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

16 February 2011

Joint Press Conference
with
The Hon Anna Bligh MP
Premier of Queensland
and
Senator The Hon Joe Ludwig
Minister Assisting the Attorney-General
on Queensland Floods Recovery

Parliament House

Brisbane

16 February 2011

SUBJECTS: Disaster Recovery; Flood Recovery; Mining Industry; Liberal Party Divisions

TREASURER:

Thanks for coming along for this very important announcement, particularly for those communities that have been devastated by Cyclone Yasi. I'll ask Anna to say a few words in a moment, and Joe, particularly as Agriculture Minister but also Federal Minister coordinating our flood effort and cyclone effort in Queensland to say a few words as well.

I think we all know the dimensions of this cyclone. We all know its power. I think we all know the devastation that it has caused, particularly in some of those smaller communities in Far North Queensland. The Premier and I saw it firsthand the next day and of course we've both seen it again. And every time we go back we see a new dimension of the damage that has been done to these communities.

So there is a very big task to be performed in terms of reconstruction, in terms of the cleanup, but particularly in terms of assisting some of those very, very important industries in these communities, to assist them to remain viable so we can keep those communities viable. It's very important that we put together a package of additional assistance for these communities not dissimilar from what was supplied during Cyclone Larry.

In some towns I think you've seen about a quarter of all properties have been damaged, but then you go out to the farms and you see very extensive damage whether it's sugar or whether it is bananas. So the package we're talking about today is going to provide some additional assistance, particularly to industry to keep those communities working, to give the employers some certainty that they can continue to employ their workforce.  And as I said it comes down to two industries in particular, bananas and sugar, but of course there are a number of other industries. So we're providing this assistance to make sure that these communities are not hollowed out as a result of the impact of this cyclone. So these measures are targeted at businesses, farmers and also not-for-profits. So we are providing concessional loans to provide relief to otherwise viable enterprises that have suffered damage, loans of up to a maximum of $650,000 over 10 years at an initial 4 percent interest rate.

The first two years will be repayment and interest free and there will also be grants. A 25 percent grant component up to $50,000.

The second thing that we are doing is also very important and these are measures to assist businesses to retain their workforce and we will be providing employers with wage assistance for an initial period of 13 weeks up to $470 per week that is essentially a wage subsidy and there will be a provision for an extension of that as there was in Cyclone Larry if that is necessary.

And of course with the Queensland Government we are also putting together a rural resilience package to provide a range of assistance to communities in a variety of areas from cleaning away debris, farm clean-up, counselling and other social support measures. These all come on top of very considerable assistance which comes from both the Federal Government and the State Government that has already been delivered. Something like $148 million has already been delivered in the region in Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child and also additional support for those that have become unemployed as a result of the impact of Cyclone Yasi.

Now it's too early to fully say how much we will be paying through all of these packages. As you know the Commonwealth Government is responsible for 75 per cent of particularly infrastructure damage done in these regions, the State Government for 25 per cent. The cost of that at this stage is still unknown, but if you take the measures we've announce today and if you also add to that what we've provided in terms of income support, we're already will be delivering something like $400 million of assistance for cyclone-affected communities and that's before – as I said before – you take into account the 75 per cent and the 25 per cent paid by the state when it comes to infrastructure in these communities.

So there will certainly be a bill well in excess of $500 million. I think everybody has got an interest in ensuring that these communities and fantastic towns are given all the support they require to get back on their feet and to become viable again so it's an important package, particularly for these devastated communities, and I'll throw to Anna.

PREMIER:  

Thank you. I welcome this package of assistance for our communities in North Queensland affected by Cyclone Yasi. This package is a recognition of the devastating effect of this cyclone. It was bigger than Cyclone Larry and it has affected more communities in its path. And those communities are communities that provide 75 per cent of Australia's bananas and a large part of our sugar crop. They are also small communities that are facing significant and catastrophic damage to their homes, to their public infrastructure as well as their agricultural output. What this package means is that we have learnt from Cyclone Larry. A number of these proposals were invented as a result of the effect of Cyclone Larry. Several weeks after that event here we are not just a little over a week after the event and these are being put on the ground, getting moving quickly. Programs like Farm Cleanup keep farm workers in those towns while they get crops back and running again. The Farm Cleanup fund is a very important component of this package and I welcome the support from the Federal Government for it. Like the Federal Treasurer, I've been on the ground in North Queensland myself. When you see with your own eyes the devastation that's been caused you understand the need for us to treat these cyclone-affected communities in a very specific and tailored way. This package does just that. This means, this is a lifeline for the communities affected by Yasi. It will keep farm workers in those communities so that when those bananas are growing again we'll have a workforce to pick them and these communities can have some confidence that they have a strong future.

LUDWIG:  

Thank you. Having learnt from Cyclone Larry, the package for Yasi includes a rural package that is designed to encompass not only farm cleanup to be able to ensure that banana growers can get back into their crops, but also to assist the horticultural industry  in the Far North. In addition to that it also includes all of those little elements that make the community one, which provides the support to retain employees in the region, which is so critical to t ensure that we have got people to go to work, to do the banana work, to do the sugar work, to do the horticultural work right throughout the region and of course it also includes community-building capacity to ensure the community can also maintain its viability around this area.

TREASURER:

Over to you.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

Yes.

TREASURER:

And I've been out to some of these farms last weekend. And for example if you go out to a banana farm what you will find is plastic everywhere. So cleaning up is very important particularly it won't just be plastic, it will be debris and if they're going to grow the crop, they're going to get the harvesters out, then they've got to get all of that material out of the field. So it's a very practical package and as the Premier said before we have learnt from Larry. This package is similar in many respects and in some respects it is more generous because we have learnt from that experience and what we know is that particularly these small farmers have just got to have the certainty that there workforce is going to be there. Their workforce needs the certainty to know they're going to have job otherwise they'll move so putting this package in place the way we have maximises the opportunity for workers to stay in the area and maximises the opportunity for those businesses to get on with growing their crop. In terms of bananas there is the opportunity in terms of some of the farms up there where they moved early to - what do you call it? To cut the suckers, Joe?

LUDWIG:

Yeah, what they've done is cut some of the banana crop down so it allows the suckers to come through. What that means is that they believe that they will be able to return to full production a lot quicker so they learnt from Cyclone Larry and they've applied that learning to Cyclone Yasi because what they want to be able to do is get back into their crops and start the process, get the bananas to market again and start that rebuilding effort in the community because they are important not only as banana growers for providing bananas to market but it is also about employing people in the region. It's also about providing small business with opportunities to have employment and work.

TREASURER:

There's a wider benefit here to because if people in the towns understand that the banana growers and the sugarcane growers are reinvesting what it does is it puts confidence back into the local economy and when you combine that with the impact of some of our disaster relief payments in terms of cash payments to individuals, these two things combined mean that there is purchasing power and business taking place in these local communities thereby giving them the certainty that the future is better than it looked a week ago.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, your cave in on the mining tax last year cost taxpayers $60 billion - Is that a fair price to save your political skin?

TREASURER:

I don't think that's a fair question or an accurate description of what has occurred. And there is nothing new whatsoever in the figures that are floating around today. Last July, after we published the details of the MRRT, we said it would raise significantly less revenue than the previous proposal. We said that at the time. The revenue that flows from the MRRT is still strong.  It's important. We are using it to invest in the superannuation savings of workers in Australia on lower incomes. We're using it to invest in infrastructure and we're using it to cut the company tax rate. I'd just make this point about 10-year projections because I don't think a lot of people understand that a 10-year projection is not one that you can necessarily say is holy writ. It's highly variable, highly subject to change. It's affected by a range of factors. In the medium term, we have the revenue to achieve the objectives that we have put in place for the MRRT and that will be achieved as this legislation goes to the parliament and is passed.

JOURNALIST;

How do you respond to $60 billion [inaudible]

TREASURER:

No, not at all because…. Not at all. In fact that is not an accurate description of what has occurred here. We announced a replacement of the RSPT with the MRRT, an entirely different resource rent tax. We said at the time, it would raise less revenue than expected by the former proposal . It does. There's nothing new in what has been said today. We've accounted for all of this in PEFO last year, in our mid-year review at the end of last year. So there's nothing new in what's out there today.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer,..[inaudible]…the row of Christmas Island funerals, can you say how much the funerals cost?

TREASURER:

I couldn't give you the figure for the funerals but I would say this: I think stealing sound bites from One Nation is about as low as you can go. And that's where Tony Abbott has ended up. I think this whole episode raises important questions about the Leader of the Opposition's judgement or lack of it.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] division in the liberal ranks [inaudible] Joe Hockey

TREASURER:

It doesn't matter whether you're talking about economic policy or whether you're talking about social policy, the Liberal Party are internally divided. They're at each others' throats. You see it in the parliament all of the time, and you see it in public now.  

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

Well that's why we fought really hard for a resource rent tax and that's why we continued to put in place a resource rent tax. It was pretty clear that we were not going to get the original proposal through. It was very clear that we needed to design a tax with different features, which did raise less revenue but what you will see in terms of the future of the resource industry is that it is very strong. That is why Australia does need a resource rent tax. We have one. We have one that will raise significant revenue over time. I'll make the point again that I made in answer to the previous question: people should be very careful in assuming that a 10-year projection is one that is necessarily achievable. When we put all of these proposals together we looked at the medium term and we allocated revenue to the tasks that are very important for our country's future prosperity: investing in the superannuation, of low-income Australian wage earners, putting money into infrastructure, particularly in resource-rich states like Queensland and WA, and gradually bringing down the corporate rate. And that's what we're doing an all of that is achievable.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, will you pay for the rebuild of Riverwalk? The Mayor is accusing both you and the Prime Minister of going back on promises and included in that is the damaged ferry terminals.

TREASURER:

Can I just say that I'm a bit disappointed by some of this commentary from the Lord Mayor. Before the Lord Mayor had even submitted a list of items that he was looking for assistance on, he was in the media demanding that payment be made. Government doesn't work like that. We want to work, the Premier wants to work with not only the Brisbane City Council but the dozens and dozens of local authorities around this state and of course the dozens and dozens right around Australia, which have also experienced significant damage to work our way through all of the issues. Now…

JOURNALIST:

Are you saying it [Inaudible] should qualify?

TREASURER:

No, no, well let me just make a couple of points. The Lord Mayor has finally submitted to the State Government a list of proposals. I think they add up to in excess of $400 million. What we do as a matter of course – the State Government and the Commonwealth Government – is go through and see which items in that list qualify for funding under our existing guidelines. And I can say to you that the Federal Government is going to meet 75 per cent of the bill for all of the items that are covered by our guidelines, and the State Government 25 per cent.  For the Lord mayor, let me finish, for the Lord Mayor to say that there is not a brass razoo coming from the Federal Government or State Government is just not true. He knows he is automatically entitled to 75 per cent from the Commonwealth, 25 per cent from the State for those matters that are clearly covered under those arrangements. Yes, there is a doubt as to whether the Riverwalk and the Ferry Cat Terminals are covered under those arrangements. And the Commonwealth and the State Government will have sensible conversations with local authorities right around the country when there is a doubt about whether a particular item is covered by the guidelines - and come to a sensible conclusion about that. Minister Ludwig is going to meet with the Lord Mayor to discuss these matters and I think it would have been better if he had met with the Lord Mayor or the Lord Mayor had refrained from his commentary until we had a sensible, detailed conversation with Minister Ludwig. I'm not going to let politics,

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

I'm not going to let politics get in the way of….

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]…you're still saying the door is still open…

TREASURER:

No, no it's clearly… The Lord Mayor has said that clearly that it is outside the guidelines. He is the one that has said that Riverwalk and his ferry terminals are outside the guidelines

JOURNALIST:

Well he's saying it's a pathway, its s walkway so therefore it should qualify even though it's floating. But [Inaudible] it's in effect a pathway.  

TREASURER:

No, what I am saying is that we have conversations with the Brisbane City Council and other councils right around the country about those items which are not within in the guidelines and the extent to which we can or can't provide support. I've not closed the door on this matter with the Lord Mayor despite all of his statements publicly because he has yet to sit down with Minister Ludwig and discuss these issues. He was making public statements about these matters before his list had even arrived with the Prime Minister. What I'm saying is, let's get rid of the politics in this. Let's just sit down and sensibly sort it out. That's what we're going to do. I don't want to be having a public debate with the Lord Mayor about these matters.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]… should the walkway be rebuilt with a combination of Federal, State and local government funding?

PREMIER:

What I'm confident of is that these recent events have affected not only the city of Brisbane and the Brisbane City Council but more than 50 councils right across Queensland. And every one of those are asking for consideration for assistance in restoring some infrastructure that doesn't qualify under existing guidelines. And as I've said publically, I think some of those things should be considered by both the Federal and State Government. But I've also said that these things require patience, cooperation and goodwill. And turning them into a slanging match, I don't think is helpful and I don't think it's in the spirit of cooperation and goodwill that saw us get through the emergency together. We need to work in the recovery together. I give this commitment to the other mayors of Queensland that they will get equal opportunities to talk through these issues as those mayors in the South East who are making a lot of noise right now.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]… How long will it take to actually make the decision? I mean the Mayor goes on about he needs budget certainty not knowing where money is going to come from ….he's slashing projects. How long will it take to actually rule in it in or out?

TREASURER:

It won't take that long. 

JOURNALIST:

Are we talking weeks, Treasurer?

TREASURER:

We're talking, we're talking a relatively short period of time. We're working our way through these issues. I mean the problem we had is, the Lord Mayor was making statements about these issue before his earlier list, which doesn't contain a lot of detail, was even in the hands of the Prime Minister. So it's pretty hard to sit down and commence a detailed conversation where you're looking at a list of projects and talking about it without even having that material.  So Minster Ludwig is going to meet with the Lord Mayor to discuss these issues as the Commonwealth and State Governments are talking to local councils right throughout Queensland and right throughout Australia who have issues in this area. But as people who are responsible for the expenditure of public money, where there is great need, not just in Brisbane but right across this state and in other parts of the country, we have a responsibility to do this in a responsible, methodical way. We don't want to do it in a political way. From our point of view, we have ignored some of the more extreme statements of the Lord Mayor and got on with the job of sorting out issues such as the issues in Far North Queensland that we've been talking about today and we'll continue to work like that because it's in the interests of all of those people whose lives have been shattered and businesses that have been hit that we work together, not against each other.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

It hasn't affected our attitude to what we must do.  Anyone that is in public life, who has been to these communities, whether it's in Brisbane, Ipswich, whether it's in Tully or wherever, Grantham. We absolutely understand that we've got a responsibility to do the right thing by these communities, to put people first, to provide the assistance that we have in a timely responsible way. That's what we're going to do, that's why we haven't actually responded to the Lord Mayor in the way in which he has been responding to us.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree that water and sewage infrastructure should be included?

TREASURER:

Well these are issues that will be worked through between the Federal Government, the State Government and local authorities. There is clearly in some areas an issue where some of these matters are not covered by existing disaster relief arrangements. And what I've said and I'll say it again, is that we'll work our way through these issues. There is not a blank cheque here. There is a limited amount of money which has to go to those in the greatest need and we're going to operate on that principle.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

Cleary, this involves a person that was employed in 1997,  a time when we weren't even in government. He's been working under a false identity. And I think it does show that when people are determined to evade the law that they can be very difficult to trace. Thankfully there has been no incidents that I am aware of that has involved this person and he is now back in custody where he belongs.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

This person was employed before the criminal history checking. Sorry. This person was employed by another government a long time ago before the criminal history checking that our government put in place became part of normal employment practice. These are the sorts of issues that drove us in the first place to put these very strict requirements in place. But I am very pleased to say that this person is back in custody where he belongs.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

Look I can't speculate about that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

Well, my understanding is that he would have had to provide proof of identity in relation to the criminal history checking. My view that would have likely turned up that he was using a false identity. But I can't guarantee that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER: 

He was employed in 1997 before we were in Government. I don't think you can imagine that in 1997 without any criminal history checking. And I make no criticism of that government. It was not something that was part of standard employment practise then, not only here or anywhere in Australia. And clearly he got in through that loophole. The reason why we have changed the arrangements is so that we can tighten those loopholes. When people are absolutely determined to be criminals and do the wrong thing, they will find ways sometimes that no government can close off. But we have now the tightest employment checking I think anywhere in Australia, and certainly it would have made, in my view, a very big difference in this case if that had applied. This is something, as I said, something that happened 14, 15 years ago and I'm pleased to know he is in custody where he belongs.

JOURNALIST:  

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

The rural package that we've put together today for those affected by Cyclone Yasi is very much focused on keeping jobs in the region. We are talking about literally thousands of people who are employed in fruit picking and other rural jobs. The Farm Clean program, the package, is a $20 million package, $10 million from the state, $10 million from the Federal Government. The Farm Clean program for example will keep those people on farms working until crops can be harvested.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PREMIER:

Without doubt these economies are going to take a hit and there will be job losses. These packages are aimed at minimising that and we're determined to save every possible job that we can. Until we get the packages on the ground and people make decisions themselves about whether they stay and take up those opportunities, it's not possible to put a number on that. But what Government is doing is the best programs that we know worked in Cyclone Larry and we hope that they will work equally well or better in this case because we've go them on the ground sooner than we did with that event.