MARISE PAYNE: It’s a great pleasure to be here this afternoon in Airlie Beach in Queensland with my colleague Michael Keenan, the Minister for Justice; with Senator Ian Macdonald; George Christensen, the Member for Dawson, and Jason Costigan from the State Parliament as well.
It’s a pleasure, but it is done in recognition of the challenge that Queensland has experienced in recent days. So I suppose the most important thing to say while we’re standing here at Airlie Beach is that Queensland is open for business, and that is something which I’d like to reinforce. Between the ADF, the emergency services in Queensland, local councils, and quite frankly the men and women of the Queensland community, you can absolutely depend on the fact that Queensland is open for business.
I’m particularly proud of the ADF contribution here today, and very pleased we’ve been joined by the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, in inspecting the activities we’ve seen here today. We have a combined joint taskforce of army, navy and air force members who are part of the support operation here in the post-cyclone environment, and will also be part of the challenge that I know the city of Rockhampton is expected to face in the coming days in terms of floods.
We have HMAS Choules just off the coast here with some very heavy engineering equipment embarked; we have men and women of the ADF, ranging from environmental health to engineers, supporting the community in the work that is required to be done after ex-Cyclone Debbie has caused the damage that she has caused. Extremely proud of the men and women of the ADF. I’m very proud that they are able to support the people of Queensland. They are tough jobs for everybody who is doing them today and I thank them very much for the contribution that they’re making. And I’m going to ask Minister Keenan if he’d like to say a few words.
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well thank you, Marise. It’s good to be here with Ian, with George, with Jason. Obviously we would prefer to be here under different circumstances. But as you can see, this is a very resilient community that has faced adversity in the past, particularly from nature, and what they’re very good at is dusting themselves off and getting things up and running very quickly.
And I really want to underscore the point that Minister Payne was making, that this is a community that still remains open for business. It’s still very beautiful here at Airlie Beach, and they will clean up and get working, rolling up their sleeves incredibly quickly and getting the community, the tourist infrastructure, everything back up and running. And when nature does throw its worst anywhere in Australia, then the Australian Government works very closely with the State Government – in this case Queensland – to do what we can to assist, to make sure that people have their immediate needs met, to make sure that businesses and farmers in particular can get concessional loans, for example, so they can continue to get on with their business.
It’s very difficult when a natural disaster hits, but we stand side by side with the communities like here at Airlie Beach, like in other parts of George and Jason’s electorates, to make sure that they’ve got the wherewithal to get back up and running. So it’s good to be here at Airlie Beach, it’s good to be here with my colleagues and to see that the community- the resilience of the community getting on with things, and we’re very happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Can I just ask [indistinct]. Your assessment of the devastation, how was [indistinct] and how has the community [indistinct]?
MARISE PAYNE: We had an opportunity to visit the coordination centre at Proserpine this morning to meet with the Queensland SES and Fire Service representatives, and I think that was probably the best way to see the coordination and the cooperation in action. The men and women of those organisations, working with senior ADF officers who are part of this process were very, very positive about the level of coordination and cooperation that has occurred, whether it’s the experience we had of actually watching our emergency response work with SES in cutting back a very, very large tree – several tonnes large tree – which was literally hovering over a home in the streets of Proserpine, whether it is the preparation for what [indistinct] to be coming along the way for Rockhampton by speaking to the crew on HMAS Choules this afternoon before they head to that area. The level of hard work to make sure that whatever we are doing is applied to best effect, that has been something I’ll certainly take away from today.
QUESTION: Has the community been happy with the recovery effort that’s gone into Airlie Beach and into Proserpine?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I think these are very challenging times. I hope that we are being as helpful as we can be – in fact, I’m sure we’re being as helpful as we can be – in the response process. There are huge tasks still to be done and, as Minister Keenan has said, we work very closely with the Queensland authorities who essentially direct these processes. We work with them to ensure that we’re addressing those tasks from the highest priority through to the lowest priority. Whether it’s ensuring that elderly people who are trapped in their homes have been able to leave, whether it’s clearing roads and in some cases being the first people through on those roads, we are working very hard to make sure we’re as responsive as we can possibly be. And Michael may wish to add to that.
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well we’re working very closely with the Queensland Government, both in responding to the event, but then also very importantly with the recovery afterwards. I’ve been in very close contact with my counterpart in the Queensland Government to make sure that the capability that we have where we can assist we will deploy. And certainly, in my time as Minister I’ve never seen such an impressive pre-deployment of Australian Defence Force assets, and the capability that they’ve brought to bear here I think is quite remarkable. So we’ll continue to work with Queensland to give them what they require and then of course, not just in responding to the disaster, but then in the long and arduous recovery work afterwards we’ll work side by side with them to make sure that they get what they need from the Australian Government.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question].
MICHAEL KEENAN: We have very long-standing arrangements with the states called the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. What happens is the Queensland Government, who actually leads the recovery effort, they activate certain types of assistance and then if they require extra assistance, if a community has been particularly severely impacted, then we’ll work with them on what other assistance we can provide beyond that. In the case of Queensland, it activated assistance for individuals, assistance for small business, assistance to farmers, and we will then work with them about what else we can provide to the community. But these are very well-established processes. There’s no politics in this; we’ll work closely with Queensland to ensure that the community has what is required to recover.
QUESTION: I have heard some cases of people living [indistinct] area that haven’t been eligible for certain types of assistance. Is that something [indistinct] state government level? [Indistinct].
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well look, I might get the local members to respond to that. But can I say, after a disaster it can sometimes take a bit of time for us to get the information that we need to activate the disaster assistance. So sometimes these processes can take a little longer than we require, but I’ll get George and... [Inaudible]
JASON COSTIGAN: Alright. Well ladies and gentlemen, can I just thank ministers Payne and Keenan and Senator Macdonald, my good friend, and my federal colleague George Christensen for being here today. I’ll state the obvious, as the State MP for Whitsunday the sounds of those Taipans flying overhead above the now tranquil surrounds of Pioneer Bay and Airlie Beach warms the hearts of people from around the Whitsundays and further afield. To see the Chief of the Defence Force here today, Air Marshal Binskin, and his men and women, refined professionals that make up the ADF, does fill us with hope, because without hope what have we got?
I think Minister Keenan and Minister Payne have summed it up well that we need to make sure that people know that Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays may have had a short holiday but back open for business. I’ve just spoken to some backpackers here in the tourist town of Airlie Beach and they’re pleased to be here notwithstanding what’s going on.
I know there are people who are my constituents and further afield that are in a world of hurt at the moment without power and water and so forth. But this is a team effort. The ADF deployment has really impressed a lot of people. The SES, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, local state and federal people working together. The fire brigade, the ambos, the QPS, it goes on and on.
Shadow Minister Andrew Powell and I have today been travelling around Mackay and the Whitsundays. We’ve seen the devastation of the Serena Range Road; it is a catastrophic loss of road there. Let me tell you and it’s just one of those pieces of infrastructure that the mind boggles in terms of how are we going to repair this? The tourism industry here in Airlie Beach, the sugar industry, we’ve taken the hit but as I’ve said before, we’re tough people, Queenslanders, as Senator Mac will know, as big George will know. And in North Queensland, we’re even tougher. And we will come back, mark my words.
Can I just say in relation to the question that was put forward about disaster relief payments – there have been glitches in the system and politics goes out the window at a time like this and so it should. And so it should. And I’ve been in touch with Minister Fentiman’s office and her people with the Queensland Government. And there has been a software glitch relating to dates and processing online but I encourage people who have been impacted by Tropical Cyclone Debbie through cyclone or flood make sure you put forward the date of 28 March and make sure that you leave no stone unturned in getting those details right.
There have been a number of people come to me and we’re trying to help those people to make sure that they don’t fall through the cracks. It’s really important we care for people, not only immediately, but in the days and weeks and months ahead.
Just one other thing – there are a lot of elderly people in our community. Make sure you check on the elderly in the days and weeks ahead. We’ve been in Serena today where a street got wiped out because of flood. Make sure you check on your neighbours. Make sure you just don’t wonder. Don’t wonder, go and knock on the door and make sure they’re safe and sound. Not only in the coming days but in the coming weeks and months. Because this will take some time for some people to get back on their feet. I know one publican in Proserpine. He won’t be coming back. This is a body blow to our community but as I say we’re tough people and we’ll come back. I’ll just hand over to George.
GEORGE CHRISTENSEN: Thanks Costo. Look it’s great to have ministers Payne and Keenan here because the job that they have done in deploying the ADF, also in making sure that the Federal Government approval for emergency services payment was out the door quickly has been absolutely fantastic.
I think what we’ve seen here throughout the community, the ADF working hand in hand with the SES, with local council, with local police, with rural fire, with a range of different services, not to mention volunteers from the Red Cross and Operation Rubicon and former ADF personnel, vets, that are now serving as volunteers in this area, it has been fantastic right across the board. The community by and large is very appreciative of it and I think it’s just been fantastic. So really the hat does get taken off to all of these people who have come to our community and assisted.
Just to comment on that previous issue that you raised there, yes there has been a glitch in the system, a bit of a stuff up, but people should just keep on trying to get those payments. If they’re in an affected area and they’re told they’re not in an affected area, obviously the person on the other end of the phone has got it wrong. And probably the easiest thing to do is to go into one of the community recovery hubs. There’s one at the Cannonvale TAFE, there’s one at the Proserpine State High School and there’s numerous centres throughout Mackay, in Andergrove and also at Mackay Entertainment Convention Centre. So go to a community recovery hub. If you know you’re impacted, if you know you’re in an impacted area, just don’t take no for an answer and ultimately if you don’t get what you want, come and see your local MP.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thank you very much everyone.