ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
MEMBER FOR GILMORE
MONDAY, 20 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Preparation for the upcoming bushfire season; JobKeeper and JobSeeker; cancellation of Parliament sitting weeks; Batemans Bay coronavirus outbreak.
FIONA PHILLIPS, MEMBER FOR GILMORE: Hi, I’m Fiona Phillips, the Federal Member for Gilmore. It’s lovely to be here in South Durras today, outside the Durras Progress Hall. And it’s wonderful to be here with Trevor from the Community Association here. And, of course, with Anthony Albanese. I was here only just recently as well, talking with Trevor and learning more about some of the issues, major issues, that this community faced and is looking to future-proof in future bushfires and other future disasters. I’m particularly concerned about the power issues, the communication issues that happened during the bushfires. There’s a whole range of issues also in terms of lack of access for people with a disability. We have no Eurobodalla emergency operations centre. These are all issues that we need to address. And this is a similar story that’s happening all up and down the coast, particularly where we’ve got those communities with one road in and one road out. We want to know what we can do to help those communities if there is another disaster, which I hope there’s not. So, look, we’re just going to be having a bit of a tour around Durras today. And the Community Association has got some great ideas around power and communications. So, we’re going to be taking a look at that. We know that some of the things coming out of the Royal Commission has got some great recommendations about power and having standalone power systems in place that will help particularly people in these communities which can be quite isolated, as well. So, it is about helping the community and working with them and to make it safer for people. So, I’ll hand over to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Fiona. And thanks also to Trevor for hosting us here from the Community Association here in South Durras today. Fiona has been a strident voice for this community, making sure that when the cameras left after the bushfires, the concern didn’t. And that’s one of the reasons why Federal Labor has had a focus on disaster recovery, but also on mitigation. The fact of the establishment of the fund of $200 million a year, $150 million for disaster recovery, but $50 million for mitigation, was an important victory. Unfortunately, not a single dollar of that money has been spent. And that’s an indictment of complacency. Because the issues that the Community Association are talking about; making sure that power poles are resilient, making sure that communications and power are available and not intermittent or not disrupted, are absolutely vital. The issue of having an emergency response centre is another one for this region as well. And we know from our experience over the last summer that these issues are ones that are far more difficult to handle if you haven’t had the appropriate preparation there. So, here we are in July saying we need to do much better in the future than we’ve done in the past. And one of the ways that governments at all levels can do better is listen to local community associations and groups such as this one. They know what’s happening on the ground. They know what the needs of their local community are. And Trevor was telling us that 100 members of this community, which has just 300 homes in it, attended a meeting and help put together this five-point plan of the Community Association. So, Labor stands ready to continue to advocate for these communities. We need to bring forward the upgrades of the Princes Highway as a priority, given that we know what occurred over the summer as well with long queues, and with, quite frankly, dangerous circumstances in people leaving the smaller communities on the coast as well. So, we need to make sure that we do whatever we can to mitigate the risk that is here for these communities. Thanks very much. Happy to take questions if you’ve got any.
JOURNALIST: So, the Australia Institute says if the Government cut off all support payments in September, it would put hundreds into poverty. The Government has promised it won’t send any over the cliff. Are you assured that won’t happen?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m very concerned about the cancelling of Parliament, which will avoid scrutiny for this Government. We do need to listen to health advice, but with proper preparation, I believe it’s very possible for Parliament to meet. We know that the Government said, of course, earlier this year, they cancelled Parliament for six months. So, what we’ll do is we’ll examine any changes that are made to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. It’s the Government that said that the economy would snap back in September. Quite clearly, that was just wrong. And we can’t afford to just leave people behind. Because people are continuing to go through difficult circumstances. And the contradiction is there. The Parliament can’t meet but the Government wants to wind back JobKeeper and JobSeeker. If the Parliament can’t meet, that’s a sign that this crisis is far from over. Indeed, that in recent times it has got worse. And it has become more difficult for people to engage in normal interaction. So, I say to the Government that we will continue to hold them to account. I think it’s very unfortunate the Government has refused extra sittings of Senate estimates that could have been done virtually, very easily, as a range of Senate Committees are. But the non-government controlled COVID committee will be scheduling extra meetings chaired by Katy Gallagher, to make sure that after Thursday’s announcement, we’re able to hold the Government to account and provide proper scrutiny. That’s what a democracy requires. Scrutiny by the national Parliament.
ALBANESE: Look, it’s a real concern, this outbreak in Batemans Bay. I’m also concerned about the news that people have been sent away from the testing centre after 10am and told to come back tomorrow. We need to do much better than this. And the authorities need to ensure that when you have an outbreak as we have, that seems to be related to the Soldiers Club at Batemans Bay, that people are able to be tested and they’re able to be tested as soon as possible. There’s an obvious health risk if that doesn’t occur. Just on the phone again?
JOURNALIST: So, just in terms of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, how assured or reassured are you by the Government’s promise that people won’t be sent over the cliff?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not reassured, because the Government has shown that it’s been complacent in the past. We’ll look at the detail. And we’ll make sure that any shortcomings in JobKeeper and JobSeeker announcements, but we need to remember that already some people have been sent over the cliff. Casual workers, people in the arts and entertainment sector. There are a range of people who got left behind already because they weren’t eligible for either JobKeeper of JobSeeker. And they’re struggling and doing it tough. So, what we need to do is to make sure that no more people get left behind and that we remember that there is a need for the Government to examine the need to provide support for some people who have had absolutely no support at all. There are people relying upon charity for food because they’re simply unable to get any of that support. Thank you. Do you want to say something?
TREVOR DALY, PRESIDENT OF THE DURRAS COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION: Yes, if that is okay. My name is Trevor Daly. I’m the current President of the Durras Community Association. We were very lucky in this area, the bushfires burned around us, to the north, to the west and headed down towards Batemans Bay during December. We’ve been fortunate, and our community wasn’t directly affected, it did come very close. But that’s allowed us to focus on, ‘well, what can we do better for the future and what can we learn from what’s happened the fires?’ So, we had a meeting here, as Anthony mentioned, of our community. We came up with a list of issues for all levels of government. But for the Commonwealth Government, we had five specific things. One was we want a fireproof electricity supply. And that involves replacing up to 30 power poles that are timber, which I’ll show you later an example. We want those replaced with composite fireproof power poles. We want to improve mobile phones coverage along the highway. You can still drive between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay, it’s a major highway in this country, and yet there’s blackspots where your mobile phone drops out. So, in an emergency, you get to the highway, you have an accident, you’ve got no coverage. We also want to do some issues with power backup to our NBN tower. We have fixed wireless NBN access in this village. We want backup power on that plus the mobile phone towers so that if the electricity supply goes out, you have battery backup for at least 12 hours. Both Telstra and Optus have come to the party on that. And we’re working with NBN. We also want tax deductions from the Commonwealth Government for landowners and property owners in this area and other areas in this country that actually invest in protecting their properties from bushfires. Things like putting sprinklers on your roof, buying firefighting pumps, gutter guards, that sort of thing. You should be able to claim a tax deduction for those things. And also, we’ve got a local brigade here which we could do with a bit more equipment. So, we’re hoping that we can convince some authorities to help fund those. So, they’re the key things we think the Commonwealth can assist with. We’ve also got, obviously, things we want the state government to do in terms of hazard reduction, tree clearing rules, that sort of thing, and also local government as well. So, that’s all.
ALBANESE: Can I just thank Trevor but also give a shout out to all those volunteers who not only made a difference during those critical periods last year and the beginning of this year but continue to do work like this. Doing hard yards, giving up their own time. And this is just one with Trevor. But wherever I’ve been in bushfire affected areas, whether it be in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, or Queensland, I’ve met people like Trevor.
DALY: We all wear many hats. I was on the back of the fire truck as well in December.
ALBANESE: Who all do so much for their community. So, I think a big shout out to them.