SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
SKY NEWS AFTERNOON AGENDA
THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison holding back extra flood assistance for Richmond and Qld; Coalition MPs bagging Scott Morrison for “unethical” and “disgusting” flood response; Labor will invest up to $200 million per year on disaster mitigation; Kimberley Kitching
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s go live to the Shadow Emergency Management Minister Senator Murray Watt. Linda Reynolds will hold a news conference with Shane Stone shortly in the flood affected areas I’m told and residents in the Ballina and surrounds, Byron and so on, will be receiving an additional $2,000 in those disaster payments like Lismore residents received. You'd welcome that?
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT: Well, I certainly hope that is right, Kieran. But I think the question is why it's taken so long. Why was it that Scott Morrison was in a position nearly a week ago, when he arrived in Lismore, to announce additional support for some of those communities? $3,000 per adult who'd been affected - but people in other areas, particularly Labor held seats, have had to wait. And we still don't know whether there's going to be any extra assistance provided to flood victims in my home state of Queensland, who have suffered immense damage as well. So I think it's really unclear why it is that we only ever seem to be able to get Ministers to announce disaster assistance when they're actually on the ground with TV cameras on them. All of these things could be done simply at the stroke of a pen by Ministers. They could have been done by Scott Morrison while he was in COVID isolation, and they could have been done at any other point since.
GILBERT: So you're saying that national emergency, the payment, that extended payment, which was afforded to Lismore residents last week, should have also gone to those affected in Queensland? Was that your assessment?
WATT: Absolutely. I've obviously spent a significant amount of time on the ground in both Queensland and northern New South Wales in flood regions over the last couple of weeks. And I absolutely acknowledge that Lismore in particular, being a major regional centre, has copped a huge blow. But there are homes and businesses in the suburbs and towns of Queensland and other parts of northern New South Wales who have experienced that damage as well. So you know, what we hear from the Prime Minister and his Ministers is that they need to do some kind of comprehensive analysis to determine whether people qualify for that assistance. They didn't seem to need to do that for three council areas that just happened to be in a National Party seat. But they need some sort of overwhelming analysis to do it elsewhere. It's just another case of clear double standards from this government and I think people are tired of them wheeling out their colour coded spreadsheets, whether it be for sports roads, carpark roads or now to determine where people get disaster assistance.
GILBERT: I mean, as tragic as the loss has been of property, and livelihoods and homes, but when we're talking about major expenditure. Isn't it appropriate that governments do wait for the advice to suggest that, okay, that's the damage done, this is what should be paid?
WATT: Well, all we're asking for is equal treatment of people who've experienced extreme loss. If you're a flood victim who's lost everything they own in Lismore, you're in exactly the same situation as a flood victim who loses everything they own in one of the Brisbane suburbs like Milton or West End or Oxley or Ipswich. And so what I don't understand is what analysis was required to dish out these extra payments for places like Lismore, that people have now had to wait for in other areas as well. And, look, it's not just me saying this. We've seen in the last 24 hours, a New South Wales Liberal MP, saying she's going to resign because of what she says is Scott Morrison's “unethical” distribution of flood funding. We've had a New South Wales National Party MP, Geoff Provest, today say that he would struggle to vote for Scott Morrison, because his performance has been so “deplorable” and “disgusting”. They're not my words. That's what's coming out of the mouths of people in Scott Morrison's own party. And I think they reflect the views that are on the ground in these flood affected communities.
GILBERT: From what you've read of this billion dollar joint package from New South Wales and the Commonwealth. $10,000 build returning home packages or back home packages, as my colleague Andrew Connell reported them earlier. Apparently, that was the delay to this announcement, the Commonwealth's finalising that. But $10,000 for a back home payment, is that sort of the quantum you would like to see going to those affected?
WATT: Well, obviously, we're going to wait and see what the government announces, Kieran. There's a lot of media speculation about this at the moment, but we need to see what they actually announce. But there's no doubt, having seen what I've seen, that there is going to need to be substantial assistance to people, particularly in relation to housing. I mean, the housing market all across the country, including the Northern Rivers, was extremely tight before these floods, and what's now happened is that there's been about 3000 homes ripped out of that housing market because they're now deemed unliveable. So there's no doubt that we're going to need that kind of assistance from the federal government. And as I say that, it's just such a shame that it just seems to have to wait until the Prime Minister can be in town, stopping campaigning in Perth, or one of his ministers can be there. I don't understand why there hasn't been a Minister on the ground every single day in Lismore, you know, controlling the operations, giving directives so that we can get this recovery meeting,
GILBERT: I know you were critical of Shane Stone for comments made about those that are building in flood affected areas. But if you win, the Labor Party wins the election in a couple of months from now, as Emergency Management spokesperson, have you got thoughts as to how you would help mitigate against what has been described as a once in 500 year flood but unfortunately, with more likelihood, that this sort of disaster can be expected.
WATT: Yeah, I do Kieran and more importantly, Anthony Albanese, our leader does as well. When Albo was in Queensland in January this year, one of his major announcements was that we would establish a Disaster Ready Fund, which would basically invest up to $200 million a year in disaster mitigation. So that would be things like flood levees, drainage improvements, bushfire evacuation centres, making homes more resilient to floods and bushfires and cyclones as well. And the way we would do that is by revamping that moribund, failed Emergency Response Fund that Scott Morrison set up three years ago. There's obviously been a lot of debate about that fund over the last couple of weeks. But what it basically involves is a fund that he set up three years ago to invest in disaster recovery and mitigation, and has not spent a cent on disaster recovery and is still not even started building a single disaster mitigation project. So rather than having that fund just sit there earning interest for the government, which is what Scott Morrison has done with it, we want to put that to work so that we can actually invest in these mitigation projects. Build flood levees, build cyclone shelters, build better telecommunications so that we can keep people safe.
GILBERT: We've seen quite explosive claims about the treatment of the late Senator, your colleague Kimberley Kitching. Does Senator Wong and the leadership team have a case to answer on the claims that have been made?
WATT: No, I don't believe they do Kieran. And as many of my colleagues have said, I think we all just feel that this whole debate, and turning it into a political issue, is a really disrespectful way to handle a tragic event. It is a desperately sad thing for someone in their early 50s to pass away, especially so suddenly, and I'm not going to engage in any of the discussion about the politics surrounding it.
GILBERT: I know Labor has been very keen to uphold and review parliamentary standards. Why not at the least have the Chief of Staff of the leader, Mr. Albanese, have a look into these claims and report back?
WATT: Look Albo handled this yesterday in his press conference, Kieran. And I can't really add to that. What we're all focused on at the moment is the incredibly sad situation that Kimberley, her family and friends have experienced. And that's really all I'm thinking of and I don't intend to add to any of the debate.
GILBERT: Senator Wong initially said she wasn't going to be able to attend the funeral. Now she is, is that the right outcome given she's the Senate leader for the late Senator?
WATT: Look, I'll let Penny speak for herself. She's obviously made a decision that that's what the appropriate thing is to do and that's a matter for her.
GILBERT: Senator Watt I appreciate your time. Thanks.
WATT: Thanks Kieran.