SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
SKY NEWS THE KENNY REPORT
THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government M.I.A in flood recovery; flood victims abandoned; ADF deployment numbers exaggerated by Government; ADF also helping in aged care homes due to Morrison Government failures.
CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt has been one of the most vocal critics of the government's response. He's the Shadow Minister for Emergency Management and he joins me live from Ballina. Thanks for joining us, Murray. It's good to talk to you. You've been in the flood zone for a few days now. Can you tell me how you got there and what you took there for the people in those areas?
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT: Yeah, happy to do so, Chris. I came down from Brisbane on Monday, after spending the previous week basically going around pretty much every region in southeast Queensland that had been flooded. I'd spent the week going as far as Gympie, the Sunshine Coast, obviously Brisbane itself, Ipswich and Logan helping people clean up across southeast Queensland, delivering groceries, supplies to people there as well. And I've done the same since I've been in Lismore. So I've now been here for four days. And I’ve dropped bags of much needed groceries to SES workers, actually, because many of them had lost their own homes. So we've been trying to make a practical contribution here on the ground, as well as highlighting the complete absence of the Federal Government ever since these floods occurred.
KENNY: So you drove down there and you took supplies down there and helped out that's, that's good to hear. Now tell us about your criticism of the Federal Government because as we know, when you talk about flood response, it's emergency services on the ground, it's council, it's state government emergency services. Why do you say that the Federal Government let down people in the flood areas?
WATT: It’s not just me that’s been saying that, Chris, that's basically the view of pretty much anyone you speak to in Lismore, or the Northern Rivers, where I've also been out and about and in southeast Queensland. And if we're focusing on Lismore for a moment, the fact that there has been barely a Federal Government Minister on the ground or anyone senior here from the Federal Government since these floods occurred has really incensed people. Obviously, we all saw the photos and the footage of the Lismore floods themselves and saw individual community members out there performing rescues, because the SES was so grossly under resourced.
KENNY: Just pick up that point, because this is very important point there's a suggestion from you and others, that somehow it's a bad thing that Australians are going out in the natural disaster and helping each other and rescue each other. That's the only way to deal with a natural disaster. It is foolish in the extreme to expect there to be an emergency services team to go house to house, farm to farm and rescue everybody. Do you not agree with that point?
WATT: Well, Chris, I've never said that. I've never criticised community members for doing the rescues and I've never said they we're the only people doing it. But the fact is, and I'm telling you this having been on the ground speaking to the SES workers, speaking to Lismore locals, but people were saying, why have we got to do this on our own? Of course, Australian community members are happy to pitch in in a crisis. It's one of the things that makes us Australian, but they also want to know that the government stands with them in a moment of crisis. And exactly like what we saw through the bushfires when Scott Morrison and his government was missing in action. It's happened all over again. The fact is that the SES service in the Northern Rivers just don't have the resources they need and aren’t getting federal support.
KENNY: Trying to pin this down a bit, right? Because, yes, you can't have emergency services on every street corner of course. The State Emergency Service is going to be stretched in a situation like this. But even if you if you say that they needed more boats or more people, they're a volunteer organisation. Again, this is a state government responsibility. It's in the name, State Emergency Service. I'm struggling to see how you manage to make this an issue about Scott Morrison. It seems like maybe the election is playing a role in that.
WATT: Again, Chris, I haven't blamed Scott Morrison for the fact that there weren't SES. I haven’t done that and I challenge you to find one time when I have done that. What I have criticised Scott Morrison and his government for is being completely missing an action when it comes to the recovery.
KENNY: They’re handing out the cash, cash is what they can do. And the military is there. There are two things the Federal Government can do. They can mobilize the military and they can get cash payments out to people and that, those are the two things that they have done, haven’t they? They don't do the planning on the on the ground that the local government does, they can come in with those two arms to help out in a, in an emergency.
WATT: Well, Chris, with the greatest of respect, I've been in Lismore for four days, I've seen with my own eyes the very small number of defence personnel who've been on the ground. And I have consistently said that people in Lismore are extremely grateful for the support that they have had from Defence Force personnel, they just haven't had anywhere near enough. And we've had days of claims made by Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton and other ministers in the government, about the thousands of troops that they're sending in, only to find out when you dig into it that most of them have been on standby. We need more forces on the ground here so that they can continue doing the good work that they've been doing.
KENNY: Could there ever be enough, quickly enough for a situation like what you're facing? I mean, this is this is the absurdity of the criticism. You don't mobilise millions overnight, helping out in southeast Queensland before that, and you know that they're also looking after the Central Coast and the Sydney basin. So I find that criticism a little bit hard to take.
WATT: I do know that and I also know that they've been called upon to help out the aged care system.
KENNY: That’s right. They are.
WATT: And that's another Morrison Government failure if you want to talk about that. We have had to turn to the armed forces to help actually get bins taken out at aged care homes. I mean, what an indictment of the Morrison Government that is, and yes, they are being called upon to help in these floods. And again, it's not just me saying this. It was reported today that Kevin Hogan, the National Party member for the seat of Page called Peter Dutton on day one of these floods asking for ADF assistance and it's taken days to get any material number of Defence Force personnel on the ground.
KENNY: Oh come on you know, defence helicopters were there rescuing people while the floodwaters was still at their peak…
WATT: I also know, having been on the ground, that many community members have had to crowd fund their own helicopters to perform rescues and to perform food drops. So I don't think anyone who's actually been in Lismore or the Northern Rivers would quibble with the fact that this government was far too slow to act when it came to getting the Defence Force personnel. They inflated the numbers of people who were actually on the ground rather than doing their job and getting some support out to people. I mean, feel free to come to Lismore, Chris and have a chat to people yourself. And you'll find that there is a huge level of anger about the fact that people don't have a government standing with them through the recovery.
KENNY: I’d expect there to be anger and frustration and I'm worried that you're fuelling it rather than trying to help out but that's why I wanted to give you a say on the program tonight. So thanks for joining us and we'll catch up again.
WATT: Thanks Chris.