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

28 January 2013

Doorstop Interview

Brisbane

SUBJECTS: Queensland communities being affected by flooding and storms

TREASURER:

I've just come from a meeting of officials who have provided an update on what has occurred across the State and particularly across the south-east over the last 24 hours. I'll leave it to the Premier to give a detailed account of all of that. But I do think it is important to give you some of my perspectives and give you an indication of what the Federal Government is doing in cooperation with the State Government and local government authorities. And of course, the full resources of our Defence Force are on standby and they have now been deployed in a number of locations. Yesterday helicopters were deployed to the Bundaberg area, two more have been deployed today and two have also been deployed to meet the previous helicopters coming from Townsville. So the Defence Forces certainly stand ready to assist wherever it is required.

This morning I went out to Goodna to talk to some of the residents who were evacuating homes that were flooded back in 2011. And what I out there at least warmed my heart, that is, the 'Mud Army' had re-emerged. I saw walking down the street a number of people that came up to me and said: "We're the Western Mud Army and we're back" and they were back to help people to evacuate their homes. So if some good comes out of the events of the last 24 hours is that our fellow citizens are out there offering a helping hand. Because many people who were flooded only two years ago must be very distraught at the prospect of this happening again. I think when those winds were howling through Brisbane last night a lot of people didn't get a lot of sleep, and it does rekindle the memories that people have of two years ago.

And of course elsewhere in the State there are particular towns which have been flooded more than twice in the last couple of years - businesses that have been washed out, homes which have been hit - and I'm sure that just simply breaks the hearts of so many people who have been affected in that way that it's very important they know that the full resources of Government and the full resources of the community are getting behind the effort to basically evacuate people, but also know that we are there for the rebuilding.

JOURNALIST:

From the 2011 situation do you think there have been some lessons that have been learnt to rebuild from this current crisis?

TREASURER:

Absolutely. Whether it's the state of technology that all of the officials use which we've seen deployed in this episode, I think the authorities have learnt an enormous amount coming out of the events of 2011 and I think all of that wisdom has now been deployed in the response which has been put together centrally here. But never forget, it's not just what happens in this building, it is what the SES volunteers do, it's what the local government representatives do, it is what the police do, it's what the fireys do out on the ground. And we, of course, learned a lot federally. As you might recall back in 2011 there was a massive deployment of armed forces, in particular to assist in what was then the biggest natural disaster in Australian history. So I think we have learnt a lot from that, but there will always be situations which are different. For example, the situation now in Bundaberg, I'm told by people up there that this likely to be the worst in their history in terms of the level of the river and that is posing some very special challenges up in that region. There are also some challenges in the Somerset region as well. So, some parts may well be worse affected than back in 2011. But what we need to do is to basically plan what we do and work with local communities.

JOURNALIST:

It's not 2011 yet, but it is extraordinary. Are there any thoughts to a flood levy?

TREASURER:

Look, it is far too early to be talking about the recovery phase of what occurs here. We're in the emergency phase right now where we have to absolutely concentrate on saving lives and on saving property. We have processes which we will put in place which will deal with the recovery phase. It's far too early to be talking about putting dollars and numbers down on a piece of paper. What we're really concerned with at the moment is making sure that lives are saved and that property is saved.

JOURNALIST:

You have to pay for the damage though?

TREASURER:

Certainly. That will all be accounted for and put in place in time as we go through the recovery. But let's just deal with the here and now. I mean, lives are at risk, property is at risk and that is what the focus of everybody is on right now.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, surely you must be concerned about how we're going to pay for it and the cost of it?

TREASURER:

That is indeed my responsibility and as we go through planning the recovery all of that will be done. But right now, I've just come out of a meeting talking about where the flashpoints are, what the authorities need to do, how do we deploy the resources that are required. And the bottom line there isn't the number of dollars that it costs. The bottom line there is the lives that will be saved and the property that will be protected and the communities that will be preserved. That's where we are right now and that's where we should be.

JOURNALIST:

Granted that though, but you are the Treasurer. Julia Gillard has said that there's going to be more of these types of disasters with climate change. Is it time to get a really significant disaster fund so you don't have to ask the question about the flood levy or even worry about (inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well, I just answered that question. What we're going to concentrate on right now is the emergency phase, and as we go through the recovery there will be a full discussion about all of those issues. But my focus now is not just as the Treasurer or as the Deputy Prime Minister, it's a focus on our local communities, our neighbours, who are threatened in a number of places across the State and the last thing that we're looking at the moment is having a debate about the future of public policy in a particular area. I could talk a lot if you like about the impact of extreme whether events, how they've become more frequent and what that may mean for the future of public policy, but today or tomorrow isn't the time for that discussion, although it's a discussion I'm very happy to have.

JOURNALIST:

With the briefing you've just been in, did it appear to be better than hoped or is it a worsening situation?

TREASURER:

Look, it varies around the State. I'll leave it to the Premier to go through the detail region by region. But people are concerned about rising water levels, particularly in the Bundaberg area. Also there is concern about what is happening in parts of the Lockyer Valley and the Somerset. There is concern in the Ipswich area and in parts of Brisbane as to what the river levels may get to. But we haven't got there yet. People are now evacuating in case the worst happens. So some of these are events are still unfolding.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask you, did you happen to watch or read Tony Abbott's speech yesterday and it was the suggestion in his 50 page policy document that they may not be able to achieve a surplus either if they were to win the election?

TREASURER:

Well look, I do note that was delivered yesterday but I was busy on the flood response in Queensland, and I do note that some commentary has been made again today by Mr Abbott. I think that we ought to put all of that to one side. Our focus ought to be on these emergencies which are unfolding across our State. I think it's highly inappropriate to be getting stuck into that political debate whilst at the same time we're putting all of our energy into saving lives and looking after communities. So I don't intend to buy into that. There's a time and place for those debates and today is neither the time nor the place for that sort of discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Are you expecting (inaudible) Julia Gillard to visit Queensland?

TREASURER:

Well, I've spoken regularly to Julia Gillard, to the Prime Minister, about these issues over the past 24 - 48 hours and I'll continue to do that. The most important thing here isn't the visits - I'm sure the Prime Minister will be here. The most important thing is to get the response right on the ground. But I spoke to her earlier, she's spoken to the Premier on a number of occasions, and indeed today she's actually down in Victoria looking at the savage impact of the fires, which just gives you a contrast if you like, of what happens across our great nation and the extremes that you can get from one end of the country to the other.