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

22 April 2011

Doorstop Interview

Cairns

22 April 2011

SUBJECTS: Cyclone Yasi recovery and reconstruction; Cairns' economy; Road safety at Easter; Villawood Detention Centre; Budget 2011; Mining in Mackay

TREASURER:

I want to talk about a couple of things this morning. I've just had a meeting with Superintendant Mike Keating who is of course the North Queensland Director of the Reconstruction Authority, about the state of progress on the reconstruction of all of those areas devastated by Cyclone Yasi. I do also want to say a few things more generally about tourism and the Cairns region. But it's a really important opportunity today to hear from [Superintendant] Keating and to get a report from him about the progress that we are making in terms of the reconstruction of all of those areas which have been so damaged by Cyclone Yasi.

I don't think Australians fully appreciate just how significant Cyclone Yasi was and the scope and nature of the damage that has been caused particularly in those communities to the south of Cairns. And progress has been made, but there's a lot more work that needs to be done.

So this morning I spoke to [Superintendant] Keating about the support for local Government in the region. I spoke to him about the support for small businesses, how many farmers, how many small businesses have been receiving additional support by way of loans and also other support measures for the business community. And more generally I spoke to him about the community and how it is feeling and what more needs to be done. And of course, more does need to be done.

It's going to take some time for these communities to be rebuilt and some time for them to recover, but I just want to assure all of those people that are living in the areas south of Cairns that the Federal Government stands by them and stands with them. We made an additional announcement in the last week for additional support over and above that that had been announced some months ago. So we are committed to seeing it through and resolving all of the difficult issues that arise from time to time when people have lost their homes on the one hand or had their businesses severely damaged on the other. We simply cannot solve all of these challenges overnight.

Now, of course all of this has been visited on this region at a time when the Global Financial Crisis had also had a substantial impact, particularly on tourism. Then we had the bad weather, we had Cyclone Yasi, and of course, now we have a higher dollar and that does pose substantial challenges for business in this region.

When I was out walking this morning, for example, along the Esplanade I was approached by a lady who is a small business woman in the area and I talked to her about how our stimulus measures during the Global Financial Crisis and the global recession had kept her business and businesses like hers open in this town, and she appreciated the support that had been given and how important that was. That just reinforces in my mind that we need, particularly in the context of this years Budget, to make sure that we get our economic settings right so we can continue the overall strength of the Australian economy.

But we do know that it is regions like Cairns that are part of what is a patchwork economy. And whilst the economy overall is growing strongly, not all regions are growing at the same pace and the Federal Government does absolutely understand that things around here have been a lot slower than they have been in many other parts of the country. That's one of the reasons for being here this weekend, to show support for the region, to tell the rest of the country and indeed the rest of the world that they are open for business in Far North Queensland – a fantastic product. And indeed I've run into a couple of people today even in the hotel who have been responding to the advertising and the calls for people to come to the region. So that campaign is beginning to work, but much more needs to be done.

For me it's also a bit of an opportunity just to catch up as well with my family over Easter and they're certainly enjoying the visit. We certainly enjoyed our visit last night to the 'Green Ant', but there are plenty of other cultural attractions we hope to take in while we're here.

And just a final message for all of those that are out on the roads this Easter - please, please be very careful.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Keating's report, what did that bring to light that wasn't previously known?

TREASURER:

I wanted to get an update on what's going on, what he's hearing, his discussions with local business people, local government people, people in the community, MPs and so on. He pointed out, for example, that one of the great frustrations that everybody is having has been the fact there has been so much rain in the area since the cyclone and that in itself has been a bit of a handbrake on development. I also talked to him about how we could progress those people who are unhappy with what was going on with their insurance claims and we're certainly happy to follow up examples of that. I talked to him about the numbers of people that are in receipt of government loans particularly for small businesses that have been substantially damaged and many hundreds of those applications have already been approved and more are in the processing. I spoke to him about all of those issues as well.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, could I just ask you some questions from Canberra please? The first one is, have you been briefed on the 22 detainees that have been taken to Silverwater for questioning and can you tell us about the briefing please?

TREASURER:

Well, what I can tell you is that 22 of those who are suspected of causing damage at the centre are now being questioned at Silverwater Jail. That is as it should be. This sort of behaviour is absolutely unacceptable. The Federal Police moved in, removed those suspects and they are now being questioned.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott says those rioters should be prosecuted and sent home. Is that an appropriate course of action?

TREASURER:

Well, they will certainly feel the full force of the law.

JOURNALIST:

Does the Government accept it has to change its policy on this?

TREASURER:

Well, the people that have been protesting are people who have been rejected, their claims have been rejected, that is the principle reason that I understand why these people have behaved in such an unacceptable way. They have been rejected, and of course, they have now possibly engaged in behaviour which may break Australian laws - they should feel the full force of Australian law.

JOURNALIST:

The Greens say that the Government should take back running the detention centres rather than the private operator Serco. Is that a consideration that the Government is looking at?

TREASURER:

It is not a consideration, the fact is that we have had unacceptable behaviour from people who have been rejected, have had their claims rejected, and that is why we have seen this behaviour, and now they should feel the full force of the law.

JOURNALIST:

But is Serco doing a good enough job? I mean, we had this at Christmas Island and now at Villawood –

TREASURER:

Well, these are all matters for the independent inquiry which the Minister has announced in relation to Christmas Island and that will be extended to these matters and we will take very seriously the outcome of that process.

JOURNALIST:

On the face of it, is Serco doing a good enough job?

TREASURER:

Well, we'll see the results of the inquiry and then we'll act.

JOURNALIST:

Townsville has been promised has been promised that in the Budget there'll be money to complete its ring road. What's going to be in the budget for Cairns?

TREASURER:

Well, there's an enormous amount in the Budget for Cairns and I've been talking to [Superintendent] Keating about a lot of that today. An enormous amount of money currently coming into the region being invested in infrastructure, tens and tens of millions of dollars already flowing. There is also many other projects in this region for which there have been substantial amounts of money, and that flows now.

JOURNALIST:

Are you satisfied with the security outsourcing arrangements at Villawood and the other facilities?

TREASURER:

Well, I just answered that question before.

JOURNALIST:

Sarah Hanson-Young is introducing a private members bill that would impose limits on the amount of time that detainees can spend in detention. Is that something the Government would support?

TREASURER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

What new promises are we going to see for Cairns?

TREASURER:

Well, can I just make this point - the most important approach that a local community can expect from a Government is to be there when they're needed and to act when they're requested. The Federal Government has been on the ground providing support in this region every day since Cyclone Yasi hit, and prior to that we made very substantial commitments to infrastructure in the region. They are being delivered now, they will continue to be delivered, that's the way we operate. Thanks.

JOURNALIST:

Just one more question for Mackay. There are several new mines starting up down there. You know, would that be a boost to their economy?

TREASURER:

It's a great to the economy of Mackay and the region. It's a great boost to Queensland and it's a great boost to Australia.