THURSDAY, 9 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Floods in Tasmania
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I would like to record the sense of great privilege I have visiting northern Tasmania today. Australia is a very fortunate country because of the resilience of our people. What we have seen is unexpected natural disaster, tragic loss of life. The whereabouts of some people still not known and I got to speak to a family member of one of the missing persons this afternoon. We have seen a tragic loss of life. We have seen serious damage to property. We have seen near misses, but I also want to say that what we see is in the worst of times the best of Australians. A lot of people, especially those that live in big cities, when they see Latrobe or some of the other scenes I have seen this afternoon are catching a glimpse of an Australia that people might have thought no longer exists. I particularly am impressed by the professionalism of our SES volunteers working closely with the Tasma nian fire service and the police. What we also see is communities rallying around each other. It really is uplifting. It is a rare privilege of the job I have as Leader of the Opposition to see firsthand what I think millions of Australians would be pleased to see. From the impressive school leadership team who I have just met, to volunteers in the collection centre where every day Australians are leaving modest contributions to help their fellow people back on their feet, through to small business owners concerned for their employees, concerned for the members in their community and indeed helped by competitor supermarkets to make sure that business can be back on its feet. We have seen houses flooded, we see cost going forward in the future. We see the inevitable debates with the insurance industry, but I am hearing positive things about how the insurance companies are going so far which is really fantastic. Most of all, what we see here is that the things that unite us ar e greater than the things that divide us. At moments like this we see the best of not only Tasmania on display but the best of Australia on display and I want to say to the people affected by these floods, there are millions of Australians who are deeply conscious of the struggle you are going through. Floods in urban areas have a way of telling a story and connecting to Australians which perhaps other disasters further afield don't. For many Australians who live near river courses and the water, they can comprehend the possibility, unimaginable as it is, of floods. What I have seen in northern Tasmania today reminds me of what is best about this country and indeed I think that the Tasmanian community here will rebuild. We have seen one in 100 year floods. They should know that rest of Australia is on their side. On matters such as the declaration of disaster relief right through to the provision of government services, this is the time for everyone to come together.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a little bit about the conversation you had with the family of the missing person?
SHORTEN: A gentleman came up and I spoke to him in the supermarket. Like a lot of the people who I have met, they have a common refrain: there are people who are doing it worse than me. His own house was flooded. It was only after a couple of minutes of discussion he said his uncle was the gentleman missing. He was much more concerned obviously not for his own property damage, but for the family and obviously our thoughts go out to him and the entire family. They obviously need to know what has happened so they can move to the next stage of closure if that’s in fact the worst that has occurred. He was very strong, very impressive.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe we will see bigger and more frequent wild weather that we have experienced here as a result of climate change and do communities need to better prepare?
SHORTEN: Let me talk about preparation and mitigation. The levees which were being built and rebuilt in Launceston I have no doubt have avoided a much greater disaster. Flood mitigation is clearly a priority for all levels of government. It will help keep downward pressure on insurance costs. I think that governments need to start contemplating more flood mitigation rather than paying out more disaster relief because if you don't do the flood mitigation, you will pay out the disaster relief. It has me thinking about how we can do much more in the space of flood mitigation. In terms of climate and weather, today for me is not a day where I will join the dots about extreme weather events. Today for me is being reminded about what makes this country one of the best places, the best place in the world.
JOURNALIST: Can you describe the damage inside Sid Sidebottom's house and your reaction seeing your former colleague being affected?
SHORTEN: I spoke to a number of people including Sid Sidebottom who had water inundate their houses. What they told me in this region is that the water levels rose very quickly. I spoke to a teacher who was describing they woke up at three o'clock and the water was a couple of feet in their house, in the bottom storey. When the power is out, your kids are asleep upstairs and the dog is barking, if you have a normal sedan that can't move through water which has already risen, thankfully that family had a four-wheel drive. So that is a shock. I can't imagine what you think with the water rising so quickly. The same happened in Sid's house, the water rose very quickly. What I am impressed about is that without exception, every person I have spoken to spoke about how they went to find someone else, to check on a neighbour, to make sure that the pets were okay. It showed - you would hope you would react i n the way which I heard people react to. They were more worried about their neighbours and not just thinking about themselves. Some of the stories from the SES of the rescues they have done, you just hope - you ask yourself in these moments would you be as sensible and clear-focused as these people? A lot of people, when difficulty confronts, seem to find a real reservoir of common sense and strength which is truly impressive.
JOURNALIST: This morning the PM said Government will foot 75 per cent of the damage bill cost for Tasmania - do you think that is enough?
SHORTEN: I think the federal government has a role in times like this. They receive the lion’s share of taxation in this country. We do have tried and tested national disaster relief arrangements. That is a matter of working between local council, state and federal government but let's not kid ourselves, you can't expect the local council here to be able to repair all the roads, the bridges - 19 different bridges have been impacted - roads, rail, this is why we have a Commonwealth government and this is why Australians pay their taxes. I am sure Mr Turnbull will have said the right thing here and certainly we would absolutely be on the same page.
JOURNALIST: How disappointed are you or are you disappointed that you and Malcolm Turnbull couldn't stand by side today in Tasmania?
SHORTEN: It think it is good that the Prime Minister has been down to Tasmania today. I was happy to do something with him and I spoke to him a couple of times in the last couple of days. We have had very courteous discussions, and completely professional. It is for Mr Turnbull but I am not going to criticise him at all. This is about us showing solidarity with people in distress. I think even in the rancour and competition of an election, this country and its major political parties are able to focus on what we have in common here, I just think that is very healthy for Australian democracy full stop.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier that this has made you start thinking more about how to better spend resources on mitigation as opposed to grants for emergency aid. Can you expand more on what you're thinking there?
SHORTEN: Well one thing I did when I was the Insurance Minister is that we helped fund a levy in Roma. Ever since then, Roma hasn't had the same disastrous flood damage to houses. So I saw it in the bush fire reconstruction, disaster relief is a function of Government. We should do that. But the more in floods when you can get agreement with the best science about building levies. Some of that levy construction was done under the Gillard Government in Launceston for the record. The levy construction has protected housing and real estate and property. It means that insurance companies are able to offer premiums at lower rates and that's genuinely beneficial for people and for the economy.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Launceston flood authority now wants to build more flood levies in Newstead because 20 residents were evacuated, what do you think about that? Would you help fund those levies?
SHORTEN: We'll be open to that discussion. Seeing the benefit of the levies around Invermay demonstrates the argument looking at the flooding in Newstead, certainly I think gives some strength to argue that. Before anyone tries to turn that into an immediate election issue, no it hasn't been costed they've just raised it. But I certainly do get that Launceston is at the confluence of three rivers. It's always been part of its economic success. It's a beautiful area to live, some of my in-laws originally came from Launceston. But I think that the flood authority made some really elegant points about levies in terms of the Newstead region.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, another town that has been under stress lately has been Whyalla in South Australia. South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill has just announced $50 billion to health workers [inaudible]. What are your thoughts on this development?
SHORTEN: It's clearly a very important but I might just refer you to what I said at the start. We have a 56 day election campaign I've been happy to answer questions on everything for the last 33 days, I look forward answering all our questions in the next 22 days after this. But today I've said what I want to talk about the impressive communities of north Tasmania and I want to also again to put on record as I finish, the work of the SES in emergency services, the communities, local government and indeed all of the families and small businesses here. These are the most modest people, they're not seeking a pat on the back or anything, they're not big-headed, but they should just know that they make all Australians feel a little bit more proud to be Australian. Thank you everybody, see you a bit later.