SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
STATE LABOR CANDIDATE FOR NOOSA
NOOSAVILLE, SUNSHINE COAST
MONDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECT/S: Bushfire preparedness; Senate Bushfire Inquiry; Queensland manufacturing industry; Scott Morrison campaigning in Queensland election; Scott Morrison coordinating “open the borders” campaign with Deb Frecklington.
MARK DENHAM, STATE LABOR CANDIDATE FOR NOOSA: My name is Mark Denham, I'm the Labor candidate for the state election. We're here looking at, as I just said before, a hidden gem in the Noosa area, with a large company that actually makes tanks for firefighting equipment. They've been here for a while and they source a lot of their products from Queensland. They also manufacture here in Noosa and produce 15 jobs in the local community, as well as traineeships and opportunities like that. The benefit to the community here is local jobs, Queensland-sourced products to manufacture these tanks, which are sold all across the world. With me today, I actually have Senator Murray Watt, who is coming to review the area (and he has recently been) part of a Senate inquiry which was done recently into firefighting capacity across Australia. And I'm very happy to have him here to view this local business.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks very much, Mark, great to join you on the campaign trail, I know you've been working incredibly hard over the last few months. Mark, as you probably know, is a local paramedic so he's got a fair bit of expertise when it comes to emergency services as well. Can I thank Paul and his team here at Helitak for welcoming us today? I suppose I'm here for a couple of reasons, both as a Senator for Queensland, having an interest in all parts of the state, but also as Labor's Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management. It's only a bit over a year ago that we saw those terrible fires at Peregian, and a number of other areas in this region on the Sunshine Coast. And already this year, we've seen a number of fires throughout Queensland and even as far north as Cooktown. So it's another reminder that the threat of bushfires and natural disasters is never too far away. And that's where companies like Helitak come in. One of the world's leading manufacturers of tanks - water tanks - for aerial firefighting. I think all of us last year remember those terrible scenes in the bushfires, whether it be here on the Sunshine Coast or other parts of Australia. And we saw how important the role of aerial firefighting, between planes and helicopters, was in getting those fires put out. In fact, Helitak right here on the Sunshine Coast, a little factory here in the Sunshine Coast, employs 15 people and they're now one of the world's leading suppliers of water tanks for helicopters that are used for putting out fires not just in Australia, but they're exporting to Europe and they're exporting to the United States as well. So it's a fantastic local success story in terms of manufacturing, jobs and in helping us fight fires into the future.
I think the other thing to point to is that it's very relevant for a Senate inquiry that reported last week and that I was a member of. The Senate appointed an inquiry at the end of last year to look into last year's bushfires and to review what lessons could be learnt from the mistakes that were made, to make sure that we are not in a similar situation again. And one of the key recommendations from the interim report of that inquiry, which was handed down last week, was that Australia needs its own national sovereign aerial firefighting flight. The way things work at the moment, Australia really depends on getting aircraft in and flight crew in from other countries to help us put out our fires from the air. And the reality is, with climate change, we are looking at more of these types of fires and other disasters into the future. So in that situation, it makes sense to have our own national sovereign firefighting fleet from the air, rather than having to depend on other countries all the time when they themselves are facing extended fire seasons. A lot of the time last year, what we saw was when Australia needed our own helicopters and planes to put out fires, we were trying to get them from other countries. But they still needed them in their countries for the fires that they were fighting. So it does make sense for Australia to build up our own national aerial firefighting fleet. And companies like Helitak are absolutely at the centre of that, by manufacturing these kinds of tanks that can fill up in a matter of seconds - about 40-odd seconds I think it was - to fill up one of these tanks that can be used by helicopters. That goes a long way to making sure that we can get fires put out early. And that, of course, makes sure that communities are safe and we don't lose people, homes and wildlife at the same time.
JOURNALIST: I guess on a local side, I know you touched on it before, but why is it so important to have this kind of equipment here in Noosa?
WATT: I think there's a couple of reasons. Obviously, it makes sense in a bushfire situation if you can access equipment locally and if you can access all the supplies that you need to be able to put out fires quickly. The earlier you get to a fire, the less damage it's going to cause, so having the supply chains where we can access equipment, whether it be helicopters or planes themselves or the tanks and the crew that are needed to put out the fires, that's a good thing.
But beyond that, it's obviously a great thing to be having those jobs created locally. We know we're now in the grip of a recession, the worst recession that Australia has had since the Great Depression. So the more that we can be getting behind local businesses to supply their kind of equipment, then that's good for jobs. Paul was telling me there's about 15 staff employed here. There are school-based trainees who come and get their experience here as well. So the more that we can be getting behind local businesses to provide local employment then that's a win for the local economy, as well as making sure that we're able to put out fires in the future.
JOURNALIST: On a federal level, do you think there needs to be more support for businesses like Helitak?
WATT: Yeah certainly from a Federal Labor perspective, we're very supportive of more support for our manufacturing industry. If you had a chance to see Anthony Albanese’s Budget Reply speech last Thursday night, one of the key elements of that was making sure that the Federal Government steps up and really supports our manufacturing industry. And in the end, that's what a business like Helitak is. Sure, they supply to firefighting and bushfires, but they're a manufacturing company. And it's a bit of a shame that over the last seven years, under the current Federal Government, we have seen manufacturing go backwards in this country overall. We obviously lost our car industry. If you looking at apprentices and trainees, there's about 140,000 fewer apprentices in Australia now than there were when this Government was elected seven years ago. And that's why getting our manufacturing going again in Australia was such a key element of Anthony Albanese’s speech the other night.
JOURNALIST: Mark, can I grab you for a couple of questions? If you were voted in as the State Member here for Noosa, what would you do differently, you know, within your powers to, you know, reduce the risk of bushfires, obviously, given what we saw last year?
DENHAM: Working closely within the community, you have to actually talk to the Ministers and to the suppliers of services, so being a part of the Labor team and a part of the Palaszczuk Labor Government, I'd work very closely with them to ensure that everything that can be done, will be done for the community.
Having this facility here that can actually provide the jobs as needed to the community to put the community first. A lot of communities rely on one of two key employment places to make their community work, where if you have manufacturing, you have hospitality, you have other services, that gives you a really great mix across the community. That's what we need to have in Noosa as well. When it comes to emergency services firefighting, I'm actually a paramedic, so I sit in that role pretty much every day and have very close links to the fire service because we work as a team when it comes to anything from road accidents, to rescue, to fires. We're always very close by. So making sure we can protect our local community rapidly and effectively, and cost-effectively, is very important to me and the Noosa area.
JOURNALIST: And I guess local manufacturers like Helitak here, why is a Labor Government the best choice for them moving forward?
DENHAM: Well, we want to buy locally. We want to spend Queensland money in Queensland economies. We want to bolster the economy and keep us away from the recession that's gripping the whole of Australia. So the investment from the Palaszczuk Labor Government is directed at that, to bring manufacturing back to Queensland, for Queenslanders and for secure jobs. Maryborough is a key indicator of that with the repairs to the trains, the armoury that's up there, and also to the production of the heavy vehicles for the military. Noosa can do that sort of thing as well. Here we have Helitak which make and manufacture items right across the world, and it's here. They're only one of three in the world that actually make these types of aerial firefighting requirements, so why not have it in Noosa?
WATT: I might just say one other thing from a federal perspective. The other thing I suppose I've noticed today is that we're into day three of the Prime Minister's election campaign here in Queensland, and I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed that the Prime Minister thinks it's okay for him to take time off, to go campaigning. I think it's a bit disappointing that we see the Prime Minister take a week off from his schedule to come campaigning here in the middle of a state election. Deb Frecklington is actually the leader of the LNP and she's the one who's trying to become the new premier of Queensland. So I don't know why she needs to turn to the Prime Minister to prop her up. She's the one who would be the Premier. She's the one who's got the promises on the line. And I really would have thought that the Prime Minister might have had a few more things to do in the middle of a recession, when we've got about a million Australians unemployed, rather than come up here and go campaigning for a week.
We saw this morning, an article in The Australian today, which says that Deb Frecklington at her Business Advisory Forum a couple of months ago, admitted that her “Open the Borders” campaign was being done in coordination with the Prime Minister. So we've seen time after time that the Prime Minister is prepared to play politics with Queensland's borders, with Queenslanders' health, and now he's at it again by campaigning here in the state election. As I say, I would've thought he's got more important things to do, looking out for Australians and getting them back into work. Bit disappointing that he's deciding to spend his week playing politics here in Queensland.
JOURNALIST: So there's no plans for Albo to come up at all?
WATT: I'm not sure. I mean, Albo hasn't been in Canberra as long as Scott Morrison has, and isn't able to get here, having been in Sydney and other places that are a hotspot. But I think Albo's pretty focussed on his role as the Federal Opposition Leader. He's putting out our policies and what we'd do differently. As I say, I think the Prime Minister should be focussing on the country, rather than the Queensland election, as well.