March 09, 2022



SUBJECTS: Lismore flood clean-up; Scott Morrison always goes missing when you need him; three things Scott Morrison must do in Lismore - apologise for abandoning flood victims, explain why he hasn’t used Emergency Response Fund, declare national emergency; why did Morrison wait for TV cameras before declaring emergency.

MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks for coming along today. I’m back in Lismore today for the third day running and I’m really pleased the clean-up is progressing. Here in the CBD, a lot of the waste has started being cleared from some of the streets but as you can see behind me, there is still so much more to be done.

Now for the last three days, I've been saying that Scott Morrison and his government are completely missing in action when it comes to the recovery from the this flood. And it's not just me saying that. Every single person I speak to in Lismore or Coraki or Chinderah or any of the other places I've been over the last three days, they’re all saying the same thing. And that is ‘Where is the government? Where is the Army?’ ‘Where are the Federal Government resources to help the community while it's getting his hands dirty to get this clean-up done?’ And they’re looking around, looking for help from the Federal Government that is completely MIA.

Scott Morrison has shown over and over again that he is the bloke who goes missing when the country really needs him. During the bush fires, he went missing. When it came to getting vaccines for the country, he and his government went missing. When it came to getting rapid antigen tests for the country, he went missing. And now after these floods, he and his government have been missing in action. Australians need a leader who shows up when times get tough. They need a leader who actually gets resources to communities when they need them, not a week later, not when the photos are available, not when the TV cameras are available, but when people need them. That's not what we’ve had from the Morrison Government or from the Prime Minister, and he's got to start being someone who actually shows up, when people need help.

Now I welcome the fact that Scott Morrison is finally going to be here in Lismore today. I think it's something that he does need to see for himself. I think it's also really important that this visit isn't stage managed by Scott Morrison, that he actually gets out and talks to real people and hears from them directly, just like I have, about what's gone wrong, and what they need now to go forward. We can't afford for this to just be a session of photo ops for Scott Morrison now that he is out of isolation and able to come and meet with people here in Lismore. It’s got to be a real visit and you've got to meet real people and hear about their real concerns. 

Now, I think when Scott Morrison does get here today, there are three things that he needs to do to help Lismore and the Northern Rivers get back on their feet.

Firstly, he's got to apologise on behalf of his government for the fact that they have been MIA since this flood hit over a week ago. I think everyone who was in this community was distressed about the fact that they were really left to fend for themselves through the height of the flood, having to get their own tinnies out to rescue each other, rather than having the proper back-up that they needed from our hard working emergency services teams. But I think when the immediate flood crisis passed, I think people would really have expected to see that their Federal Government would be standing with them and helping them with the hard work of recovery. But as I say, I've been here now three days and I have not seen a single Federal Government minister here on the ground or a single senior federal official offering support, bringing in resources and giving people some hope that they're not standing here on their own. So as I say, I think the first thing Scott Morrison is going to need to do is apologise for the fact that yet again, he and his government had been completely missing in action when it comes to a natural disaster.

The second thing he's got to do is explain to flood victims here why it is that his government has not used their nearly $5 billion Emergency Response Fund at any point over the last three years. Either to help people to recover from past disasters, or to build the flood mitigation projects that could have protected people here in the Northern Rivers. I've been talking a lot about this, not just over the last week, but over the last couple of years, asking questions of the government. Why do you have this fund there earning interest for your government rather than helping people in a way that it was designed to do? We will never know what could have been avoided if this government had been prepared to use its $5 billion Emergency Response Fund to build flood levees, to improve drainage systems and do all sorts of other flood mitigation measures that could have saved lives, saved properties and saved the billions of dollars that we're now going to see taxpayers have to cough up in repair costs. So he's got to explain to people why he was not prepared to use this Emergency Response Fund in the way it was designed to be used.

The third thing that Scott Morrison needs to do today is to declare a national emergency. Now after the black summer bushfires where we saw a similar debacle headed by Scott Morrison. And if you think back to it, you’ll remember after the black summer bushfires, and even through the black summer bushfires, we saw Scott Morrison having arguments with state governments about whether he could send in the Army, how many he would send in, when he would send them in, and all that kind of thing. Exactly what we've seen happen with this flood as well. But after those black summer bushfires, Scott Morrison asked the parliament to give him new emergency powers, the power to declare a national emergency. And what he said is that that would help him cut through the red tape, mobilise Commonwealth resources, and act with “swift and decisive action”. Now if there's anything that we need here from the Commonwealth Government, it is swift and decisive action. And that's exactly what has been missing over the course of the last week.

So Scott Morrison asked the parliament to give him these powers, these emergency powers - the Parliament did it, Labor voted for it - he's got these powers now and he needs to declare a national emergency so that he can actually finally get people here in the Northern Rivers the resources and the help that they need with no more excuses, no more obfuscation, no more blaming the states, just taking responsibility and delivering.

Now I've heard in the last hour or so that Scott Morrison is planning to declare a national emergency while he's here. And that's a good thing. That's something I've been calling for, before daybreak today. But I do have to wonder why it is that he has waited so long before he actually declared this national emergency. He has had the power to do this at any point over the last week. Everyone understands that he's been in isolation with COVID. He hasn't been able to be here on the ground up until now, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't have picked up the phone to his colleagues, directed resources in here. And just the fact that he was locked up in isolation didn't stop him from declaring a national emergency at an earlier point to what he has. You've got to wonder if this is just another example of where Scott Morrison is not prepared to act until he can be surrounded by TV cameras. We know he is Scotty from Marketing, we know that he cares more about photo opportunities with the media than he does about actually delivering the resources that are needed and doing his job as Prime Minister. So why is it that Scott Morrison has waited until he can be surrounded by TV cameras here in Lismore before he declares a national emergency, which the parliament gave him the power to do over two years ago? We need more than photo ops from this Prime Minister. We need action and we need it today.

So in summary, I welcome the fact that Scott Morrison is now going to be here on the ground. He's got to face up to real people. He can't be having a stage managed visit where he just goes and meets his fellow Liberals and Nationals and is protected from the public. He's got to hear directly from people themselves. And while he's here, he's got to apologise to people for the lack of federal action up into now. He's got to explain why he hasn't used his Emergency Response Fund at any point over the last three years to protect people from these floods. And he's also got to declare a national emergency, so we can finally start seeing the swift and decisive action which he promised to deliver after the last bushfires.