FRIDAY, 7 APRIL 2017
SUBJECT/S: Rockhampton flooding; Syria; Liberal Party dysfunction; Medicare
MARGARET STRELOW, MAYOR OF ROCKHAMPTON: So we are here as the mighty Fitzroy River is about at its peak. It did reach 8.9 overnight. It is sitting at 8.8, it may fluctuate a little but it is a great time for us to have visiting with us today, Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, who has come to see for himself the impact that repeated flooding causes in Rockhampton. Of course, we have also got Senator Murray Watt who visits us frequently. Visiting, well joining us also is the Bill Byrne, state member for Rockhampton, Brittany Lauga, the state member for Keppel which also takes in a considerable part of our regional council area and some of those who are suffering inundation at the moment. And the chair of the Local Disaster Committee, Cr Tony Williams, who has done a mighty job through this event. So, I will hand over to Bill and let him talk a little about what he has seen.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Mayor Strelow and I'd like to acknowledge Murray Watt, Bill Byrne, Britney Lauga, Cr Williams and, of course, Mayor Strelow.
I just had the privilege for the last hour watching the Rockhampton community respond to this flood emergency. It's very impressive when you watch Queensland go to work to protect its own. From Ergon Energy to the ADF, from the Human Services Department public servants, through to the Queensland Ambulance Service, the SES, the police and, of course, council workers.
Rockhampton is a resilient community. It would appear that the worst threat of the flood has now passed. It's gone from 8.9 metres down to 8.8 metres but anyone who witnesses the strength of the Fitzroy River knows that this is a flood of tremendous power. It should be noted that in one part of Rockhampton, people have been flooded, that hundreds of people have been unable to go to work in some of the flooded areas. And that, of course, it moves now from the emergency of the flood to the importance of recovery and the importance of people's health.
To that end, what I just want to say to people is, having seen the flood and having seen the strength of the Rocky community, I must say to people if you had planned holidays in Rocky and the region, do not cancel your holidays. The whole point of this community being able to deal with this near-run emergency is that Rocky is functioning.
I am deeply aware that perhaps 217 houses and premises have had water across the floorboards. That is going to take a big effort to fix that up. I'm aware that some industry has not been able to work in a low-lying part of Rocky. But let me be really clear to the rest of Australia – Rocky has withstood this latest flood, it is functioning and thriving, autumn has kicked in, there is blue sky. People who were planning their holiday or coming to see their family should not cancel their trip. This is a healthy community, they know what to do in an emergency and they are all stepping up and working together. Premier Palaszczuk will be here later this morning to lend her support.
In addition to encouraging people to make sure they don't change their plans, because of the work that previous Labor governments have done on the Bruce Highway and flood-proofing some of the important arterial communication, this town is not cut off at all. People should function, they should be here doing their business with their family and their holidays.
But let me also add to that, it is important that the Federal Government - and I will raise this with the Prime Minister - include Rockhampton on the list of local government areas which means that people are eligible for disaster relief. For people who have been out of their home for a number of days, they've had their power cut off, their food has been spoiled, we need to make sure that, merely because Rocky has coped so professionally and it is such a strong community, they are eligible and should be treated as eligible right away for what modest disaster relief there is from the Federal Government. It is why Australians pay their taxes, that they do get the disaster relief when it happens.
And the third and final thing, on top of the fact people should come to Rocky and the region, that the Federal Government should immediately sort out any bureaucratic red tape which has been denying victims of the flood a bit of modest support, is that I think it is long overdue to open the debate about a proper levee which protects all the parts of Rocky. I understand in the past there has been a 'yes' case and a 'no' case. I think that when you look at up to 2,000 people not being able to go to work in the Depot Hill area, in the low-lying parts of Rocky, when you look at hundreds of houses flooded, the time has come for action, not words.
For local government, the State Government and the Federal Government to work together to build a levee. How many floods will it take before people realise that we can prevent it and move this powerful force of water further downstream away from the houses? Every time that we have got to have a clean-up, every time we've got to have an insurance payment, every time people can't get to work.
We keep paying more in the bill than we would if we had simply built a levee. So Labor would work cooperatively with the Turnbull Government - no politics here, let's just go on and build the levee so that the next time we have a flood like this, and there will be a next time, we don't have to mop out and rip up the carpets and move the furniture and do all the things which, of course, cost and impede the liveability of marvellous Rockhampton and marvellous Central Queensland.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor commit to funding the levee?
SHORTEN: Well if we were the government, we would probably commit to funding in partnership with the State and Local Government, yes. Life's too short to waste time on the games. We should just do it and get on with it.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, that's a firm yes?
SHORTEN: It is a firm yes.
SHORTEN: And we should just get on with it. I understand some people get concerned about these matters but, really, you just look at the force of this river, it just makes you raise the question, how many floods do there have to be before we get on and do something? If Mr Turnbull does it, I will be the first to pat him on the back. Let's be clear, we are taking the politics out of it. I'm more interested in Rocky than I am in who gets the credit. I certainly hope it doesn't have to wait until after the next election to get fixed, but if it does, we will.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on other issues, do you support the Turnbull Government in saying that we should join the military action in Syria?
SHORTEN: I don't think the Turnbull Government has announced they are taking military action in Syria but this goes to the shocking war crime that the dictator Assad, that currently runs parts of Syria, using sarin gas on citizens of his own country. That is a heinous war crime and I know some people say you can't criticise it, this fellow is important to the long-term resolution of Syria – when a leader starts gassing their own people, that leader has moved well beyond the pale.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it deems a military response from Australia?
SHORTEN: I'm not sure Australia in itself can sort out the Assad regime. We have our professional ADF working in Iraq. I've seen them doing their work. I have been to Taj, I've been to Baghdad. I think our contribution is good. But Australia certainly can provide some sort of international condemnation of Assad. You can't gas the citizens of your own country. That is a war crime, pure and simple, and I think it is time for Putin and the Russians to step up and, indeed, any other country who has real influence on Assad. Iran and Russia should certainly be, this is unacceptable, shocking conduct.
JOURNALIST: On the levee again, you said we should just get on with it, the federal commitment could be somewhere about $20 million, does that change your mind at all?
JOURNALIST: Andrew Robb's report, the post-mortem in to the Liberal performance, how much of a role do you think Tony Abbott played in the last election?
SHORTEN: I don't think you'd need a report to work out a lot of Australians in the last election didn't like Malcolm Turnbull's policies of providing a $50 billion tax giveaway to big business, and you don't need a report to tell me that a lot of Australians didn't like Malcolm Turnbull's attacks on Medicare. I think the point here is that if the Liberals write a report where they scapegoat individuals, they are missing the whole thing.
I think the most important thing which comes out of this report is that Australians didn't like the attack on Medicare, Australians don't see the case for giving $50 billion to big business, and the problem is that Malcolm Turnbull still hasn't learnt the lesson of the last election. If Malcolm Turnbull wants to learn the lesson of the last election, protect Medicare and don't give $50 billion away to corporate Australia. Perhaps one final question.
JOURNALIST: On Medicare, Peter Dutton has said that the so-called ‘Mediscare’ campaign had an effect. Do you believe they are using that as an excuse?
SHORTEN: I think what had an effect on Australians is putting upfront fees to get a blood test or a cancer check-up. I think what had an effect on the Government's reputation on Medicare is freezing the patient rebates for six years, not properly funding hospitals. This government always focuses on the negative. They want to blame Labor, the reality is Australians don't trust the LNP with the healthcare of Australians. And until the government changes its policy, it will keep getting the same reaction from the Australian people.
Now I might finish up there, a couple of Canberra issues, but this is about Rockhampton. This town is a resilient town. If you'd seen the professionalism, and I think you probably have as you travelled around, of this community and every level of government in Queensland. I just want to say to Australians, don't cancel your trip to Rocky and the region. It will be a great Easter here, and I think you'll be very welcome.