TUESDAY, 20 MARCH 2018
SUBJECT/S: Tathra Bushfires
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: You can see the images on television, but when you see it live you realise this was quite an horrific blaze. My first thought is it's miracle that no one died.
When 39 units, 69 houses are destroyed, or over 30 units, when businesses are destroyed - that's one in every five houses here, it's a miracle, the fact that there were 500-600 volunteer and professional firefighters absolutely putting themselves on the line. So, my first reaction is one of overwhelming relief at the miracle in Tathra, that there was no loss of life.
That is almost matched though, with my sense of compassion or sense of the burden that must be on the people who have lost their houses. Do they build again? Where do they start?
People shouldn't think that - when you lose a house to a fire, it is not just the physical bricks or the plants, it is the history, it's the memories. People have lost photo albums and school reports, you can never put them back together.
I do hope that the insurance industry, and it has certainly learnt a lot in recent years, that they get behind the people. But the big message that I would care to say to the rest of Australia is, this town will get itself together again. It's a very friendly place, it's incredibly beautiful, some of the best beaches in the world. People at the right time should feel that they should keep visiting and keep in touch with this place. This is a strong community, but it is strong because everyone else in Australia also supports it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there's criticism this morning about the lack of hazard reduction burns. The last one this region had was in 2014. What is your reaction?
SHORTEN: I understand that when bushfires happen, people want an explanation. We do share this continent with nature. I don't want to get into the blame game today.
JOURNALIST: Residents are already going there though, Mr Shorten.
SHORTEN: Do you know what, they are entitled to, that is their views, but I'm not going to politicise this. I've got no doubt that there will be matters to be spoken through. The issue of the clearing, no doubt the issue of phone towers in the future, but today, we have to remember there's people who haven't even seen if their house is destroyed. There are people who are beginning to sort of, wrap their head around, now the adrenaline has stopped pumping, how do they rebuild. That is my priority today.
JOURNALIST: Richard Di Natale politicised this fire yesterday.
SHORTEN: Listen, he's got to explain for himself. I understand there is a debate about climate in this country. On a day when 69 houses have gone, it is not a debate I'm going to start arcing up into.
JOURNALIST: Does climate change create disasters like this?
SHORTEN: Listen Greg, I know where you are going. I think there is a legitimate debate about the effects of climate change. But today I am in Tathra, and probably like you and like everyone here, when you see this damage, I just think it is a miracle that no one died. Today for me, it is about respecting the people who have got to rebuild and it is about respecting the skill of our people that no one died.
JOURNALIST: It affected you personally, also with your relationship with -
SHORTEN: Yes, I have got friends who have moved here. For better or for worse, the south coast of New South Wales -
[Helicopter flies over]
For better or worse, a lot of Victorians retire or seek a change of life and come to the South Coast. We have family friends whose house survived. My little daughter packed her a care kit last night, and it was great to see John and Tatiana and their daughter. I am pleased they are safe.
A couple more questions.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] might have hampered efforts yesterday. Is that a concern?
SHORTEN: I came here with every intention of not commenting about any of the particular policy issues. It is fair to say like what you are saying, residents have complained to me about mobile phone towers. But let's just take one step at a time. I saw this during the Black Saturday fires. There are people working out if their property is still there or not. They're trying to work out if the insurance policy covers it. There will be people who have lost things. Do they start again? How do they start again? We want to support these people. This is a really remarkable community.
And I got asked a question by Greg earlier about the insurance industry. Insurance industry, this is the time that people pay their premiums and they expect to get the service they paid for. I hear people are saying the insurance companies are getting in touch them. I just say to the industry, this is when you are on display. Sort out the claims quickly, don't stuff people around. It has been a dreadful fire, people have got to get started again. I just say to the insurance industry, treat these people like you would want to be treated if it was your house that got burnt down.