Bundaberg Press Conference

January 29, 2021





SUBJECTS: Bundaberg East flood levee; Scott Morrison’s unspent disaster mitigation fund; Shadow Cabinet reshuffle; Liberals-Nationals split on coal; Labor leadership

MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: It's terrific to be back in Bundaberg, first time I've been here since the state election and I want to congratulate my great mate, Tom Smith, on having won the seat of Bundaberg by a massive nine votes. That was really testament to the effort that he and his campaign team put in. I had the great pleasure of campaigning with Tom through the campaign, and I know he's going to do a fabulous job here as the local Member.

The reason I'm in Bundaberg today is that, as you know, this week is the eighth anniversary of the last time that Bundaberg flooded back in 2013. And I know that there's a lot of local interest in what will happen next time the town floods and what we can do to actually prevent it from happening. As Tom has already said to you, the State Government has got money on the table right now to build the Bundaberg East flood levee, which all of the studies show will go a long way to protecting Bundaberg homes and businesses the next time Bundaberg floods. We know that it is going to flood again. We know that we do face more and more natural disasters. And in fact, just in this disaster season with La Niña weather conditions, it's more likely that we are still going to see floods before the disaster season is over. So it's infuriating that the Federal Government won't come to the party and help fund this flood levee, given the savings that it will produce for the Bundaberg region and the city itself.

What makes it even worse is that the Government actually has a $4 billion fund right now that it announced 20 months ago that's available to spend on projects like the Bundaberg East flood levee. And you know what? They haven't spent a single cent from that fund, 20 months after they announced it. So I was just amazed when I saw yesterday that Keith Pitt has said that this flood levee isn't a priority and that there's no money to do it. His own Government has a $4 billion fund that they could be using right now to build this flood levee and to build other similar disaster projects right across the state. It is negligent on Keith Pitt's behalf. He is failing the people of Bundaberg.

You'll be hearing shortly from Julie from Stewart & Sons (Coaches), which suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage last time Bundaberg flooded. We don't want to see that again. The State Government's ready to deal, the Council’s ready to deal. We just need the Federal Government to step up.

Just before I take questions, I might also just quickly say I'm really excited about the new opportunity that Anthony Albanese has provided me in yesterday's Shadow Ministry reshuffle. I'll be adding to my roles the new portfolio of Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources. I think that Anthony appointing a Queenslander to this role demonstrates that he gets, and Federal Labor gets, how important our resources industry is here in Queensland. We're very committed to seeing it grow and we want to see more jobs in our resources sector in the future. So I'm looking forward to building on the work that I've done already with the mining industry and mining workers to see that really important industry continue to grow and to continue to provide jobs here in Queensland.

JOURNALIST: The $4 billion fund you mentioned, is that relying on state government submitting proposals and business cases?

WATT: There's a set of guidelines, but the Government made very clear that they would not necessarily require matching funding from state governments. But in this case, the state government is prepared to provide matching funding. So I would have thought that's a good deal for the Federal Government, if you've got a state government willing to pay half the cost. The Council has agreed to pay all of the ongoing maintenance costs. So we've got everyone prepared to put money in except for the Federal Government. They've got the funds ready to go. It's no good this money sitting in Scott Morrison's bank account. It's no good with this Government continuing to make all sorts of announcements that they just never come through and deliver on.

JOURNALIST: Both Disaster Management Minister and Shadow are from Queensland, does that say anything?

WATT: I mean, the fact that we've got a Queenslander in the portfolio in David Littleproud just underlines how irresponsible it is for the Government to not be spending this money. David Littleproud's own communities in western Queensland have suffered floods. All of his National Party colleagues continue to suffer floods and cyclones. It's our Queensland regions that are actually more exposed to natural disasters than anywhere in the country. And yet we've got a Minister who oversees this fund, backed in by his National Party colleagues, who won't spend anything from it. They seem to think the job is done when they go and do a press conference and get a photo opportunity, well the job's not done until the money is spent and these sort of facilities are actually built.

JOURNALIST: Concerns about their leadership, too, the Nats?

WATT: Clearly there are growing splits within the National Party and between the Nationals and the Liberals that get worse every single day. You've got Matt Canavan and a bunch of Nationals running around at the moment demanding that the Government spend public money on coal-fired power stations, and you've got a whole bunch of Liberals who say that that's a ridiculous idea, right up to the Treasurer. Josh Frydenberg, the Federal Treasurer, has this week said there is no chance that the Federal Government is going to put public funding into new coal-fired power stations. So there's been a lot of attention on Labor about our position on these issues, but the split between the Nationals and the Libs just gets worse every single day.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned Anthony Albanese, how much pressure is his leadership under?

WATT: I think Albo's leadership is entirely secure. He's got the full support of Caucus. He's doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances. And I think we're already seeing this year that Albo is landing blows on the Government and demonstrating where they are failing people, whether it be here in Bundaberg or elsewhere in Queensland. This Government is leaving people behind. They're not investing in disaster mitigation. They're about to cut off JobSeeker and JobKeeper even when businesses are still trying to recover and unemployment is high. And I'm very confident that we'll perform well whenever the election is.

JOURNALIST: The claim is he's not cutting through?

WATT: I don't agree with that at all. I see Albo's press conferences as you do every day and what I take from that is the very clear message that Federal Labor is about jobs. Just yesterday in the reshuffle, he's made our Deputy Leader, Richard Marles, now responsible for an overall economic recovery portfolio. You couldn't be clearer from Albo or anyone else that Labor's priority is about creating jobs. And again, that's why these sort of priorities are important, is not just about the disaster protection, but as Tom says, there's hundreds of jobs that come with it as well. And they're the kind of things that Albo and Federal Labor wants to deliver. Thank you.