Doorstop in Lismore with Kevin Hogan MP, Member for Page
KEVIN HOGAN, MEMBER FOR PAGE: It’s good to have the Prime Minister in town, albeit today not under ideal circumstances. I thank Malcolm for being here. Obviously, we as a community – Lismore as a community and indeed the wider region – has been absolutely devastated by this flood event that occurred in the last few days to the extent that you do not have to walk far around the CBD area to hear heartbreaking stories.
I invited Malcolm immediately to come to this community to hear those stories. There is one thing about seeing things on television or hearing stories on the radio or reading them in the newspaper – there is another thing about eyeballing someone who is devastated and heartbroken by an event. And Prime Minister, I thank you for being here today to hear our stories, to see and to witness our community and the distress that it is in, and I thank you for being here today.
PRIME MINISTER: Kevin, thank you and can I just say the heartbreaking stories that Kevin spoke about – we’ve heard.
This has been a devastating flood here in Lismore. Right through New South Wales and Queensland, we have seen nature flinging her worst at Australians, but it always brings out the best in Australians. You see the resilience of the business people here, the families here, cleaning up, getting on with life, getting recovering. And what about the charity, the love, that is shown by the SES, the emergency services, the Australian Defence Force, federal, state and local government, working together with thousands of volunteers.
How many volunteers are now in the region here?
ANDREW McPHEE, REGIONAL CONTROLLER SES: Sir, there are in excess of 500 SES volunteers supplemented by around 500 from other agencies at the moment and more are coming in as we speak.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, and we are seeing this right up the east coast. Right up to North Queensland. Enormous solidarity from Australians. We are standing with these communities, supporting them in every way with logistics, with the resources of the Australian Defence Force and, of course, with the financial and emergency support that is so important.
But I want to also say this, as I said, it brings out the best in Australians. We see here at the church, the love that they are showing, the support for their community, whether it is soup and meals, whether it is going around providing the emotional support that people need.
Kevin, you have got a really strong community.
Here is the Mayor, Isaac. Everyone is pulling together, aren’t they?
ISAAC SMITH, MAYOR OF LISMORE: They are, absolutely. It has been a fantastic effort. People are staying positive. We know we can recover from this and everyone is pulling together to make sure it happens.
PRIME MINISTER: We are all in it together.
Every Australian is backing you and all of the communities that are affected – Murwillumbah, going right up, up into North Queensland where we were last week, where the storm first hit.
Mark Crosweller, the Director General for Emergency Management, you are making sure that all of the federal resources are backing up the state and local government services?
MARK CROSWELLER, DIRECTOR GENERAL, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AUSTRALIA: That is correct, Prime Minister. We’ve got the Defence Force involved, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology. We have also coordinated all of the state and territory assistance into New South Wales.
It has been a huge effort, a large, coordinated effort. All states and territories assisting wherever they are able to do so.
The Commonwealth is assisting through the Australian Defence Force and Geoscience Australia and the bureau. And an absolute connection between community, local government, state and Commonwealth.
PRIME MINISTER: That is fantastic.
Well, Kevin, as you said, it would be better to be here in happier times, but this shows the resilience, the love, the solidarity of the people of this community.
As I said, nature flings her worst at Australians and it brings out the best in Australians.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, were you prepared for what you saw when you arrived here in Lismore?
PRIME MINISTER: Kevin’s right, there is no substitute for being here on the ground. Obviously we have seen the pictures and I was in touch speaking to the Mayor and Kevin on Friday – in fact, as the flood was hitting. We have been staying closely in touch with it but seeing it first-hand and the impact, treasured possessions, all of a life’s work, all of the assets of a business flung out onto the pavement – that is gut-wrenching stuff. And that is why we are backing the people of this community and every community affected by these storms and floods. We are backing them all to ensure they recover and they are back in business and people will be coming back to Lismore and enjoying Steve’s coffee. In fact, I think he will have the coffee on tomorrow.
MAYOR OF LISMORE: He is.
JOURNALIST: Steve just told you though that most people in Lismore don’t have flood insurance and that low-interest loans aren’t going to cut it for them and he thinks they deserve more, the sort of treatment that multi-nationals, like car manufacturers get. What do you say to that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is enormous support being provided to the community and there will be, and already we have the National Disaster Relief Assistances available. We’re doing that through the state government so people who have lost possessions and so forth can have them, will be able to, it’s means tested of course, but will be able to recover them.
The low-interest loans are a very important part of business recovery. We talked to a lady who you would have seen in the street who talked about the theatre group here who have lost their props and lost their curtains. Again, there are grants available for not-for-profits like that.
And, of course, there is a full suite of support for a region like this that is recovering.
JOURNALIST: If you don’t give them special consideration, you could come back here in six months and see a ghost town. That is his exact words?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think Kevin, the Mayor, and I have all got a lot of confidence in this city. This is a strong city. It has seen floods before and it has recovered and we have got more support for flood recovery now than we ever had in our nation’s history.
JOURNALIST: Can you offer federal grants to businesses and homeowners instead of low interest loans? Is that an option?
PRIME MINISTER: There are grants that are available to homeowners and that is through the state government’s program which we fund 50 per cent of – so it is a joint state-federal program.
As far as businesses are concerned, the support through Category C is through a low-interest loan, a concessional loan, and that has been very important for farmers and businesses, including small businesses, of course.
JOURNALIST: Steve who you spoke to say it’s not going to be enough and he’s on the ground, he’s directly affected. Will you consider more?
PRIME MINISTER: Well there is a substantial program of support for the community which we will be working out with the local government, with Isaac and with the state government. It is a real collaboration. I can assure you we are committed to seeing these communities and many others like Lismore right up the coast, right up into North Queensland ensuring that they have the support to recover.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could I ask a question? Timeliness really is an issue here. Grants, et cetera, are all very well and loans, but there are people here whose businesses won’t survive another month unless they get help really quickly. How fast will this move?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the money and the support is available immediately. Again, it is administered by the state government. In terms of income support, the disaster relief allowance will be available here in this local government area and again that will be available through, that’s available through Centrelink?
MARK CROSWELLER: Yes, that’s right.
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, so that will be available through Centrelink and all of those details will be made public and in the course of the next few days.
JOURNALIST: The Mayor also spoke to you about the levee bank. How important is preventing and investing in that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well prevention is the key and mitigation is the key and it is important as we rebuild infrastructure, to learn the lessons from the events that damaged it on this occasion.
So, we would certainly look very favorably on increasing the height of the levee if that is the decision that is taken by the local community. Obviously, there are a number of factors to take into account, as you’d be aware, but, clearly, it is important that we make Lismore as resilient to flood as possible.
It is a river town, a river city, I should say, so it’s always been vulnerable to floods, but, clearly, a higher levee has a lot to commend it.
OK, thank you all very much.