SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
WEDNESDAY, 9 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s visit to Lismore shouldn’t be stage managed; flood victims feeling abandoned; Morrison’s claims about army support not backed up by reality; Morrison Government MIA again; Labor’s plan to invest up to $200 million per year on disaster mitigation will protect people and help with insurance premiums
STEVE PRICE, HOST: Who's up there is Murray Watt, the Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management. I presume you're still you're still in Lismore, Murray.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Yeah I am, Steve. This is my third day here.
PRICE: What do you make of the fact the PM will be there today?
WATT: Well, I think it is a good thing that he comes and I think that everyone understands he has been locked up with COVID. But everyone in the community I talk to just keep saying “Where is the government?” I think everyone understands his personal situation, but there's nothing that stopped him picking up a phone at any point over the last week to get the Federal resources in here, that are so desperately needed. People felt completely abandoned during the floods themselves when, you know, people had to get out their own tinnies to rescue each other without enough government support. And now they feel completely abandoned when it comes to the clean up and the recovery as well. You know, there are army resources here, I've seen them with my own eyes, but there is nowhere near enough. And the numbers that the government keeps putting around claiming that they have here just aren't backed up by reality. Every few blocks you see a few soldiers there and they're doing a great job but they need to be on every block. The entire CBD of Lismore has been completely wiped out. There's over 2000 homes that are uninhabitable. And at the same time, the Morrison government is just completely missing in action. You know, as I say, this is my third day here. I haven't seen a single federal government minister on the ground. I haven't seen a single senior federal official here coordinating anything, delivering support to people and people are angry about it. So you know, it's good that he's turning up, but he'd better have a big cheque book and he better have some ideas of how he's going to help people.
PRICE: On the resources question. I mean, clearly, you can't have an SES crew on every corner. You can't have someone protecting every house. It's a once in a 100 year flood event. It was expected to be 12 meters went to 14. We all know that. And so people, obviously Australians all kick in to help each other when you have a problem like that. Lismore is a town of proud locals. We could have poured resources in the moment it happened and I presume that's what has happened, has it not? I mean, I know the area is widely spread and you've got places like Coraki and places up there near Murwillumbah, they’re quite remote. Is it a reasonable thing to think that you could get someone that everybody?
WATT: Well, I think that people do see the enormous range of options that the federal government has, whether it be through the army, through the National Recovery Agency. There's all sorts of different payment systems and resources that the federal government has. And I do think that people expect that after they suffer this kind of natural disaster, that the government is going to be standing with them. And I think that's the frustration people feel, is that they've been completely left to themselves, whether it be during the rescue itself or afterwards. You know, there's stories of people having to crowdfund helicopters so they can go and perform rescues themselves or drop food to locations. So I think that people expect that when we've got, you know, these army resources or other resources that they'll be used for these kind of situations. And I just don't think people want to see a Prime Minister or a government that goes missing when the going gets tough. They want them right by their side because it gives people hope as well. If people feel that they've got their government backing them and standing with them, and really visible through this, then that gives them hope to push on themselves. Because every person I speak to, whether I'm cleaning up myself or just walking the streets, talking to people, they're exhausted. They've been doing this for over a week now and they look over their shoulder and they don't see anyone from the government there helping them.
PRICE: Do you think you would have done a better job if you were in government?
WATT: Well, one of the things I think we would have done differently is invest in disaster mitigation properly. And, Steve, I think you and spoke about this last week, about that fund that Scott Morrison has been sitting on, that's nearly $5 billion now, the Emergency Response Fund. And you know, we've already said in the run up to this election that if we're elected, we'll invest up to $200 million a year in flood mitigation, bushfire prevention, cyclone shelters, flood levees, drainage systems, those kinds of things. Because we know that we're going to be facing more natural disasters in the future. And, in fact, the scientists tell us they're probably going to be more intense than what we're seeing at the moment. So, you know, we just haven't seen that level of investment. And as I said to you last week, this government has had three years to use these funds to put in place some of the things that could have protected people now. So I think that we would have done a better job of it, because we were taking these issues seriously, we've put forward policies, you know, that would make a difference. And, and I've been calling on the government to do this now for well over two years. So yeah, I mean, you know, no one's perfect. I'm not saying we would have been perfect, but I think those sort of investments would have gone a long way to keeping people safe, keeping properties safe and reduce the huge bill the taxpayers are going to face in terms of repair costs.
PRICE: You're ready to have a battle with the Greens over flood mitigation and building dams and levees?
WATT: We are. I think the practicalities are that flood levees do make a difference in a lot of locations. And you know, Lismore had a flood levee but this flood was so big that it overwhelmed it. But I've seen other parts of Queensland and New South Wales that have built flood levees that have kept people safe in these sort of situations. They can also make a really big difference when it comes to insurance costs for people. In Roma, in southwest Queensland, when a flood levee was built there it actually really brought down people's insurance costs. So it's a good, sort of, cost of living, hip pocket thing to do as well. So you know, we're not necessarily going to put up a flood levee in every river or dam every river. Of course, you don't need to do that. But where these things can make a difference, I think we do need to be thinking about protecting our people.
PRICE: Just finally, and I congratulate you for being there and being a voice for asking for more help. Would you urge the people of Lismore, despite the fact that their nerves are frayed, they are on the edge, many of them have lost their businesses, their homes, and their future seems very bleak. Would you urge them to be respectful of the PM today, not heckling?
WATT: Yeah, well, I'm obviously not going to encourage anyone to go out and abuse any public figure or anyone for that matter. You know, I try to treat people pretty respectfully in my own dealings, whether they be the Prime Minister or the person on the street. But I think the problem for Scott Morrison is going to be that, you know, whatever I say or whatever you say, people are angry. And I think it's going to be interesting to see how stage managed his visit is. If he's actually willing to get out there and talk to real people I think he's going to face some real anger. If he, if he decides to do a stage managed visit, where he only surrounds himself with his supporters, he might get away with it. But I think he's got to face up to people. And he's got to give them hope and he's got to assure them that he's going to be standing with them, now that he's actually there on the ground.
PRICE: Yeah, well, I think to his credit, Dominic Perrottet actually did talk to people.
WATT: I'll give Dominic Perrottet credit for turning up, facing the anger, dealing with people and as I say to you, I think Bridget McKenzie flew through the other day, but there just hasn't been federal government ministers doing the same thing. So at least Perrottet showed up and let’s hope today is a bit of a change from Scott Morrison and his government.
PRICE: Nice to talk to again, get back in touch if there's anything else we can do to help to alert people what's needed.
WATT: Thanks mate.