SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
GRAHAM PERRETT MP
MEMBER FOR MORETON
THURSDAY, 3 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government sending public servants to help flood victims in LNP seats but not Labor seats; using disaster recovery to sandbag LNP seats; Scott Morrison’s $4.8 billion Emergency Response Fund.
GRAHAM PERRETT, MEMBER FOR MORETON: Hi, I'm Graham Perrett, the Federal member for Moreton. We're here on the Corso alongside the Brisbane River in Yeronga waiting to see a federal government that actually delivers for my community. I say that because we've got an Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who says it's “ridiculous” for people to try and politicise the fact that there's no Centrelink people being sent to Moreton, or Griffith, or Rankin, or Oxley, which is ridiculous.
I was with Barnaby Joyce a decade ago on the banks of the Balonne River out in St. George, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier Anna Bligh. They didn't say we won't turn up to the safest National Party seat in Australia, they just turned up when a disaster occurred. Now Barnaby Joyce is Acting Prime Minister, he can pick up the phone right now and make sure Centrelink people appear in my electorate to help people who don't have power, who don't have Wi Fi, who don't have the ability to fill out these disaster forms online. He needs to send real people with compassion to my electorate during a disaster. It's ridiculous to suggest that this hasn't been politicised by the government. I've been around politics for a decade or two. I've seen some dog acts but this is the lowest dog act ever. Seriously, Barnaby Joyce, pick up the phone and send some Centrelink people into my electorate.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks everyone for coming today. It's good to join my mate Graham Perrett in what literally is a disaster zone here in Yeronga. As is the case in so much of Southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales. And I want to say on behalf of everyone in Queensland, we're really thinking of people in New South Wales who are about to go through or have gone through exactly the same weather system that we've seen in Queensland over the last few days. We've seen terrible wreckage, not just in Queensland, but also in northern New South Wales and I know Sydney and areas around it face some really difficult situations today. So our best wishes and please stay safe.
Obviously, though, in Queensland, we are now moving into recovery phase. And if you look around here, you can see rubbish piling up on people's footpaths, furniture that's destroyed, all sorts of other stuff and, and scenes like that are all around Southeast Queensland at the moment as people begin to clean up. So what we've got is residents and homeowners doing their bit to help with their recovery. And the only people missing now are the Federal Government. We have been calling for a couple of days now on the Federal Government to get Services Australia or Centrelink staff out into flood zones so that they can help fast track the disaster payments that people need so desperately. And we were all disgusted to see yesterday that the government has chosen some locations about where it's putting Services Australia staff. But mysteriously, they've decided not to bother sending anyone to the four Labor held electorates on the south side of the Brisbane River that have been absolutely smashed by these floods. So the electorates of Griffith, Moreton, Oxley and Rankin, some of the worst affected areas in the state from these floods, and there is not a single official from the Federal Government on the ground helping people process their payments. Now the government says that's fine, because people can go online and lodge their claims there. Well, all you’ve got to do, if you actually bothered to get out of Canberra and have a look around is that there are people who still don't have power, they can't charge an iPhone, they can't charge a computer. A lot of them have lost their technology in these floods. It is completely unrealistic and out of touch to think that people can just go through the usual online system. We need boots on the ground, we need people on the ground helping people process these payments.
What's even worse, though, is that there really does seem to have been some political intervention in how these Services Australia teams, staff, have been allocated. What we learned yesterday is that while four Labor held electorates in southeast Queensland are not getting a single Services Australia person, the marginal electorate of Longman has got three different teams being sent to it. Now we don't begrudge people in Longman getting help, they need help. But so do people on the south side of the Brisbane River as well, no matter who they vote for. The bottom line is that the Federal Government should be providing support to people based on need, not on how they vote. That continues this practice of this government to make political decisions based on colour coded spreadsheets rather than actually working out where the need is. Now, I know the government is doing its best to sandbag its own seats. But come on, if you're going to be talking about sandbagging, that's what you do before a disaster, not after a disaster, in terms of how you allocate your resources. The idea that you sandbag your own seats when it comes to disaster recovery is disgusting. And we need the government to reverse this decision today and put people out on the ground.
Now, I've seen that the Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds has responded to Labor's call by doing what Morrison Government Ministers always do when they get into strife. And that's that they turn around and they blame the State Government. This pavlovian response you see from Morrison Government Ministers, that whenever they get into trouble for things that are their responsibility, who do they blame, they blame State Governments, even when it is 100% their responsibility. Linda Reynolds has tried to say that she can only send these staff from Services Australia to State Government-chosen evacuation centres. Well the first mistake in what Linda Reynolds is saying is that it's not State Governments who choose evacuation centres. They are chosen by local governments. So she's wrong to blame the State Governments for that. But the even bigger mistake that she's making is that she's forgetting she is the Federal Minister for Government Services. It is entirely Linda Reynolds’ decision, a Federal Government decision, where Services Australia staff get sent to help people recovering from these floods. After the Black Summer bushfires, after some prodding from Labor, we saw Services Australia put teams out into all sorts of parts of the bushfire affected communities, not just evacuation centres. All Linda Reynolds has to do today is pick up the phone and ask her Services Australia representatives to send teams into flood affected communities, wherever they are. They don't have to be in evacuation centres, they can be in community centres, they can be on the side of the road, anywhere where they can actually help people. So Linda Reynolds is wrong. She's trying to blame the State Government for her own mistakes. And she's continuing to ignore people in Labor held seats south of the Brisbane River who desperately need help right now.
I might just take the opportunity also to make a couple of remarks about the Emergency Response Fund because I know this is of interest to many people out there. I think there are people all across flood zones in Queensland and New South Wales who are scratching their heads asking themselves, why does Scott Morrison and his government continue to sit on a fund that is now approaching $5 billion in worth, that could have been funding disaster mitigation that would have helped with these floods, and also could be helping right now with disaster recovery? Every time we have asked the government about this, they come up with a new excuse for why they can't use this nearly $5 billion fund to help Australians, rather than help their own budget bottom line. I have been asking questions about this Emergency Response Fund in Senate Estimates, in parliament, in the media, in other forums for nearly two and a half years, to try to get to the bottom of why this government is just setting up the world's biggest piggy bank that grows and grows and grows to help the Morrison Government's bottom line, but does nothing to help Australians. There is nothing stopping the Federal Government using the Emergency Response Fund right now to assist people who are trying to recover from these floods and there is also nothing that to have stopped the Morrison Government from using this fund to put in place flood mitigation and other disaster mitigation at any point over the last three years. As I have said many times, this fund has been established now for three years, we have gone through three disaster seasons since this fund was established. It has not spent a cent on disaster recovery, and it has still not built a single flood or other disaster mitigation project. We can only ask ourselves what difference would it have made if Scott Morrison and his government had pulled their fingers out, used these funds that were set up for this purpose, and put in place flood levees, drainage systems and other things that would have kept people safe, kept property safe and save taxpayers the billions of dollars that we now know we're going to face to repair from this disaster. It is not good enough to have Scott Morrison and his team just go out and make big announcements about big new funds that they never actually deliver. Nothing happens until projects get delivered. There is no benefit from this fund to Australians until projects get delivered and it's used for disaster recovery. The time for games, the time for excuses is over. We need to see this government use these funds that were set up for this purpose.