Tuesday 11 August 2020
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Australian PM - 1 month ago

Statement On Indulgence - Australian Bushfires

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:12): Over recent weeks, Australians have been responding to bushfires across the continent. Many of us here in this place have sat with those who have bravely fought them and who have tirelessly supported those who have been fighting these fires. We have sat, as I did with Owen Whalan up in Taree, and listened to their stories, held their hands and tried to offer words of comfort wherever we could. But mostly we ve been simply amazed, once again, that in Australia s most difficult moments we always find the best of Australians in the way that they respond to these events. I would like to update the House on the fires as we know them now and on recent action in relation to the fires as they have spread across the country. Dangerous fires in New South Wales continue to burn. More than 1.4 million hectares have been burnt. As of this morning, there are more than 60 fires burning. More than 1,900 firefighters and support personnel, along with 95 aircraft, have been battling these fires. Tragically, four people have lost their lives and dozens more have been injured, including those fighting the fires. Over the past two weeks more than 550 homes—not just buildings but homes—have been destroyed and nearly 1,000 more outbuildings. In Queensland, fires are continuing to burn in the south-east. They have burnt through 183,000 hectares since September. Fifty-five fires are still burning across the state and 20 homes have been confirmed lost. More than 3,600 firefighters have been on the front line for more than two weeks, along with aircraft. Nearly 50 firefighters have sustained injuries, including the pilot of a water-bombing helicopter that crashed near Toowoomba. The situation is ever changing and a state of fire emergency has been declared across 42 local government areas. In Victoria we ve seen an easing in recent days following the catastrophic fire conditions of last Thursday. This easing should assist firefighters in coming days battle the fires as they continue to burn. Last week parts of South Australia experienced catastrophic fire conditions. Sixteen houses have been destroyed along with 21 other structures and four firefighters were injured. While conditions have eased, fires continue to burn across southern parts of the state. We are watching in Western Australia closely. Severe to extreme fire dangers are forecast today over southern and central fire weather areas. The government, through Emergency Management Australia, is working very closely with its state and territory counterparts. I place on record my deep thanks and appreciation for all the premiers for working so closely with the Commonwealth, and I thank them each for their leadership in their respective states during these difficult times. We work in partnership, with everyone knowing their jobs and their responsibilities. It s no different at a government level than it is when you re out in the incident response centre or you re on the fire ground itself. Everyone needs to know what their job is and get it done. I want to acknowledge the tremendous national effort taking place with firefighters travelling from every state, as well as from New Zealand and the United States. I ve had the opportunity to thank both the President this morning and, of course, the Prime Minister of New Zealand earlier. We also thank those who have come from Canada to help where it is needed. Fire-bombing aircraft have been in action against these fires. These are national assets and ensure the best possible aerial firefighting equipment is available to help Australians. As well, the RAF have transported firefighters and equipment to and from centres across the country. Disaster recovery assistance has been provided under the jointly funded Commonwealth and state Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. In New South Wales on the ground assistance is coming from the state government also. We re also providing extra financial assistance to the Australian Government disaster recovery payment. This is a non-means tested payment of $1,000 for eligible adults and $400 for each child. There is also the disaster recovery allowance, which is a short-term income support payment to help those who have experienced a loss of income as a direct result of the bushfires. The disaster recovery payment has been activated in 14 local government areas in New South Wales and the allowance has been activated in 32 areas in New South Wales. Both of these payments are administered by the Department of Human Services. Yesterday, in New South Wales, working with the state government, we announced $48.25 million in bushfire recovery package assistance for the North Coast, the Mid North Coast and the Northern Tablelands. This package includes $15,000 recovery grants for small businesses and primary producers and an $18.25 million community recovery fund to fund community projects that stimulate the economy, build resilience and provide much needed mental health support as well. In Queensland we re providing disaster recovery assistance, under the DRFA, in seven local government areas. This includes support for people suffering personal hardship to help with their immediate emergency needs, as well as things like concessional interest rate loans and freight subsidies for primary producers. We ve also activated the disaster recovery payment, the AGDRP, and the Disaster Recovery Allowance, the DRA, for people affected by the Queensland fires. This is supported and administered by the Queensland government with whom we continue to work extremely closely. I can report that every agency of the Commonwealth stands ready to help and has wherever they can. Across government the necessary plans and responses have been activated. The ATO has activated their community disaster rapid response group to support impacted taxpayers and communities. Taxpayers affected by the fires don t need to worry about their tax affairs. First things first, let s get them back on their feet. The Department of Health has been working with pharmacists regarding the supply of medicines to affected communities. The full resources of our defence forces have been available to assist when and where it has been requested. The Minister for Defence has directed and authorised all local base commanders to provide immediate assistance where it is required. The work undertaken across Australia in recent weeks has been the result of painstaking preparation. I shudder to think of what might have occurred had we all not prepared accordingly. In a continent as big as ours it is not a question of if a national disaster hits but when, and fire particularly so, as has long been the case. Since the aftermath of Black Saturday, Commonwealth, state and territory governments have actively maintained a level of national preparedness that should reassure all Australians. Our preparedness for national disaster includes a $130.5 million investment by the Commonwealth over five years to reduce the risk and impact of disasters on Australians. As part of this work, $104 million is being distributed to states and territories under the new national partnership agreement on disaster risk reduction for investment initiatives that reduce disaster risk at the state and local levels. As well, we have developed closely with state, territory and local governments a national Disaster Preparedness Framework to ensure we are positioned to effectively prepare for and manage these severe and catastrophic disasters. This framework is about a new national disaster capability so that people have access to the best information and guidance needed to make informed decisions, and I ve seen this at work. I ve seen this at work over these most challenging last few months. Our support of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, an annual investment of $15 million, has provided highly specialised firefighting aircraft that is available to states and territories. In December last year, foreseeing that we would be seeing longer fire seasons, we added another $11 million on top of our annual investment. We ve also invested in Emergency Alert, supporting the national telephone based warning system, and we invested over $6 million in the next generation of Australian fire danger rating systems to deliver more accurate and local risk messaging. Again, I ve seen it in action. Our efforts are all about working in partnership with the states and territories, particularly the fire and emergency service professionals. As the providers of police and emergency services, the states and territories take the lead, and we back them in on their capabilities. Of course all work in such dynamic environments can be improved, but I am incredibly proud of the progress and the effort that has been put in right across the country and led so ably by our state governments—preparing for the worst, wherever and whenever it may be, and called into action when it is required. At times like this we need to remind ourselves of those fundamental truths, that while properties are lost, it s the lives of our families and our loved ones who ultimately matter the most. I am in awe of our countrymen and women who have all stepped up in this very recent time, as they always do: firefighters, volunteers, servicemen and women, community members and neighbours, as well as the businesses who enable those who need to volunteer to go to the aid of their community, and I particularly say thank you to them. Everyone has been playing their part. It has been a time when we ve seen our nation s best at their best. We re prepared and we will continue to act. I know, more broadly, there are debates about other issues, and they rightly have a place for debate in this country. They re important issues, but our focus now is on those directly affected by these fires on the ground, and they will continue to be our focus. That s where our effort will remain, and we thank all of those who have come to their aid.

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