emergency declaration until he was able to travel to Lismore and do it in a press conference. He delayed doing it in Queensland until he was available to travel there, only to find out that it was all too late. And there's now reports emerging that he's holding up announcing extra assistance in New South Wales until he can travel back from campaigning in Perth. This guy just always put politics first, puts his own media appearances first, and I think it's disgraceful that we see flood victims being used as props in Scott Morrison's own personal marketing campaign. They need help now. They needed it last week, and all he's doing is making them wait.
WEBBER: Appreciate your contribution this morning. Senator, thank you.
WATT: Thanks Matt.