THURSDAY, 13 APRIL 2017
SUBJECTS: Disaster recovery; Government assistance after disasters; superannuation; housing affordability
JUSTINE ELLIOTT, MEMBER FOR RICHMOND: Hi, I'm Justine Elliott, I'm the Member for Richmond, and we're here today in Murwillumbah. I'd really like to thank Bill Shorten for coming to Murwillumbah today, meeting with local residents and businesses and people who have been severely impacted by the very harsh flooding and storm that we had her recently in Murwillumbah and the surrounding areas. I'd particularly like to thank Bill for the time that he's taken to hear firsthand from locals about how devastating this catastrophic event has been for our community.
We've been over and spoken to locals at the post office at South Murwillumbah, a uniform store and also a local butchers who have just lost everything. I'd also like to thank Bill for taking the time to sit down with representatives from our council, SES and local businesses, to hear firsthand from them, what we as a community will do together to rebuild. And we will rebuild this area. This is the most beautiful part of Australia. And I'd particularly like to thank Bill for taking the time to come here today to Murwillumbah, and also later to Lismore as well, and we will be meeting with lots of local residents there.
Thank you so much, Bill. It means so much to our community that you're here today, listening to our community about the concerns we have after this devastating event.
Thank you so much.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Justine. Justine Elliott's been doing a fantastic job here, by the way. I just want to congratulate her, her and the community pushing has finally got the Turnbull Government to unlock some scarce but badly needed funds for businesses to get back on their feet.
It is an eye opener coming to Murwillumbah, most Australians know it as a little patch of paradise, but they've certainly had their fair share of trouble with the terrible floods. What we see today is an urgent need for State Government to give the businesses who are affected a payroll tax moratorium for a number of months. I think we need to see a jobs package, and I'm going to write to Prime Minister Turnbull in coming days, to make sure that we don't lose the industry and the jobs which have been so hard hit.
I think it is also important - there is a very unseemly, ugly, stomach turning debate, where you see Barnaby Joyce arguing with State Governments about who is doing what paperwork to help the money flowing, to help victims of the flood damage. Enough talk, enough red tape, enough political point scoring. Let's just unlock these modest grants, which provide farmers and small business with some desperately needed cash flow.
Also, I think what I have seen in Murwillumbah, it's a reminder that we do have people affected by floods who live on the margins of our society - people who are homeless, with insecure housing. I think there is a challenge around social housing.
So what we've seen today here in this flood-affected region, is people shouldn't cancel their holidays, people should come here. This town is on its feet and doing well, but there has been a major economic body punch to business. And we need to make sure that the insurers, and the Federal Government, and the State Government are doing what they can to help business. And of course, there has been a lot of very poor people, who when they get hit by floods, they lose literally everything, and they shouldn't be forgotten as the flood waters recede.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier, that it has just been too long, even though we have got the Assistance C package that's come out overnight. Should this have just been quicker, as well as, obviously there are still issues going on in Queensland?
SHORTEN: Let's be clear, the Federal Government needs to pull its finger out and start seeing the money flow. It is one thing for Malcolm Turnbull to be in India, promising an Indian billionaire he'll fix any problems the Indian billionaire has in Australia. Charity begins at home, Mr Turnbull.
There are growers in Bowen who desperately need support because they've lost all their crops. There are small businesses in Murwillumbah who just need to see these grants, $25,000, flowing through to them.
All of these businesses, all of these farmers, they pay their taxes - for once they need a hand from the Federal Government. The Federal Government should be there, you don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to see the damage. This argument that Barnaby Joyce is running that forms aren't filled in correctly from State Governments, spare me the rubbish Barnaby. Get out, open the window and have a look outside. There is real damage done, people just need the resources, let’s just get on and do it. Let’s just get on and do your day job. That's all the people want.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Prime Minister’s comments that your bus tour around Queensland is disingenuous show business?
SHORTEN: Well, what is wrong with getting on a bus and going out and talking and listening to people? That's called respect. The reality is, I think more politicians should be getting out and about and listening and talking to people, not fewer. I think that Malcolm Turnbull would be going a bit better if he got out of his ivory tower and started talking to people and indeed listening to them.
JOURNALIST: On that, how have you been affected, you saw quite a few people who were holding it, barely, together at the moment. How has that been?
SHORTEN: I worked on the bushfire reconstruction in Victoria and I saw similar things then and I see them again now. Remember the bushfires with terrible, terrible loss of life. People lost everything. And what I've seen in these flood affected regions and storm affected, all the way from Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Bowen, right through to Logan, right through to Rockhampton and of course down into Murwillumbah and soon Lismore, is that when you have the floods or the natural disaster, there is a lot of adrenalin, people just clear the mud out, they just get on and focus on the task. Of course there are lots of people in uniforms helping out and everyone rallies around. But a week and ten days later, people hit the wall. What happens is they realise that recovery isn't a matter of days, it’s weeks and months, you've got insurance companies, you've got governments, you've got paperwork, you've got employees that you mightn't be able to employ and you've got families who are just doing it hard without cash. There is no cash coming in. That's when people need a hand, that’s when the people here need to feel they're not forgotten, they don't need to be jerked around with insurance nonsense and government red tape.
And what the rest of Australia can do to help people in these regions is come up here and have a holiday. Come and get behind these people. For 51 weeks of the year this is a stunning region, they've had some bad luck and they need to get back on their feet. What the rest of us can do - and I'm certainly going to speak to my family about holidaying in the northern part of Australia in the next school holidays - just come up here and spend some time, get behind people, that’s the best you can do. These are fantastic regions of Australia. They've been hit hard by nature, but they're still on their feet. What they need is not to be forgotten and I would just say to people who are doing it tough in the region, put your hand up and ask for some help. There is no shame in asking for help. You're no good to anyone if you fall over because you didn't ask for help.
JOURNALIST: The Government’s Expenditure Review Committee is meeting in Sydney this morning to discuss a range of housing affordability measures, would you like to see them back the option of giving young home buyers access to their superannuation?
SHORTEN: Raiding people’s superannuation funds, young people’s superannuation funds for housing affordability crisis is as someone famous once said, a thoroughly bad idea. Of course that's Malcolm Turnbull and I agree with Malcolm Turnbull. It’s a thoroughly bad idea. This is a Government who is out of touch. If you want to do something about housing affordability, level the playing field on those Saturday auctions. When you've got a young couple supported by their families, they go to bid at a house and they're competing with investors and property speculators for their tenth house, who are getting a taxpayer concession head start. That's how we tackle housing affordability, but this Government doesn't have a plan for housing affordability.
This Government is pursuing its same approach on housing affordability and negative gearing, and the GST increases. It's the same formula. They see a problem, they talk about a million different ideas on how to fix it, they then have a massive internal fight and then they do nothing and the problem still remains at the end of the whole process.
The point is, ordinary Australians are missing out because this is a Government who doesn't know what to do, they want to pretend they are doing something, they have a big civil war on any idea they have and then nothing happens, and Australians are still worse off than they were even before the Turnbull Government's division and incompetence was let out to play again.
This Government is so out of touch with the real needs of ordinary Australians. And I just watch this current debate - you've got the Treasurer who says that young people should be able to access their superannuation. The amounts in the superannuation they have in your 20s are very small. All that will do, if you raid that money, is it will increase the price of houses by the amount of money flowing into the market. You've got the Prime Minister who doesn't like the idea, so all we've got is business as usual in the Turnbull Government: incompetence, division and undermining of each other, and Australians are missing out with a housing affordability problem.
JOURNALIST: Are you at least encouraged though, that this committee is meeting today to discuss housing affordability measures? Are you -
SHORTEN: It hasn't. Another talk-fest from a Government who specialises in talk-fests. The Turnbull Government has lowered expectations of their competence so much that the fact they can even have a meeting becomes a source of national celebration.
JOURNALIST: Back to the floods just quickly, other than cash, is there anything else that we can do in terms of the mental health impact that this is going to have in the long run?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I appreciate you asking me that. I think we have got to make sure that there are mental health services available. I think people should realise that they can go to their GP and they can get some support, some Medicare support for mental health services. I've got to say to Australians who perhaps haven't experienced this sort of stress before - there is no rule book on how you are meant to react. There is no right or wrong way how you cope with this pressure - this is unprecedented pressure. If you are doing it tough, ask for help.
Sometimes when it comes to mental stress and illness, people don't know what to do. If you had a gash on your arm, you'd go to the doctor. But if you have got stress which is causing problems, because you can't immediately see it, or people can't see it, we don't always identify it for what it is. But it can be an illness and it can require treatment and support.
I think though what we can do to help people, other than encourage to seek help, other than make sure that the red tape doesn't stop the grants and the cash flow coming through to businesses, is I think there is a challenge here for the insurance industry not to be black letter lawyers, not to rely on policy exclusions, not to sort of drag out debates and saying 'Was the water which came through the house caused by a storm or by rising flood waters?'. The reality is that it will be both. So I would just ask the insurance industry, don't make life harder for people than you have to. Put people ahead of profits - that's the way to go.
Any last questions? Excellent, thank you very much.