Tuesday 11 August 2020
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Australian PM - 1 month ago

Statement On Indulgence - Australian Natural Disasters

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister) (14:25): I rise to update the House on the many floods and fires that have ravaged parts of our country in recent weeks and months. As we know, across our nation we are seeing incredible efforts from tens of thousands of Australians in response to the national disasters that we have faced. In north-west Queensland, flooding rains have brought devastating stock losses to lands and communities that were scarred by years of drought. The heartbreak that is occurring in those communities is hard for us to imagine in this place. As a result of a monsoon low, Townsville s Ross River hit a record peak, with flood waters damaging thousands of homes and buildings. More than 7,700 damage assessments have been completed across the state. We know that two men lost their lives and another man is missing near Ayr, and our prayers and support are with their families. There is also a livestock tragedy in North Queensland currently unfolding, with stock losses at inestimable levels. Right now, a whole-of-government response is underway, with Emergency Management Australia, the Defence Force, the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources all working with state and local authorities to direct the recovery and the response. The Defence Force has established a joint task force, which is working closely with local authorities and emergency services to help remote communities. They re helping farmers sustain livestock cut off by flooding and transporting patients and critical supplies. They are also involved in the removal, wherever possible, of the carcasses of thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, of stock losses. The ADF has liaison officers in Cloncurry, Julia Creek and Richmond to drop fodder to local communities, working closely at the direction of the local communities. The RAAF and the Army s 3rd Brigade, 17th Brigade, 6th Brigade and 1st Division—around 2,800 ADF personnel, all based in Townsville, many of them with flooded homes and properties themselves—have helped evacuate people and transport sandbags from Brisbane. The Commonwealth government, working closely with the Queensland and local governments, has already contributed over $100 million in financial assistance to the recovery effort. That means payments to people whose property has been damaged to assist with their emergency support for affected primary producers, raising recovery grants from $25,000 to $75,000, consistent with category D recovery grants for small businesses to help them clean up and reopen their payments of $1 million each, as I announced yesterday, to the current eight council areas west of Townsville to help them with a broad range of recovery acti and funding for the restoration of damaged infrastructure such as roads and bridges. As of two days ago, we ve extended the availability of disaster recovery payments to eight flood-hit shires across western Queensland. We all know it is difficult to get things done when roads and communications are cut, and that s why I m pleased at the speed of the response on the ground to date, but it must be maintained. Over 33,000 claims for disaster payments have been processed in Townsville alone, already providing over $39 million directly into the pockets of those affected, and I particularly want to commend Home Affairs and the Department of Human Services for their swift action in getting that support to people as quickly as they can. As well, the government has extended a further $3 million to boost mental health services on the ground, complementing the support being provided by the Queensland government. My great concern is for those farming communities who are absorbing the horrible impact of this. They need our mental health support, and those services have been funded and provided and extended. As we ve seen before, while one part of the country is under water, another part is in flames. We ve had fires in Western Australia and, as we gather, 28 bushfires are still burning across Tasmania. These fires have burnt more than 205,000 hectares, including almost 90,000 hectares in the World Heritage area. Firefighters have come from around Australia and across the ditch in New Zealand to help. Miraculously, no lives have been lost there. We ve activated disaster recovery funding arrangements in the Derwent Valley, the Huon Valley, the West Coast and the Central Highlands to help cover the costs of firefighting and evacuation centres, as well as recovery payments for affected people and freight subsidies for farmers and producers. We have also activated the Australian government Disaster Recovery Allowance, providing assistance to employees, primary producers and sole traders who have experienced a loss of income as a direct result of the bushfires. There are also fires burning in Victoria, with three uncontrolled blazes at Walhalla, Thomson and Timbarra River. Again, there has been some damage and loss of properties, but thankfully no lives have been lost. Every summer, as waters rise and fires rage, nature seems to hurl challenges and pose questions of readiness, courage and compassion that Australians answer in the affirmative every time, showing the strength and determination for which Australians are known. Once again, we have seen that response. Our message to all affected, whether in the black-soil mud of western Queensland or the water-sodden houses of Townsville or the ravaged fire areas of Tasmania, is: as we ve stood with you in this immediate response, we will stand with you in the recovery and we will stand with you in the rebuilding. Just as was said in the condolence motion relating to the 10th anniversary of the Black Saturday fires, this will be a decade worth of work, and perhaps more. I ve engaged with local mayors throughout western Queensland and in Townsville itself. I want to thank all of those mayors. I must say that local government, state government and the Commonwealth government, from whichever political persuasion, have worked together hand-in-glove—no fingers pointing an just hands out to help each other. I want to thank in particular Premier Hodgman and Premier Palaszczuk, who have been open and direct and have been tremendous in their support, and we have responded in kind. There is much work to do and there is much rebuilding to do, and this place and our government will certainly support all of that.

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