The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

3 February 2011

Doorstop Interview
with
Anna Bligh MP, Premier of Queensland
and
Craig Wallace MP, Member for Thuringowa

Townsville

3 February 2011

SUBJECTS: Cyclone Yasi

JOURNALIST:

Okay Premier, what's the latest situation in north Queensland at this stage?

BLIGH:

What we know is that just north of Townsville here we saw small towns take the brunt of this extreme storm. So towns like Mission Beach, Cardwell, Tully, Tully Heads, Ingham, Innisfail. These are all towns that have seen cyclones in the past but I think there's a lot of devastation particularly of homes and we'll be (inaudible) going and seeing for myself and talking to some of the people on the ground.

JOURNALIST:

Where was the worst hit?

BLIGH:

It appears that in the terms of lost property and damage to homes that Tully and Cardwell and Silkwood are probably the worst hit areas but it's still early days in the assessment and we know there some very small communities that no one's got to yet and they're cut from communication. So we're still an assessment phase but it does seem that the course of the storm that's (inaudible). Tully – we're getting advice that one in three homes have been seriously damaged or demolished. So that's going to be a very big loss in that little community.

JOURNALIST:

And with wind and floods still around at this stage, how soon can the clean-up process begin?

BLIGH:

Well I notice here in Townsville that there's already some equipment out clearing trees off the main highway. So in good old north Queensland style the cleanup has started as soon as it could, but we do still have a lot of flooding around in some part of north Queensland. Ingham is bracing for another flood this afternoon and we expect to see potentially more flooding here around the northern Townsville area. So it's still dangerous out there, we've still got roads closed and we expect to have roads closed for some time. People should be avoiding any unnecessary travel still.

JOURNALIST:

The fact that there was widespread destruction especially in regional towns, are you concerned that there might be some death or serious injury? It seems remarkable there hasn't been any.

BLIGH:

It seems totally remarkable to me that as I drive through Townsville and I see the size of trees that were brought down by this event that we don't have massive structural damage here in Townsville. And it's even more remarkable when I see some of the damage and hear some of the damage out of some of these smaller towns where we've got a lot of old homes that we at this stage don't have reports of any injuries, serious injuries or fatalities. But as I stress there are still places that we haven't had emergency workers into. Even in some of these towns, they're still out and about checking homes. And it's too early to rule out that we might have some sad news in the next couple of days, but what we do know is that we didn't see mass loss of life in evacuation centres and that's a great relief.

JOURNALIST:

The Mayor of Townsville has just said that the city is running out of water by tonight because of power cuts to the water treatment plant. Is there anything the state government can do to help?

BLIGH:

These sorts of issues are the ones that arise the very day after any sort of big disaster: electricity, telecommunications and water. And yes, there is a serious issue here with water supply in Townsville. I've met with the mayor, with representatives of the ADF. We believe there is potentially a solution that will avoid this, but it's being worked on right now involving massive generation capacity from the army as well as other forms of supply from Magnetic Island. But when you run out of electricity then yes – people don't often associate electricity with pure water – but that could happen, that your pump station's gone.

TREASURER:

We shouldn't forget just the role the ADF can play, has played, and will play in the days ahead solving and working with local communities to solve these sorts of challenges. It's quite remarkable.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, what assistance will the Federal Government give to north Queensland?

TREASURER:

Well, certainly the full range of assistance in operation and working closely with the state government. Immediate payments can be made to those affected and people who require any immediate assistance. We will work with the state government, local government in terms of repairing basic infrastructure. All of these things are very important, but at the moment what we're most concerned with is that everybody is okay.

What's quite remarkable here is to see the damage done to trees. I think it's just great so far we haven't seen any loss of life. There's been throughout history a great fighting spirit in this city when challenges have come from the Coral Sea in the past there's been a fighting spirit in north Queensland and I think we're seeing that again.

JOURNALIST:

What scale is the damage in north Queensland compared to what we're seen in south-east Queensland in the last few weeks?

TREASURER:

Oh look I think it's far too early to be making those comparisons. We've got to go out there and have a look at the damage right across the area. The Premier and I are going out to look at some other towns in the next couple of hours. It's far too early to make those sorts of comparisons.

JOURNALIST:

So in those towns will you just be sort of looking at the damage that's been caused and is that your main role there at this stage?

BLIGH:

And hopefully we'll have an opportunity to talk to some of the local authorities from the council and the emergency workers who are on the ground. It's absolutely important to our ability as a state and federal government working with local governments that we see firsthand on the ground and talk directly with people. What's happening here in Townsville is different to what's happening in Cardwell and that's very different to what's happening down south in places like Roma or in Rockhampton so every place needs its own tailored solution and that's what we're going to do.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, and apologies if we've covered this already but do we know what level the tidal surge got to today in Townsville and if it's likely to happen again?

BLIGH:

The one today, the second surge, I'm sorry I don't have that data for you, but I could get it for you. They will be doing that modelling now.

JOURNALIST:

That would be great.

BLIGH:

We appreciate they're also working on hydrology reports now for flooding rivers to keep people safe. So there's a lot of work happening.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) okay that they return to their homes now, isn't it?

BLIGH:

Yes, people in evacuation centres have now been told they can return to their home and most have done so and others are making preparations to. So all of that dislocation we've seen across the last couple of days, people now starting to get back home and a sense, hopefully, of some normality returning to Townsville.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you, sorry, about the threat of flood in Ingham that you mentioned earlier. How bad could that potentially be?

BLIGH:

Ingham is one of the cities of Queensland that is probably more used to flooding than just about any other. It's looking at this stage at a flood around 12.2 meters, which I think is around what they experienced just around Christmas time. It will cause cutting off of roads, whether it causes any inundation is not known, but it does depend a bit on what happens with the rain. They're still getting very heavy rainfall and that's what's driving the flooding event there. So I don't think we're out of the woods yet with some of those issues.

JOURNALIST:

When you go into a community like Cardwell where no one has really been yet. Is there some personal trepidation about what you might encounter?

TREASURER:

Always. Always. [You] feel for the people that are affected by these dramatic events. I mean, people are suffering trauma. It's very important that they know that the rest of Australia is with them in these circumstances. That's why it's very important that we go there as soon as possible.

WALLACE:

I think there was a sense of trepidation from everyone in Townsville this morning when they woke up. I drove around my electorate this morning in Townsville. I was quite fearful about what I would find, but I found people out there taking stock of what happened and I just thank god that we didn't have anyone lose their life that we know of at this stage in our city. We pulled together. There's a lot of work to do but I want to thank both the Premier and the Deputy Prime Minister. They were on the phone last night talking to me and we were talking to the community through this event. We'll stick together and we'll pull together at the end.