MONDAY, 4 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Tasmanian bushfires; Banking Royal Commission; The Liberal’s Backflip on Medical Transfers.
JULIE COLLINS, MEMBER FOR FRANKLIN: It's great to be here with my colleague Senator Catryna Bilyk but particularly to have our Leader Bill Shorten here in Tasmania and particularly here in the Huon Valley.
As Tasmanians would know, people here in the valley and indeed people right across Tasmania have been doing it very tough in the last couple of weeks. These fires have been unrelenting, but I want to go on the record today to thank all of the volunteers, the local government and particularly our fire service for the wonderful job that they have been doing in containing these fires.
It's been an extraordinary time in Tasmania, and Tasmanians have come together like I've never seen before. It's extraordinary to go to the evacuation centres to talk to locals about the community effort and it's wonderful to have Bill down here directly to talk to locals about how it's impacting them, how it's impacting their day to day lives, how it's impacting businesses, how it's impacting the local community.
Bill has a history here doing some of the recovery with the Victorian bushfires as that terrible anniversary comes up. He knows what comes next. He knows how difficult it can be for local communities and it's wonderful that he's taken time to come to Tasmania today and particularly to come down to the Huon Valley. Thank you Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you Julie Collins, local member for the Huon Valley and I'm also accompanied by Senator Catryna Bilyk.
First of all I just want to say to Tasmanians, that the rest of Australia is aware of the fires that you've been fighting, and not just in the Huon Valley but in the Central Highlands and north western Tassie. And you are not forgotten, and that was a great honour for me today actually to come and meet the professionals, to meet the volunteers, the Tasmanian Fire Service, the people who work in the recovery centre and most importantly day to day Tasmanians who have been under a real degree of stress.
As Julie said today is a day where there's going to be the anniversary event in Melbourne for ten years since the terrible Black Saturday fires. I'll never forget that 173 lives were lost in that terrible horrendous day and evening 10 years ago, and that's why, I have to say, I'm so impressed by how Tasmanians have responded to this immediate fire emergency.
People realised, that it had been under way for the best part of three weeks, that a lot of Tasmania has been experiencing fire danger and not just in remote parts but coming right up to where people live. To be honest it's nothing short of a minor miracle that only three properties have been confirmed as being destroyed. But what I also recognise is that for a lot of businesses and for a lot of people who haven't been able to go home, this has been very stressful. It's not easy for a mum and a dad to say to their kids when they're out of home for 13 or 14 days that they are going to have to keep waiting a little longer.
What I understand from speaking to the experts - and I congratulate the local councils and all levels of government - is that the immediate danger has receded, but it's not over and that there'll be a lot of vigilant and diligent watching of fires and hazardous areas between now until the end of the fire season.
I just want to reassure Tasmanians I'm here today because I want to make sure that you get your fair share. You pay your taxes to Canberra, and really, when there's a time of disaster that's when you want to see reinvestment. To the businesses in particular the small businesses not just in the Huon valley but in other parts of Tasmania, you've had an interruption to your income now in some cases for two weeks. This is stressful.
Please keep in touch with Julie Collins. I've said that I want the Prime Minister to bring the cheque book on behalf of the Government, now is not the time to be stingy or bureaucratic. I've seen fire recovery and reconstruction before, all over Australia, now is not the time for government to go missing. A lot of people have been running on adrenaline just making sure they're safe, and as the immediate emergency hopefully decreases in level of warning, I think a lot of people might hit the wall and it will be a tough time. If you need help, you should ask for help. I'd just say to Tasmanians, my fellow Australians, you have been through a lot of stress,people react to stress in different ways and it can come up and affect them at different times. There's no embarrassment in seeking help and getting support and I know the services are there.
We're happy to take - I should also say before I move to questions I don't think anyone in Australia can be unaware of the terrible situation unfolding in Townsville in the last 48 hours. The fact that the Ross River Dam has had a structured release of water, when it was 200 per cent at capacity, has just meant that a lot of water has gone over the floorboards of a lot of households in Townsville - this is massive and unprecedented inundation. And my thoughts are with the residents of Townsville and the surrounding areas who are going through flood, just as this part of Australia has been going through fire. And of course I'm conscious in my home state of Victoria, there's at least four fires, some of which are getting close to houses. This has been a season of extreme weather events and I want to say to Australians on behalf of the Labor Party, we've got your back - we want to make sure you're looked after, not just now, but in the coming days and weeks and months.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten we do have an update that an additional two properties have been burned down by the Riveaux Road fire, and we've also got three affected by the Central Plateau, so that now brings the total number of houses lost in these fires to eight. What is your message to people (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: At one level obviously, the blessing is that no one's died, and that is a blessing. You can always rebuild a house, but if you lose someone you lose them forever. But having said that property damage and losing your house is quite a catastrophic event. So to people who have lost their property, first of all I hope you're insured and if you have any struggles with your insurance company please feel free to contact my Members of Parliament. This is now a time for insurance companies not to be tough and be bean counters, but be compassionate - that's why people take insurance for.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Green's Senator Nick McKim said that the Prime Minister's love affair with coal has worsened the fires and he should get on his hands and knees and sit there and apologise. What are your thoughts?
SHORTEN: Well I might just finish the point about the property, then I will come to the latest contribution from the Greens.
So it's not just the insurance, what I also say to people though is go and seek some help because when a house burns down, there's things you can never insure - the birth certificates, the photos of your kids growing up, mementos, things you might have a great value on, they're your hobby, but no one else values. So I just say, go and get help.
So with the insurers, get all the help you can and we're happy to help you deal with them. And to that deeper level of loss, we just say to you reach out and get some professional assistance.
Turning to Senator McKim's latest contribution - I don't think that sort of click bait sensationalism helps anyone. There is a legitimate issue around climate change, but that click bait Green sensationalism smacks more of relevance deprivation and headline hunting than helping anyone whose house has burnt down or recognising what we've gone through. But I do think on a more sober and serious point, that there is a growing sense right across Australia that climate change is having at least some effect on our weather systems.
Now I'm not blaming climate change for everything that happens, but I think even the most extreme climate deniers are probably at the point of acknowledging that we're having more and more extreme weather events, more and more weather records, new weather records are being set, and the economic cost is growing and growing and growing. So I think it is legitimate to talk about climate change - I mean if you can't talk about climate change now with the range of events we've got, when will we ever be allowed to talk about climate change, and when will this government start doing something about climate change?
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned by the devastation to Tasmania's wilderness World Heritage area with these fires?
SHORTEN: Well obviously, my first concern is always people. I make no apology for that. Property damage is always catastrophic but you're right. Then there's the National Estate, the communal property of the nation which is of course our heritage areas. So this damage is difficult, it is devastating and I think in coming weeks and months we're going to need to see a greater effort from the government in terms of what they're going to do to help Tasmania regroup.
JOURNALIST: There have been calls for bringing in amphibious aircraft to get on top of those blazes. Is that something that Labor would consider? Or what would Labor do try to protect that environment if elected?
SHORTEN: Well, be it property, be it private property or be it World Heritage areas, I've got a lot of confidence in our firefighting officials. So I'm not here to come in as some sort of wise man from the mainland and second guess what's been happening. I've been pretty impressed. But I do think that we need to make sure that we have more resources in terms of mitigation and prevention of fire.
We ask a lot of our firefighters and a lot of our relief agencies when disaster strikes. But what we've also got to make sure is that we're doing more in mitigation and prevention, and we've got to make sure that we're funding the remedial activities in the off season when the risk of bushfire is not so high, be it in fuel degradation, be it in making sure that we're properly resourcing our firefighting services working with the states. I mean the Commonwealth's been good at turning up after the disaster and helping out and that's part of our remit.
But all too often I feel the Commonwealth leaves the funding of protecting our environment, providing the resources to the states till disaster strikes. We know that this will happen again. We know that there's a lot of - that the extreme weather events are increasing in frequency. So I think we need to have a serious discussion with our national fire prevention plans. Are we as a nation supporting our states, our local governments and our firefighters to do the work and ideally before disaster strikes.
JOURNALIST: We have seen a fairly really heavy reliance on interstate and international firefighters. Do you think we need more people actually on the ground here in Tasmania as well?
SHORTEN: Well again, I've only got nothing but praise for the firefighters. I do think that we need to incentivise or support our volunteers more. The volunteers don't do it for the money let me be clear on that and they would be offended if someone said you should pay them more money.
But I do think we need to somehow improve and support employers who released their volunteers to go and fight fires. I mean it's, It's not unreasonable when someone has jury service initially the employer, might pick up a couple of days but after that the government helps the employer. So I say to all the small and big businesses who are out there providing and releasing your volunteers. Thank you.
I get that we need to have a national conversation - how we can further encourage our employers to be able to release the volunteer firefighters so that they don't suffer any great financial disadvantage. But I want to return to where I started. Volunteers don't do it for remuneration. I understand that I respect that. But I also want to make sure that you know, we don't inadvertently rely so much on the goodwill that they suffer financial disadvantage. In terms of our full time firefighters, I've got a very simple rule, give them the best equipment in the world because that makes it only just good enough for them.
The men and women in our fire service, they are excellent. They are the only people who can put fires out but I'd like to make sure they have the best technology possible.
JOURNALIST: Just on that note -
SHORTEN: -Sorry, I might share but I will come back to you.
JOURNALIST: Alright, just on that note, we have seen the fires burn through almost 190,000 hectares, and some of them have been going since before Christmas. Has it been an adequate response from the government to this point?
SHORTEN: I'm not here to judge the Tasmanian Government today, I'm here to visit. I'm here to say thank you to the volunteers, I'm here to say thank you to the professionals, here to acknowledge the work with the recovery centre. I'm also here to just reassure Tasmanians who have been in the Huon Valley and elsewhere that you're not forgotten and that I expect the Commonwealth Government to get the chequebook out because that's why people pay their taxes, to help the small businesses and help people who've been affected adversely by it.
I don't think it would be appropriate of me just to wander in and start playing the political blame game, I think that turns people off. What I will do is take some of the insights and lessons that I've learned from the firefighting services here and how we can further improve national support for state firefighting bodies.
JOURNALIST: Are we likely to see an actual promise on that before the election then?
JOURNALIST: Could you tell us anything else about what that might include, when we might hear an announcement about it?
SHORTEN: We've been doing some work on this but I think it's better that we just come and visit today rather than sort of make it a big political carnival.
JOURNALIST: Can we move on to other issues.
SHORTEN: I am in your hands.
JOURNALIST: The medical review panel that the government is promising to establish to provide greater oversight of medical transfers from offshore processing. Would that alleviate your concerns about the issue?
SHORTEN: We will study the detail of what the government's dropped out to the media this morning. I understand the government's written to me, we'll study the detail. But what I will say is this, it is good if the government's showing signs of prioritising the view of treating doctors and the treatment of people within the care of Australia.
That is a development because up until now they've been very stubborn about it. I am not sure though that they're doing it because they have got some insight about their obligations to people in their care. I think rather it's been announced because of the pressure of an impending vote in parliament. Hopefully there'll be more sensible negotiation and discussion from the government as they face the pressure of losing a vote in parliament. We're voting for the Phelps Bill, Labor is supporting the Phelps Bill. I encourage the government, they are showing some signs of ameliorating their very harsh position.
Listen, whatever their motive is and I think it's mainly driven by a parliamentary vote next week, I'm prepared to look at the detail of it. For me what matters is not the reason why the government is trying to get to a better answer than it's given, to me what matters is the way we treat people who we have a duty of care to treat properly.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean you're not prepared to back the Government's changes in parliament?
SHORTEN: I've just said we've got to study the detail. The government gave them to the media then they sent us an e-mail overnight. That's fair enough how they communicate.
JOURNALIST: - You said -
SHORTEN: Sorry, I might do you the courtesy of finishing your question. You've asked what we're going to do, I have said that we'll study the detail.
It is a movement, the government is showing for the first time some signs of buying Labor's logic which is that we've got to put the treating doctors’ advice at the front of how we treat people in our care, but we're not sure, there's still a way to go. That's what the experts have told me this morning and the crossbench.
We've said that we will vote for the crossbench resolution, we haven't changed our mind on that. I think the government's in the market for sensible negotiation. They could have done this months ago, of course, now they're facing a vote where they lose control of the parliament. That may be putting the pressure on them, that's up to them. For me what matters is what's effective.
We want to deter people coming by boat. We will turn boats around. We will keep regional resettlement. We also want to make sure that people in our care are receiving proper medical treatment.
JOURNALIST: If the government does lose this vote in parliament, is that similar to almost a no-confidence vote going through against the government?
SHORTEN: Listen, in some ways the government's already cast a vote of no confidence in themselves. People may not be aware but the government outlined their parliamentary timetable. That's the number of days that they come to parliament to do their day job.
Last December, or last November, they said that they would only be sitting for 10 days in eight months. Good luck to any of you in the media or any of the people we've seen in the Huon Valley, if you could tell your employer "listen I've had a long hard think about it, I only want to turn up to work for 10 days in eight months". You would get the sack.
So the very fact that this government is so scared of the parliament that they won't come to it for more than 10 days shows they don't have any confidence in themselves and I think the Australian electorate are forming the same view.
JOURNALIST: Will you withdraw the support for the Kerryn Phelps Bill if you like the detail in what the government is proposing?
SHORTEN: Well that's what I'd call a hypothetical question. So far I've said that we're supporting the crossbench resolution- as I have a couple of times here. I acknowledge the government is seeming to show some awareness and indeed they are moving towards our position that treating doctors should have a greater say and their views should be given a greater weight than they currently have been. Now we haven't seen enough of the detail to make us change our mind. If the government wants to have further sensible negotiation as they come closer to Labor's position we will study the detail.
I think Australians expect that, I don't even care what the motivation of the government is if their motivation is just fear of losing a vote that's fine by me. What matters to me is the answer. What matters to me is that if we deter the people smugglers, we stop people coming here by boats, we have regional resettlement. But people in our care shouldn't be detained indefinitely and they should also receive proper and safe medical treatment. And if that means them coming to Australia so be it.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned by the ICAC investigation into the potentially illegal donations to New South Wales?
SHORTEN: I'm not familiar with the circumstances of the investigation, I'll let that proceed.
I might just make one comment about the Banking Royal Commission. I just want to say we'll find out later today what's in the Royal Commission. I just say first of all, to all of the victims of financial institutions - I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you weren't listened to earlier.
You've been on a long journey. Today is a day of reckoning. It is a day of reckoning for the banks and financial institutions who've abused the trust of literally thousands of their customers, farmers, small business people. It is a day of reckoning for the government who shamefully voted 26 times to stop Labor's Banking Royal Commission.
We look forward to seeing what the Royal Commission says. We are determined to see the victims and the consumers and people who believe in having an honest and ethical banking sector. We will keep being in their corner and we will make sure this government does not backslide on the banks, stops trying to give them a $17 billion tax cut.
They spent two years and 26 votes to stop this Royal Commission Report today. I for one feel vindicated in Labor's position.