WEDNESDAY, 23 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Cyclone recovery, Liberal Party division, Malcolm Turnbull’s $122 million postal survey
BRONWYN TAHA, STATE LABOR CANDIDATE FOR WHITSUNDAY: Thanks, my name is Bronwyn Taha, I'm the Labor candidate for Whitsunday and I'd like to welcome Bill Shorten back to the Whitsundays. This is the third time he's been back to our region since Cyclone Debbie so welcome back and thank you for listening to regional Queensland, especially the Whitsunday region. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Alright, I'll keep my remarks brief. I am stunned that the Whitsundays have not received the support they should have from the national government in Canberra. Cyclone Debbie was a devastating force of nature, but the local community, the council, the emergency workers, the small businesses, the people here, they’re doing their level best to recover and get on with life and make sure that the Whitsundays a fabulous piece of Australia, is open for tourism. But the Turnbull Government is inexplicably dragging the chain about providing long overdue support to do vital work. The Don River needs some more rock walls, Wilsons Beach, Conway Beach, need some immediate help from some sand, to some walls, to get the work done. Shute Harbour Marina needs to have major works done to it. We're not so far off from the next cyclone season and the support to repair the damage from the last season hasn't happened.
Frankly, I think it is amazing that literally overnight the Turnbull Government can find $122 million for a postal survey into gay marriage, yet they are denying and delaying disaster relief for this part of Australia. I want the Turnbull Government to show the same urgency that they have to fix up their internal mess on marriage equality. I just want them to put some of the same urgency and even far less resources to help the Whitsundays. The Council's doing its bit, the community's doing its bit, I do not know why the Turnbull Government is missing in action. It should stop making up excuses, stop fighting with the Queensland Government; we need to storm proof the Whitsundays so that the previous damage is fixed, and that we can make it safer and more secure to withstand whatever mother nature may throw at us in the future. I'd now like to ask Andrew, who is running the Whitsundays Council to talk a bit further about what's happening on the ground.
ANDREW WILCOX, MAYOR OF WHITSUNDAY REGIONAL COUNCIL: Thank you very much. I'd like to start by welcoming the Opposition Leader, Mr Bill Shorten to the Whitsundays. As you can see it's a beautiful area but the simple facts of the matter are, we need help here in the Whitsundays. The Council is not big enough to fix all the damage and all the infrastructure that we've got problems with. Shute Harbour, it's a gateway to the Islands. It has been totally destroyed.
Blind Freddy – once you come up here, look around, you have a look at what's happening here - we just need help. We're an apolitical council, we will work with any government, be it state, federal, to get the job done for the Whitsundays. Up at Don River, all we need is about $1.3, $1.5 million to protect all that farming area and five houses. It's really a no brainer. Conway Beach, Wilsons Beach, we also need – you've been and seen our Council Chambers, it's just wrecked, it's destroyed. So now I've got all my council staff farmed down around all different sites throughout the Whitsunday region. We actually need to get back, govern, and do the right job here.
SHORTEN: Thanks Andrew. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mayor Wilcox, what does a visit like this mean for you?
WILCOX: Look, what I'm hoping this visit will do, will be to help put pressure on the Federal Government. I've been trying to do that. I'm encouraging the Prime Minister to come up to the region, he has been here just after the cyclone, but just to come back and have a look around. We haven't dreamt these projects up. This has been done by council officers, engineers, and I'm sure when people come up and have a look at it with their own eyes and talk to the residents of the Whitsundays, they'll know that we need assistance.
JOURNALIST: Where was your last contact with the Federal Government and what was the discussions that you had?
WILCOX: The last conversation I've had is with Federal Member for Dawson, Mr George Christensen, and that was a couple of days ago. He said that the Government has received all the information, what's required, and they should be making a decision and he said that he was quietly confident in that they will get some of the decision overturned and the help will come to the Whitsundays. I'm hoping that that's correct.
JOURNALIST: Have you heard from the Federal Leader?
WILCOX: Not at all. I've heard from Minister Keenan, which we've had some phone link ups but what I’ve been told is that now this has actually been moved to the office of the Premier, sorry – this has now been moved to the office of the Prime Minister, not the Premier. And I'm sure when he has a good look at this, common sense will prevail, and then we'll get the assistance that we deserve.
JOURNALIST: Are you sick of the riff raff that's going on between the State and Federal Government in regards to this?
WILCOX: Look, we can't be used as a political football here, alright. The people of the Whitsundays are hurting, they need the assistance, that's why we have State and Federal Governments. Our budget isn't big enough to do this. So that's why we're calling on them to give us some help.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel you're having more help from one party than the other?
WILCOX: Currently, the State Government has come up with $110 million out of the $220 million package. So what we're asking, is for the Federal Government to match that. That was what we needed through Queensland, $220 million, and so far we've got $110 million versus $29 million. We're hoping now that we've provided all the information that they're requiring, that the Federal Government will come and have a look at that and match the State.
JOURNALIST: Would you invite the Federal Government to come here again and have a look at the place and tour it?
WILCOX: Definitely, I've invited them quite regularly to come, so as soon as they can come and have a look, like I said, the projects speak for themselves.
JOURNALIST: I've got a question for Mr Shorten. It's a question about insurance - five months on we've still got people sleeping on camp beds, there's this kind of feud going on between policy holders and insurance companies like do you kind of –
SHORTEN: Time for some straight talking here. The insurance companies need to pull their finger out and start finalising claims. There's a blockage of assessors, it's not good enough. The point about paying insurance is that you never want to use it, and you don't really like paying the premiums either, but when you do need it, five months is too long, so I'm deeply conscious from Conways Beach to Wilsons Beach, through to Shute Harbour Mariner, right through to Proserpine, the Council buildings, up to Don River and out to the Islands, Hayam, Daydream, I mean Hamilton Island is up and working but I'm sure there's a lot of insurance hassles out there too. There’s two groups who need to step up now, it's been five months: it's the Federal Government and the insurance industry. Andrew said that the Council is apolitical. This is not an issue about politics, this is an issue about people. People are hurting here, they've done their very best but they're just hanging on. You know there's a lot of unhappiness and frustration in the community. I'd just say to Malcolm Turnbull, tick the boxes, get the funding flowing. And I say to the insurance industry, this is why people carry insurance so please, upgrade the level of professionalism.
I want the insurance industry and Malcolm Turnbull to start treating the people of the Whitsundays like they were family. If it was your own family, you'd probably sort it out. They've got to treat the people of the Whitsundays like members of the Australian family.
Are there any other questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've been here on this visit I mean what can you do right now though to secure some funding?
SHORTEN: Here's a prediction, I think because Labor's here putting the pressure on - this is a Government who when they think that their own survival is a stake then they manage to get the old running shoes on and they start running. So I'm optimistic that our visit here will start loosening up the cogs of the machinery in Canberra. It is not good enough for different levels of government to blame other levels of government. People aren't interested in the blame game they just want action. I'm optimistic that because of this visit the Federal Government will miraculously start saying 'well we have this under control' and hey presto we're going to do stuff. I don't mind the Government getting the credit for fixing the problem, this is a day job of government, I'm just saying to the Turnbull Government please do your day job.
JOURNALIST: So as Labor leader there's nothing you can do now?
SHORTEN: My word there is - I'm here campaigning, I'll advocate in Parliament. I'll be contacting Malcolm Turnbull. We'll be putting pressure on, what I'm saying to you is the sheer fact that the Council's done its bit, the businesses have done their bit, the local media, you're doing your bit by drawing attention to this. I'm doing my bit as a conscientious Opposition drawing attention to a problem of the Government and I'm optimistic that the Government will move because really you can't treat Proserpine or Airlie Beach as flyover country. It's not just a backdrop for a photo opportunity in times of disaster where you strike a heroic pose, what you've actually got to do is do your day job and I think it will happen now that we've done this visit.
JOURNALIST: Why is Anthony Albanese the sole Labor MP to produce documentation to prove he's not a dual citizen [INAUDIABLE]
SHORTEN: I think a number of Labor MPs have produced documentation and I'm relaxed about that. But really what the Government's been trying to do is draw attention away from their own problems. Let's just talk straight here: Barnaby Joyce is a citizen of New Zealand, so now he's had to refer himself to the High Court, Matt Canavan is a citizen of Italy as well as a citizen of Australia so he'll have to go to the High Court. We've had a couple of Greens Senators who've found out they're citizens of other countries plus Nick Xenophon has got a question mark over him. These are own goals by those people and I'm not making fun of them it's just what has happened, but the Constitution is very clear and the Labor Party has clear screening processes. What I think is interesting is that the Government is saying they know they've got a problem and what they're instead doing is saying 'oh question marks over Labor people you've got to produce all your documentation.'
I'm not interested in going down the path of feeding crazy conspiracies. Anyone who is going to the High Court is because they've actually recognised they have a problem and they know they have to go to the High Court. But for the rest of the politicians, I don't think they have the same problems so I'm not going to start feeding this sort of American style conspiracy theory that someone can make up an accusation with no evidence and then say that everyone else has got to answer it. I mean in the last week, Mr Turnbull has accused me of being in a conspiracy with New Zealand to overthrow Australia, then they've sort of tried to drop that through their cronies talking to the media that I'm some sort of poor man's James Bond, a British agent, which I'm clearly not.
The problem is that this is a legal problem which has now become a Parliamentary joke no wonder Australians are dirty about politics at the moment. The reality is that the Turnbull Government would do itself more favour rather than trying to bag me as the Opposition Leader, listen to what I'm saying I'm saying get up to the Whitsundays, just sort out the protective walls, the flood protections, sort out Shute Harbour, sort out some support for the Islands, sort out support for Proserpine and the local council. That would get I think, more credibility than all this discussion about the Government simply paying out on Labor.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, George Christensen, our local Federal Member, there is some questions over his citizenship, is it enough for him to check that online.
SHORTEN: That's for Mr Christensen to answer. I'm not going to start speculating about George’s ancestors that's not in my job description.
JOURNALIST: And the Government has to pay for all these cases going through the High Court.
SHORTEN: Yeah I've seen that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's appropriate and do you support that?
SHORTEN: I don't know, I think the Government needs to explain it. I do wonder if they weren't Government MPs if they would have paid it for the Greens or Nick Xenophon but now some of their own tribe are in trouble, constitutional question marks about their eligibility, now they're willing to spend taxpayer money but I think that's ultimately for the Government to justify.
But if we're going to talk about wasting money can I just again remind people, we are going to have a $122 million postal survey just to find out what people think about other people's relationships. Now I think that is an amazing waste of money. When I look at the quotes from Council about what will be required to fix up Shute Harbor, what would be required to flood proof parts of the Don River, what would be required to help with the infrastructure going to the islands, what would be required to help sort out the council buildings, I can't believe this Government can find miraculously, overnight literally $122 million for this postal survey.
What's crazy about this postal survey is that once we've had it we're all going to have a vote in Parliament. Why not just have the vote in Parliament, save the money and use it for something else more sensible? But what Labor has said is that if the High Court upholds the legality of this postal survey, and there's a question mark over that. Let me repeat, if the High Court hasn't come forward and said that the Government is allowed to do this but if they do it Labor will recommend ticking yes in the survey because we want LGBTI Australians to know they're not on their own.
I don't feel comfortable that one group of Australians has to submit their relationships to an opinion poll of everyone else, so I would recommend the enrolment lists at the Electoral Commission close tomorrow at close of business. Please, I say to people enrol to vote, enrol so you can have your say and if you're living in a different place to where you think you were originally enrolled contact the Electoral Commission so that you can make sure you get your survey sent to the right address. Nearly half a million Australians have done this in the last ten days. So I say to Australians this postal vote is a glorious waste of money, can't believe that Turnbull's doing it to sort out his internals, but if we have to have it let's do it right, let's vote and vote yes so we can get on and do everything else including fixing up the Whitsundays.
JOURNALIST: And you're going to Western Australia on the weekend they just want to know, in terms of your Government what you would do to fix the GST system and give them a better deal?
SHORTEN: We'll have more to say about our plans for Western Australia on Saturday. I'm in the Whitsundays today, this is my plan to help the Whitsundays - can't give all our good news out in one day so might save that for the citizens of Western Australia. I'm looking forward to it though. It's my seventh or eighth or ninth trip to the West. I believe that politicians here can get out of Canberra and visit Australia. I want to conclude this press conference by just saying to Andrew, saying to the community of the Whitsundays, I think the Turnbull Government will have to act and we will make sure that they do and in the meantime I want to congratulate the small businesses, the residents, the Council, all the local stakeholders, I can't believe how much they've improved the place in the last five months but I now think it's time for the insurance industry and the Federal Government to pull their finger out and start backing up the locals.