Press Conference, Parliament House (2)

November 30, 2020





SUBJECT/S: NSW and Qld bushfires; Scott Morrison unprepared for disaster season; unspent $4bn Emergency Response Fund; aerial firefighting; Morrison ignoring royal commission recommendations; Newspoll; Qld borders easing; State of Origin.

MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Obviously, all Australians were very concerned over the weekend that already, even in November, we're facing heatwave conditions and bushfires around much of the country. Right now, there are about 90 bushfires across New South Wales and Queensland alone, and we haven't even started December. So that's a very worrying sign about what we face this summer on top of cyclone and flood conditions further north in our country as well. And I have to say, I'm very disappointed that this Government is clearly woefully underprepared for the coming disaster season.

We saw what happened last year when they weren't prepared. Scott Morrison wouldn't meet with the ex-fire chiefs, wouldn't listen to the warnings, and we saw so much of the country burn. We're already seeing now the results of this Government being unprepared for the coming disaster season as well. There are three ways in which this Government is not prepared for the coming disaster season:

First of all, the Emergency Response Fund. This is the $4 billion fund that the Government announced at last year's Budget - 18 months ago - to provide funding for disaster recovery and resilience. Here we are, 18 months on, when fires are already starting - not a single cent has been spent. That action, in this Government not actually spending money on resilience projects to keep people safe, is going to put lives at risk this summer. And it's going to be on Scott Morrison's head.

Secondly, aerial firefighting. We saw the royal commission recommended that the Federal Government set up a national aerial firefighting fleet. Scott Morrison rejected that recommendation. Again, we saw what happened last year when we didn't have the aerial water bombers that we needed, tried to bring them in from overseas and they weren't available. And now we've got a recommendation from the royal commission saying we should have our own. Scott Morrison's too arrogant and too stubborn to take up the recommendation.

And thirdly, one of the other recommendations from the royal commission is that the Government have the power to declare a national emergency. Now, this is something that Scott Morrison flagged back in January. So, again, it's sort of 10 or 11 months ago, he flagged that he would legislate to give the Federal Government power to declare a national emergency. We're now in the second last week of Parliament - we haven't even seen the legislation yet. I don't know how many warnings this bloke has got to get before he takes bushfires and other natural disasters seriously.

Warnings after warnings, 90 fires across New South Wales and Queensland, recommendations from royal commissions, funds that are set up ready to go, he doesn't spend them. Scott Morrison is not taking this issue seriously and he's putting Australians at risk.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned disaster season, Senator, Anthony Albanese sits on 28 per cent as better PM in the latest Newspoll, is it a disaster season coming up for the Labor Party towards the end of the year?

WATT: No, I'm not concerned about the polls. As you would have heard many politicians say, polls come and go, I don't keep my attention on them. When I'm out talking to people, whether it be in Brisbane, the Gold Coast or further north in Australia, people are very worried about the state of the economy. Only last week I was in Rockhampton and the topic that everyone was talking to me about there was what is going to happen in March when JobKeeper ends and when JobSeeker is cut again. So I'm more focussed on those kinds of issues than anything about polling.

JOURNALIST: But is Anthony Albanese the right person to take the Labor Party to the election, particularly in Queensland which damaged you so significantly at the last election?

WATT: I absolutely think Anthony Albanese is the right person to take us to the election. I'm looking forward to having him back in Queensland later in this week. Obviously, it's been a bit difficult to travel around if you're from Sydney this year, and I think he'll get a really good reception when he goes to Queensland this week. The message that Anthony Albanese has had particularly resonates in Queensland,  where we've been saying that Labor is for traditional industries as well as new industries. That's not a message that either of our political opponents is taking forward. They say you can only have the old industries or the new industries, and that just damages Queensland. So Anthony Albanese and Labor is standing up for all of them.

JOURNALIST: Should Queensland borders have opened sooner than tomorrow to places like New South Wales, Greater Sydney and Victoria?

WATT: No, I don't think so. I think Annastacia Palaszczuk has consistently made the right decisions about our borders. She's always acted on the health advice, as a result Queensland has been largely COVID-free for a number of months now. Our businesses have been able to get back up and running. We're really looking forward to all of you blue jersey people getting back to our state. I bet you probably won't wear your blue jerseys after we just smashed you in State of Origin, but you're very welcome as long as you wear a maroon jersey while you're up there!