SUBJECT: Bushfire crisis across Australia; Humanihut organisation providing support to firefighters in South Australia.
PETER MALINAUSKAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER: Well, thanks for joining us here at Tonsley this morning. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to stand here today with Anthony Albanese, the Federal Parliamentary Leader of the Labor Party. I think we are all very conscious of the fact that Albo has been working incredibly hard over recent days getting across the nation, making sure that the Federal Labor Party is represented in extraordinary show of empathy to the bushfires that are occurring across the nation. It is also great to be joined by my good friend Penny Wong, and also The Honourable Kevin Scarce who is the chairman of the Humanihut organisation which we will talk to in just a moment.
Can I just extend my thoughts for all those on Kangaroo Island at the moment? We understand that there is an ongoing substantial fire that is sweeping across Kangaroo Island. There are a lot of people who have been working incredibly hard overnight and our thoughts are with them, their families, but also the people of KI generally. As we speak currently on Kangaroo Island, the Humanihuts have been deployed to provide a degree of aid and assistance to those firefighters who have been working under extraordinary conditions now for a number of days. We know that firefighters, when they work extended shifts on multiple occasions, deserve not just our respect, but also our support. And the Humanihuts that are currently located on Kangaroo Island are providing some comfort and respite to those firefighters, so they can continue on with their extraordinary work. A number of years ago under the Weatherill Labor Government, at the time that I was Emergency Services Minister, we made a decision to invest in the Humanihut program that has seen those deployed on Kangaroo Island providing a nation-leading, indeed, a world-leading example of how this technology can actively assist in natural disaster situations. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here with Kevin and the Humanihut team today. And we can talk into a little detail about the services they are able to provide.
But without further ado, I would like to invite Albo, who again, we are very grateful to have here in South Australia. And we will be taking the opportunity if he is at other parts of the state later today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY:
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Peter. And it’s good to be here with you and with Penny Wong. But under very tragic circumstances of the national emergency that we’re seeing unfolding right around the country. After we visit here, we will be traveling into the Adelaide Hills to talk to the CFS. To talk to vignerons who’ve lost some of their industry, the basis of their agricultural production that’s so important as an industry here for South Australia, not just directly the wine industry, but also for the tourism sector as well. And we will be thanking the volunteers and those firefighters who have made such an incredible difference right around the country. Inspiring their fellow Australians with the work and courage that they’ve shown.
Today we think about KI, which is still under a massive threat, where people have been asked to assemble essentially in the two towns there on the island. In the south coast of New South Wales and eastern Victoria, we have seen the largest evacuation in Australia’s peacetime history. And we think of those who remain there. And certainly, say again, reiterate, to listen to the advice which is there coming through from the experts. And we certainly just hope that people can stay safe today.
The consequences of this national emergency will be felt for a very, very long time. The human impact through the loss of life, the impact in terms of injuries, the impact in terms of mental health in the long-term from people who’ve experienced horrors that are quite frankly unimaginable. The impact in terms of our economy. The impact in terms of our regional communities that have seen loss of properties, in some cases, communities just devastated and almost wiped off the map in terms of structures. But this is a time also where we pay tribute to the incredible courage and sacrifice of our firefighters and others in emergency services, volunteers in the community, those who are providing food and shelter for people. And we look towards making sure that we maximise everything possible in terms of making a difference. It is good that the Government is giving consideration to inviting further aerial firefighting resources and assets, including from overseas. One of the issues that I raised with the Prime Minister when I wrote back in November was for COAG to meet and to give consideration to the aerial firefighting capacity and to make sure that every resource was given at that time. We need to make sure that we’re maximising the impact. And today, it’s unfortunate that we’re here, that this has to happen. But also, I thank Kevin for the welcome and the briefing about the work that Humanihuts are able to be having. Right now, they’re on KI making a practical difference. And it’s been good to get that briefing. And certainly, this is something that potentially could be rolled out in the future. Australian innovation making a difference at a time of emergencies. But obviously applicable at other times as well. I might ask Penny, our Leader in the Senate, to just make a few comments.
PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much, Albo. I just want to make a few comments. It’s been a devastating summer hasn’t it? A devastating summer. Devastating for communities across this country, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. And I just want to say two or three things. The first thing I want to say is to all of those communities who are grieving loss, loss of loved ones, loss of property, loss of animals. We are with you. And we extend our sympathy. I want to say thank you to the emergency services here in South Australia, to the CFS. I think a lot of us have been on their website or on Twitter looking at the incident table overnight, most recently, but for many weeks now. And you see just how much they do. So, we cannot thank you enough. And thirdly to South Australians, I say thank you for the work you’re doing to support the communities who have been affected. Finally, to the communities on Kangaroo Island. It is a devastating scenario on Kangaroo Island. And I think every South Australian has a place in our hearts for KI. Most of us have visited. Most of us have holidayed there. We are all with you. We know this is a devastating series of events. Dreadful, dreadful fires there. And we stand with you. And we will work with you to rebuild. And we pray that all of you stay safe. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think enough is being done for bushfire victims around the country at the moment?
ALBANESE: Look, at the moment, of course, the priority is saving lives today, literally. We need to make sure that every request is met with a yes. This isn’t a time to count pennies. This is a time to make sure that people are getting all the assistance that they need. And one of the things that I’ve done is to, as I’ve gone around the country, is that when requests have been made, I’ve forwarded them on. And I must say the response has been good from the relevant authorities when those specific requests have been made. One of the things I think though that we’re going to have to be conscious of is that quite often, it’s the requests that aren’t made. The people who need assistance but don’t know about how to go about asking for it. So, this is going to require a massive effort from all levels of government and from civil society. I must say one of the things that is extraordinary is these stories that are coming at about neighbours helping neighbours. Just communities coming together and really just looking after each other. We talk a lot about mateship in Australia. This is what mateship is about. Just helping each other. Looking after each other. Particularly at times of trauma such as this. But we are going to have to look at this long-term. I think about the sort of vision that we’ve seen of kids being placed in those circumstances whereby that will have a lasting memory. People will never forget it. What’s important is that it not have a long-term impact on them. So, I think mental health is going to have to be something that is really looked after and made sure that we have those resources available.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the overseas aerial resources before. Do we know if any of those will be deployed?
ALBANESE: Look, what I’m told in listening to some of the advice of experts, including the former fire chiefs, Greg Mullins, and others who have experienced here, is that in the Northern Hemisphere in particular, there would be some planes that aren’t being utilised at the moment. And we should be maximising use of all of our assets. Of course, there are circumstances such as in Victoria, one of the things about these fires that I learned in one of the briefings is that in some cases essentially the heat of the flames and the direct impact are going hundreds of metres into the air, making flying over particular areas impossible to do. So, we need to just make sure, I think, that we are using every asset at our disposal and it’s a good thing if we increase the number of assets that are available for use.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison has come under a lot of criticism, some even calling him to stand down. What do you make of that?
ALBANESE: Look, I have made it clear that I’m not a commentator during these issues. My job is to meet with people, to provide information, to do my best to make constructive suggestions. So, people would be aware that we made the suggestion a number of times over a period of many weeks that volunteer firefighters needed some form of economic compensation. They couldn’t continue to do what they were doing day after day, whilst they had no capacity to put food on the table for their families, and pay their rent, and pay their mortgages. I’ve seen that as my job to put forward constructive suggestions. I continue to say that what we need is a national response and a coordination which is not just between an individual state and the Commonwealth, but between all of the states and then Commonwealth together, all the levels of government as a national response. Which is why I suggested that COAG meet as far back as November. So, I’ve seen that as my job. Other people will make their own judgments about Scott Morrison and the incident with young Zoey in Cobargo, who I think that she has put her views very clearly. I think the footage speaks for itself.
ALBANESE: My concern isn’t for Scott Morrison. My concern is for those people whose lives are in danger today, and the communities that are really suffering. I want to focus on that. Today I’ll have an opportunity, and I thank Peter for facilitating the meetings with the CFS and with people in those communities, the wine industry and others in the agricultural sector who’ve been affected in the Adelaide Hills. I think that will be an opportunity for me to then feed back whatever information I get. This isn’t a time where my concern isn’t the popularity, or otherwise, of Scott Morrison. That is a matter for him.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned Zoey. Why do you think there is so much public anger? I mean, she’s just one of many out there in the community.
ALBANESE: I think the footage speaks for itself in terms of the circumstances there. And I think that Zoey is a 20-year-old with a young daughter. She’s pregnant. She’s lost her home and all of her belongings. think she’s articulated her concerns, quite frankly, directly. That doesn’t need me to add to it. Thanks very much.