SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; recovery process for the bushfires.
SPENCE DENNY, HOST: Anthony Albanese, good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning.
DENNY: On your way to South Australia today. What’s your itinerary today?
ALBANESE: I’m going to be first off visiting the koala hospital with Terri Butler our Shadow Environment Minister to have a look for ourselves at the tragedy that has unfolded for our flora and fauna. It has really been devastated up to the loss of a billion animals and insects, including, of course, koalas, wallabies and kangaroos. Our particular concern is what has been the impact on the koala population. Kangaroo Island, of course, is a very special place. And one of the things that makes it special is that the koalas there are disease-free. And they’ve been devastated by the events of the past couple of weeks.
DENNY: Anthony Albanese, the front page of The Australian today, there is a debate raging about the management of fuel loads in fire-prone areas. In Labor’s opinion, are the right agencies looking after the management of these areas?
ALBANESE: Well, the question is do they have the resources to look at it has been the feedback that I’ve had, and the particular circumstances as well. So, for example, when I was in Casino on the north coast of New South Wales, what the head of the Rural Fire Service there told me was that people who would normally be involved in hazard reduction in the middle of the year during the cooler months weren’t able to because the fires began so early in places like Rappville. So, they were busy out there fighting fires, rather than engaged in hazard reduction. And there’s no doubt that has had an impact. But the other thing that’s had a massive impact, of course, is just the drying of the continent, the ongoing drought, that has had a huge impact. So, parts of tropical rainforest that have never burned before have burned for the first time.
DENNY: Do we have to accept that the climate has changed to the extent that we’re in a fire danger period for almost six months of the year now?
ALBANESE: Well, the tragedy with this is that what the scientists told us was going to happen. We’re seeing played out the tragic consequences for human life, the loss of property, the loss of species. And we do need to listen to the science. We need to do all we can, of course, to actually deal with climate change. But we also clearly have to adapt and have strategies based upon what is the new environment right now. And tragically, some of the predictions are that what we’ve seen as being unprecedented, we won’t be talking about being unprecedented into the future because perhaps this is much closer to the new norm rather than something that is a one-off.
DENNY: There’s also debate around the consideration of a Royal Commission into the fires. Does Labor support that?
ALBANESE: Look, we think at some stage we have to have a good intensive look at what has occurred here and, importantly, what recommendations could be made to improve the circumstances going forward. But of course, there will be coronial inquiries into the deaths have occurred, the loss of life. I have been somewhat frustrated, I’ve got to say, I wrote to the Prime Minister in mid-November saying that COAG should meet in November to make sure there was a nationally coordinated approach. As of Saturday, there is now a national approach. But it took a long time for that to happen. COAG still hasn’t met and is due to meet in March. I would have thought that COAG is a body that can make decisions. A Royal Commission is an inquiry that reports, usually, more than a year after it’s established. So, I’m certainly not against having an inquiry like a Royal Commission but I do think we need to deal with immediate challenges that are before us as a priority.
DENNY: The immediate challenge is funding to repair the extensive damage that we have seen across Australia and an area that is equivalent to the size of the entire United Kingdom. We are talking about a huge clean-up here, Anthony Albanese. Where is the money going to come from?
ALBANESE: Well, the money will have to flow. There’s no question about that. And when you’re talking about the size, talking about just one area, just the Blue Mountains National Park is 900,000 hectares. There have been around about at least half a million. But by the time this is over, it’ll be much greater than the size of the UK. It is tragic consequences and there will be an economic cost. I was in the Adelaide Hills on Saturday. And the wine and grape growing industry is being significantly impacted. None of the vines are insured. When people lose those vines, some of which have been grown for decades, of course, they don’t just lose their income for this year, they lose their income for many years going forward, perhaps four or five years before a dollar flows back in to those businesses. By and large, many of them, of course, are small and family businesses. They are important for South Australia’s economy directly, but also important indirectly to the tourism sector. And we are going to need industry assistance packages for businesses like that. The truth is that loans won’t cut it. There will need to be some direct assistance. Otherwise, what you’ll see is either a concentration of the sector in that area, or you’ll have parts of it just disappear. So, this is vital, and it has to be seen as an investment. It has to be seen as an investment in regional communities, as well. We simply can’t afford to say, ‘Oh well’. The areas where there is forest, the things that may have a bit of open space, the things that make those communities wonderful places to live, the natural environment is what has had an impact. So, there will be, on top of the human cost of loss of life, the ongoing health costs, particularly for mental health, the economic costs will be substantial, not just rebuilding infrastructure, but also providing industry assistance.
DENNY: Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.