SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
MEMBER FOR LINGIARI
SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY
LABOR SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LINGIARI
TUESDAY, 15 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Announcement of cyclone shelters for the Northern Territory from Labor's Disaster Ready Fund, the Government's failed $4.8 billion Emergency Reaponse Fund, defence in Northern Australia, Zachary Rolfe decision.
MARION SCRYMGOUR, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LINGIARI: Thank you for coming. Today we're announcing some important pieces of infrastructure, particularly for those coastal communities that live in particularly cyclonic conditions. We know that it's been the infrastructure that's been needed for a long time. And I'm proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that will commit the needed and necessary funds to be able to make sure that these shelters, which are critical and essential input pieces of infrastructure in those communities can be committed to today. So thank you for coming. And it's great to be joined by Murray Watt, who is the Shadow Minister for developing the north, and also for disaster relief. And also Tim Ayres, who's a Senator for New South Wales. And of course, our very own senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy. So we're going out to Maningrida, we’ll talk to the community. And certainly, you know, a cyclone shelter has been something that that community has talked about for a long time. So it'll be fantastic to go out there and talk to them about that piece of infrastructure today. So thank you.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT: Well, thanks very much, Marion. It's a pleasure to join you here in Darwin, having spent a couple of days with you, Tim Ayres and Warren Snowdon in Alice Springs, meeting with business leaders, First Nations communities leaders and community leaders in Alice Springs to understand better some of the challenges facing Central Australia as well.
But today, of course, Marion, Malarndirri, Tim and I will be heading out to Maningrida to make a really important announcement for the top end of the Northern Territory and particularly for some remote Indigenous communities that have missed out on support under the current Morrison government. What we'll be announcing today is that an Albanese Labor Government will contribute towards the building of two cyclone shelters in Arnhem Land. An Albanese Labor Government will contribute $5 million to help build a cyclone shelter in Maningrida, and also one in Milingimbi. Now anyone who knows anything about this part of the world knows that these two communities are cyclone prone. They are coastal communities, at the very northern end of our country, and regularly are in the pathway of dangerous cyclones. And in recent years, both of these communities have experienced significant damage from category four and category five cyclones. We know that as a result of climate change, we are likely to see more frequent and more intense cyclones and other natural disasters in the future. And we owe it to all Australians, no matter who they are, no matter where they live, to make sure that we are planning for the future, and investing now to prepare communities for the natural disasters that we know are coming. And that's the reason that we're going to be making this announcement today.
Now, in terms of the funding source, there's been a lot of debate over the last couple of weeks, particularly in the wake of the Queensland and New South Wales floods about Scott Morrison's failed Emergency Response fund. This fund was set up by the Morison Government three years ago, with $4 billion in it at the time, and it was set up so that it could spend up to $200 million a year on disaster recovery and disaster mitigation to prevent damage from natural disasters. But we're now here in our third disaster season since that fund was established, it has not built or even started building a single disaster mitigation project, and it has not spent a cent on disaster recovery in three years. In fact, the only thing Scott Morrison's Emergency Response Fund has done is earn his government over $800 million in interest. So this fund is now approaching $5 billion in value with not a thing to show for it. Much like the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, one of the other Morrison Government's failed funds that should be delivering to Northern Australia. So in January this year, Labor leader Anthony Albanese announced that if we do form government, we are going to revamp this failed fund and put it to work to benefit Australians to protect them from future natural disasters. And what Albo’s said was that we will turn this fund into a dedicated, permanent, ongoing disaster ready fund that will invest up to $200 million per year in disaster mitigation, building things like cyclone shelters, flood levees, drainage improvements, bushfire evacuation centres, telecommunications improvements, all the kinds of things that we know make a real difference to keeping Australians safe during natural disasters, keeping their property safe, and reducing the billions of dollars that taxpayers have to spend every single disaster season repairing the damage. So we think it's about time these funds got put to use for taxpayers and for Australians, rather than helping prop up Scott Morrison's budget bottom line. And that's why we're making this announcement. For two cyclone shelters, which will really provide the kind of protection that people in these Arnhem Land communities desperately need.
We've come up with this policy in consultation with the Northern Territory Government who have identified the need for greater investment in cyclones shoulders. We've consulted with the relevant local governments as well. And I do want to pay tribute to the advocacy of Malarndirri, of Warren and Marion, in making sure that the need for these kinds of cyclone shelters in remote communities is brought to the attention of Anthony Albanese and to our front branch in general.
JOURNALIST: What would an Anthony Albanese government do to fix the standard of housing?
WATT: You're absolutely right. The standard of housing in remote Indigenous communities in our country is despicable. It is a national disgrace that so many First Nations people live in incredible overcrowding, in squalid conditions, which I've seen with my own eyes, in Cape York, in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. And the fact that this government is now coming up to a decade in office and leaving those conditions in place is a national disgrace. It was something that was high on the agenda in our meetings in Alice Springs over the last couple of days. In terms of what Labor would do, we have already committed that if we're elected, we would establish a new Housing Australia Fund, which would significantly lift investment in both social housing and affordable housing, as well as inject hundreds of millions more dollars into the maintenance of remote Indigenous housing. I've been to communities where we have literally 20 odd 30 odd people living in our three bedroom house. And this is during COVID when people have been encouraged to socially distance. We know that there is a very clear link between the overcrowding of homes in Indigenous communities and high rates of rheumatic heart disease and many other health problems. So that's why Labor has made this commitment to significantly increase in social and public housing and the maintenance of remote Indigenous housing as well.
JOURNALIST: If a Labor government is elected, how quickly would we see these cyclone shelters built?
WATT: Look, we'd like to get on with it as quickly as possible. Obviously, the election won't be till May, there'll be a time of swearing in and all those kinds of things. And I'm not going to promise that we can have these up and running for the coming disaster season. It obviously takes time to build things in Northern Australia as well. But we'll be getting on with it as quickly as we possibly can through negotiation with the Northern Territory Government because we know that cyclones are an annual event here and the sooner we can get them built, the better. I mean, just the fact that this is needed, again, highlights the fact that the Morrison Government has had this Emergency Response Fund for three years. There have been three disaster seasons where the government could have used those funds to build cyclone shelters here, to build flood levees and other things as well. So Labor wants to take a different approach of getting that money out on the ground as quickly as possible so that we can have these things up and running.
JOURNALIST: The federal government announced last week, an increase in 1800 Defence Force personnel. Inaudible. Do you think they've got the balance?
WATT: I think that all of us who watched Australia's strategic environment know that Northern Australia, including Darwin, and the Northern Territory as a whole, is a key place that we need to see an increase in defence investment. That's something that Labor has called for for a long time. We welcome the fact that the government has talked about increasing the size of our defence force, we note that the promises they've made won't actually be reached until 2040. So it's another example of Scott Morrison making commitments that are way down in time. But an increased Defence Force both around the country and particularly here in Darwin is very important for our national security going forward.
JOURNALIST: So would a Labor government look at those numbers and adjusting them?
WATT: We have already committed to a review of what people in the trade call our defence posture, about where we locate troops, the size of those trip deployments, the infrastructure and other capability that needs to sit behind them. So we will be taking advice from the defence forces about those matters. As I say, all I can really say is that we absolutely recognise the importance of Darwin and Northern Australia as a whole. I've spent time with defence and naval troops here in Darwin. And I understand that we do face many strategic challenges from our north, and that's why this is such an important place to see that investment.
JOURNALIST: The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Labor has promised a spending blitz to favour marginal seats. You’ve criticised the government for a similar tactics, claiming it’s pork barrelling. Don’t you think it’s hypocritical?
WATT: No, I don’t think it is. We, unlike the Morrison government, we haven't brought colour coded spreadsheets to the task of determining where we make election commitments. Even looking at the commitments that we're making today. Yes, the commitments we're making today are in a seat that is currently held by the Labor Party. The only other commitment that we've so far made from this Disaster Ready Fund is actually in a safe LNP in Queensland, the seat of Dawson. So what we've done when it comes to allocating these types of commitments is consult with state and local governments about where the priorities are, consult with our local members, who have that information from being on the ground and then distributing funding on the basis of need. A flood levee is desperately needed in the city of Mackay in a safe LNP seat, cyclone shelters are desperately needed here in a Labor held seat of Lingiari. So we'll be putting the money where it's needed, not where our colour coded spreadsheets tell us to put it.
JOURNALIST: It’s been reported yesterday that the federal government is considering lowering the excise on beer in the upcoming budget. As the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, is that something you support?
WATT: I support the right of people in Northern Australia to have a cold beer at the end of a hot day. I may have done that myself over the last couple of days. But we're not going to comment on media speculation about what might or might not be in the budget. There's already starting to be budget leaks, including this one, we'll have a look at what the government commits to and make our decisions from there.
WATT: Similarly, I know there is reporting of this at the moment that the government hasn't even confirmed that it's going to do that. So our approach as a fiscally responsible Opposition is to see what the government puts forward in the budget and make our decisions from that.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the government announcing legal proceedings against Russia over MH17?
WATT: We strongly support that happening. And in fact, Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong and some of our other shadow ministers made a statement to that effect yesterday.
JOURNALIST: The federal government has committed to speed up environmental approvals to cut down on red tape, a policy that is a potential failure of protecting the environment. Does Labor support it?
WATT: Look, I must admit, I haven't seen that report. If that broke today, we've sort of been on the road. It's probably better to direct that question to our Shadow Environment Minister Terry Butler.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister is in WA today to make an announcement about a $4.3B navy base. Does Labor support that announcement?
WATT: Look again we'll wait and see the details of that and there's probably other shadow ministers who are better placed to comment on that, but you know yet again, we see Scott Morrison rolling to WA having spent 12 months bagging WA, now throwing money around and begging for support. I think people are getting pretty sick and tired in the outlying states Queensland, Northern Territory and WA, seeing Scott Morrison spend his entire time bagging their state and then turning up begging for votes. In terms of the substance of that, it's probably best to put it to Brendan O'Connor.
JOURNALIST: There does appear to be some division following the Rolfe decision last week. Do you have any message to people?
MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRIORTY: Firstly, can I just say to the families of Yuendumu, stay strong. I know it's an incredibly, deeply disappointing decision for you. We saw on Friday, two families. One, whose son walked free and has the opportunity to make so much of his life and learning from this whole experience. But another family who is still deeply traumatised in the way this was taken from this world. And I would remind all of those people who are making comments since Friday, to still reflect on the fact that there is deep hurt and trauma for the families of Yuendumu. A coronial investigation is to take place in September, in Alice Springs and in Yuendumu. And it's essential that that ground coronial investigation takes place with the utmost integrity, respect, and focus on what may or may not have happened that could have happened differently. So I say to the people of Yuendumu stay strong. Healing does need to take place. On a much larger level, on a national level, we recognise that over 500 people have died in deaths in custody across Australia since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It is not good enough in our country that so many Aboriginal people still die in custody here in this country. There is a far greater question that needs to be asked at the highest of levels, about the system of justice in this country and I think all of these things can be answered in due time with great respect as we listen to one another going forward.
MCCARTHY: I would certainly encourage everyone, please listen to the families at Yuendumu. If they are making particular calls now for a way forward for themselves, I would encourage all those in authority to be a part of that and listen and act. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Marion, with the cyclone structures what is the state of affairs out there?
SCRYMGOUR: Very little and that's why this is really essential infrastructure. It's not about pork barrelling, it's about putting infrastructure where it is really needed. For a long time, I was local member for a long time in in Arafura, as you know, and throughout that electorate we had been calling for a long time for infrastructure that could assist those communities. We saw Cyclone Monica goes through the havoc on Maningrida, even though it was 10 kilometres away, the part of that cyclone certainly had a devastating effect in Maningrida. It went right inland which nobody expected and then all the way down to Pine Creek. So you know, the cyclones can wreak havoc, we've been lucky that there's been no lives lost. But it is essential infrastructure they've got, you know, a lot of people have been told that these cyclone coded houses, when you've got 20, 30 people to a house, it's pretty hard to try and keep people safe. So having a dedicated piece of infrastructure, a shelter that you can get people in, I think it'll make it easier for police and essential services personnel in that community to make sure that they've got everybody in one place and they can look after them.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the Yuendumu situation, Marion. Are you concerned about the division that is existing?
SCRYMGOUR: Look, I agree totally with what Malarndirri just said, I think it's really important to work with the community. Like Malarndirri, I urge police and all of the authorities to listen to what's being said. There's a lot of hurt out there at the moment Matt, and I've talked to a couple of people out on the ground in Yuendumu. It's time that we all work together, we need to come together for the sake of that community. And it's not just Yuendumu do we see another, you know, issue coming up in another community. We need to work with these communities, police are a critical service in some of these communities. Old fashioned policing, I've worked with many police across many communities. And police play a critical role with communities, particularly, you know, dealing with domestic and family violence. We can't say police get out of these communities. We need police in those communities. It's like we need health staff. They need protection, that side of the communities and it's critical as government we work with everybody to try and not have the same issue that happened in the past few years.
JOURNALIST: But do you think over the last 20, 30 years there has been a breakdown of the relationship between senior people and the community and the police?
SCRYMGOUR: I don't know if it's a breakdown Matt. You can go to many communities and police have a fantastic relationship with Aboriginal people. I know on the Tiwi Islands, Gary Higgins, who was an ex MLA in the Northern Territory Parliament, he, his son is the Senior Sergeant on the Tiwi islands, he has a fantastic relationship with the Tiwi people. So you know, if you've got police and their relationship is one with the community, and they work with the community, you know, those relationships work and they can work. I'm, you know, I'm new to the scene in terms of Yuendumu. I don't know what's caused that relationship to break down. But we need to as federal members, and should I be lucky enough to go from candidate to the member, I look forward to working with that community and the police, you know, take the politics out of all of this because with politics comes emotion. And it's a highly emotive issue. And I think that we've got to try and work with what's best for the community. We've got a lot of kids in these communities, they need protection as well. So, you know, it's not just doing the knee jerk reaction, because of something's happened, it's working with the community to make sure that they can heal and respect that they are really hurting and, you know, help them to move forward.