THURSDAY, 22 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS: Cyclone damage in the Northern Territory; Malcolm Turnbull’s tax cuts for the top end of town; housing; Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
MICHAEL GUNNER, CHIEF MINISTER: I just want to thank Bill Shorten for coming to town today to see the damage that happened from Cyclone Marcus. We're currently at around 1500 homes disconnected. This is the bit that worries me the most, trying to get those people back up and connected onto the grid. I know power and water crews are working incredibly hard, 12 hour shifts and trying their best to get everyone connected, and I just want to say very much from Government, we understand that you are doing it tough out there. There are a number of people who have obviously had damage to their homes and they are working through insurance companies and other things right now.
We're still officially in the cyclone recovery period. There's a number of priority tasks still in front of us, for example with the Foskey’s Pavilion. People have been directed to go out there and get that back up to scratch as quickly as possible. We know that is a welfare recovery centre. We're very mindful of the possibility of a cyclone forming up in that gulf and tracking essentially south-east through the NT and into Queensland.
I want to make sure if there is anything that happens out of there in the days ahead, that we are in a position here in Darwin to support any displaced residents that may happen out there. You've always got to be prepared and plan for the worst and I just want people to know that we are doing that. Northern Territory Police are talking to Queensland Police. I know the military locally are talking to the Australian Defence Forces based over in far north Queensland so we have a coordinated response effort.
No-one wants to be hit by a cyclone. It is always critical you plan for it. Anyone out there who has obviously just gone through Cyclone Marcus please, an urgent message, we are still in the wet season and anything can happen in the months ahead. Make sure that you replenish your cyclone kit. Make sure you revisit your cyclone plans and make any changes you need to make based on what's just happened. Please be ready.
Anyone out there who is still involved in the clean-up work, there's lots of volunteers, we thank you. Please make sure you are mindful of everything you need to do to keep yourself safe. We don't want any injuries to happen post-cyclone. It is remarkable what happened over the weekend that we haven’t had - touch wood, still haven't had any reported injuries from the cyclone. But we really want to make sure no Territorian hurts themselves post-cyclone.
And again, I just want to thank Bill. He reached out on Monday to pass on his thoughts to everyone here in Darwin and Palmerston post-recovery. I think it is excellent that he has made the time, changed his schedule to get here and visit, and see the damage for himself. And as always, it's much easier in the months and years ahead when I need to talk to Bill about what has happened here in Darwin and Palmerston, what the impacts of cyclones are, the importance of resilience here in the Territory, having seen it firsthand he will understand what I'm talking about, and I really want to thank him for coming.
JOURNALIST: Have you raised the issue of underground (inaudible)?
GUNNER: I have. I've talked to Bill about the importance of Darwin being resilient. We are obviously looking at it ourselves post-cyclone. I've let Bill know as I will let Malcolm know, that we will be prepared to talk to the Federal Government about how we can have Darwin, Palmerston and the area as resilient as possible when it comes to cyclones.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to acknowledge that I'm here with Luke Gosling who has been keeping me up to date with what's happened to Darwin and Palmerston, and of course, I spoke to the Chief Minister and I'm not sure that people in other parts of Australia quite realise the extent of Cyclone Marcus and the impact it had on Darwin. Clearly Darwin and Palmerston is a resilient community and the wisdom of some of the building standards introduced after 1974, the wisdom is clearly vindicated now.
But having said that, this is the first cyclone to hit Darwin directly in 30 years. And I think anyone who travels along the roads, even three, four days afterwards, sees the scale of the trees that are collapsed and fallen over. You realise that it was a very, very big wind which hit Darwin. I think it is a miracle that there wasn't serious injury or loss of life. In no small way that’s a reflection of people having cyclone plans. But when I look at the damage which has been done and the potential for loss of life, the first reaction I have when I visit Darwin and see firsthand, is thank goodness, it's a miracle that someone wasn't seriously injured or killed.
Having said that, Darwin has been hard hit and the rest of Australia should not underestimate, there are still outer suburbs of Darwin without power now. The volunteers and the professional authorities have been getting on with it and I congratulate in particular but not exclusively, the emergency services, but also the Australian Defence Forces.
Darwin is a military town, but what we see here is that the military are part of the community. They live in the community and their families are here, and you really see, I think most towns in Australia would be envious of having the ADF in Darwin because you see the value they contribute, not just to keep this country safe, but in times of natural disaster they really are a most professional organisation.
The power has been hit, people without water. When you lose the power you lose the food, you lose a whole lot of cost to your livelihood. There'll be businesses which are affected. I would say to the insurance industry, this is what people pay their premiums for. Obviously you have the Territory Insurance Office, which is locally based which is great. But I just say to all insurance companies, now is not the time to be arguing the fine print and exclusion clauses. And I know that with Michael Gunner and Luke Gosling and myself, if insurance companies do not pay claims promptly, if they are not behaving in the best spirit of recovery, then we will be all over them like a tonne of bricks.
In addition I just want to say to people in the Territory that I am not sure that the rest of Australia quite realises what hit Darwin but I promise to carry that message back south. The funny thing about the Territory is that there's a lot of people in the rest of Australia who've got relatives, so in some way, the informal grape vine of family to family has meant that people are instinctively aware something's happened. But when you see the damage here, I just want to say to Territorians, you're not on your own. I've come up here today just to see firsthand what's going to be required with the recovery, and certainly I'm listening very carefully to what the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner says, about how we can further cyclone-proof Darwin and the Territory.
JOURNALIST: Is the Prime Minister one of those -
SHORTEN: I might just get Luke to say a few words, and then Ashley you'll be the first person I answer.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER OF SOLOMON: Thanks Bill. Really appreciate you coming up mate, to see what's happened here, and it is significant as we've just heard, and the Chief Minister and I think the response has been fantastic from the NT Government. I just want to quickly acknowledge all those members of our community who have been helping neighbours, helping their friends, but helping people they do not know, helping strangers that they've never met before. Communities that have prepared food for others, it's been really inspiring and it's with great pride that I'll take that message back to Canberra when we sit there next week, but also remind the Federal Government that we are the northern capital of Australia, we are resilient, but we do expect that the Federal Government takes some notice of what happens up here. So I'll be taking that message to Canberra next week. It's fantastic that Bill could come up, but again to the people of Darwin and Palmerston and in the top end who have been hit, really, really proud of the way everybody has hooked in and supported each other, thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Is the Prime Minister one of those down south who hasn't perhaps realised the full extent of the damage up here?
SHORTEN: I can't speak for Mr Turnbull, maybe he's got other priorities. Listen, I'm not going to get too political. I know that when Australians do it tough the obligation of leaders, certainly I feel the obligation, to be there. Not because they can't sort themselves out, of course the locals can and of course with the Defence Force, the Government and councils and neighbours, people are doing it. But sometimes when Australians are doing it tough you just have a - it's sensible, to just show up and make sure people don't feel forgotten.
We got to meet a lovely young couple who really, when you see the extent of the damage to their house and the fact they've got two little children, you know in some ways it was just a blessing they weren't there that night. But when you realise how many families after the first adrenaline rush when they come and see the damage they realise, we've got to start again, we've got to rebuild, we've got to put things back together again. It's clearing out flood damage and storm damage, it's the fences, it's the trees, it's the green waste. These things may sound mundane to a stranger, but when you're actually confronted with having to start again, if you've had the kids school reports damaged, or the photo albums, you know some stuff will never be replaced.
I just think it's important for the people of Darwin and Palmerston to know that the rest of Australia is aware, is concerned, and is there to be supportive. That's what Aussies do, we look after each other.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything that the Federal or Northern Territory Government should be doing to better prepare for weather like this?
SHORTEN: I tell you what, you see the wisdom of proper building standards. I know that people complain about the cost of building standards when they build new housing, and I saw this debate after the terrible bushfires in Victorian where 177 people died. I think the wisdom of strong building standards is vindicated in circumstances like this. I'll certainly talk to the Chief Minister and to Luke Gosling about what other measures can be made to catastrophe-proof the infrastructure of the city and indeed of the region. I'm a big believer - we spend a lot of money after a disaster occurs, but we never spend enough money in the mitigation. But it's self-evident in times like this that mitigation is actually the more cost-effective solution. I mean I'm not trying to use $50 words there, what I'm saying is, the more that we can stop the damage occurring in the first place, it's always cheaper than the repair bill afterwards.
JOURNALIST: Should we be thinking then about the impacts of climate change and taking them more seriously?
SHORTEN: Well, climate change is real. You know, I know that as soon as people talk about climate change you get a section of the political class, the government who just say oh you can't talk about climate change. Listen I'll let the Territory and Darwin and Palmerston clean up, but there's no doubt in my mind that we need for future generations to take more action on climate change, but I'm not going to be too political today about that.
JOURNALIST: What about underground?
SHORTEN: Well it's all about the context, how do you catastrophe-proof a town? These are very expensive solutions, certainly I know that - let's get the clean-up out of the way first and see what the priorities are.
JOURNALIST: It looks like the Federal Government might be going to get its corporate tax cuts through the Senate. Would you rescind them if you come into Government?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt in my mind that in a choice of priorities I will choose hospitals, schools, aged care waiting lists, making sure that the police have got the resources they need, rather than giving corporate tax cuts to large multinationals. I mean let's tell the truth here, some of the biggest companies in Australia don't even pay tax. Yet the Government is so in love with the top end of town that they want to give these people who are not even paying tax, they want to give them a tax cut. It's the wrong priority. I'll tell you when you - you know, I say to Malcolm Turnbull when you don't have 105,000 older Australians waiting for an aged care support package. When kids at school have got all the needs they need to get best education possible, when you don't have long waiting lists for elective surgery for hip replacements or theroscopy’s, you know Malcolm, your priorities are just in the wrong place. I'm more interested in providing income tax relief for middle and low income Australians than I am for providing large multinationals and our big banks more money.
JOURNALIST: Is your budget dependant on winding back those tax cuts and the other tax cuts that the Coalition have brought in for the last year. The costings that you've put out, are you going to be really including that in those?
SHORTEN: Well there's about three hypotheticals in that. If they pass the cuts, that hasn't happened yet. And I do say to the One Nation Party, you voted with the Government 90 percent of the time, I mean just join them, just join the LNP if that's what you really think. But don't pretend you're anything other than a satellite of Malcolm Turnbull's, you know looking after the top end of town. But I'm not sure that everyone in the Senate is going to vote for it yet so I certainly haven't given up. And beyond that, the budget position well let's see what the government brings down in May. One thing I can promise Australians is that if you want to vote for tax cuts for large companies and tax cuts for millionaires, vote for Malcolm Turnbull. If you want to make sure your kids are getting a proper education, if your parents and grandparents can get aged care, if when you're sick it's your Medicare card not your credit card that makes you healthy, that's what we want.
JOURNALIST: Would you match the Government's $1.1 billion remote housing program if you win Government?
SHORTEN: Hopefully the Federal Government will do this issue now and so that'll become a moot point.
JOURNALIST: It looks like they're dragging their heels. The money is about the run out, I mean can you make it a commitment to say that you would do the right thing?
SHORTEN: I make a commitment to work with Malcolm Turnbull. It is scandalous that the Indigenous housing agreement - remote housing agreement- hasn't been resolved and I mean, the Government has had plenty of different positions. I understand poor old CLP Minister for the Territory Nigel Scullion made a promise the money was there, and he went and checked with Mr Turnbull, then the money's not there. I mean that's not the way to run a government, that's not the way to run a milk bar. I've got to do one last question and then -
JOURNALIST: There's been a two-year-old child raped in Tennant Creek last month. Do you have any plans to visit Tennant Creek in the coming days, weeks, months?
SHORTEN: I think it's dreadful what happened, absolutely shocking and as I have visited outback territory in the past, I'll certainly again, but I haven't got a particular diary appointment to go and visit Tennant Creek, but it is absolutely shocking. And again I'd just say to the Federal Government, you've got to stop making Indigenous Affairs a political football and we've got to just prioritise families and kids.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about the response, I mean the Federal Government's response to the Royal Commission recommendations particularly to helping funding them has been lacklustre so far. I mean if you come into government would you really try and make a big effort in this area?
SHORTEN: Well I think the Federal Government's response to the Northern Territory Royal Commission recommendations has been completely lacklustre and disinterested. I think one of the greatest problems we've got with Indigenous Affairs in Australia is the Prime Minister is indifferent to Indigenous policy. It's not something which he thinks will get him a better poll number or something which isn't immediately, to keep his backbench happy, to give them a bone, so he's not interested. I can promise that we'll do much more, we want to close the gap. Closing the gap means giving our first Australian's the same access, the same chance of a job with an education, a proper health, secure housing and being safe.