SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; bushfire recovery process and support; Government’s sports rorts scandal; interest rates; franking credits.
JASON CLARE: Thanks everyone for coming out to a very wet Bankstown this morning. Everybody around the country has been looking for ways they can help their fellow Australians that have been hit by the bushfires. Here in Bankstown this afternoon is the annual Luna Festival and the can is going to go around to raise money for the Rural Fire Service as well as well as the Red Cross. And that’s just one example. The local Vietnamese doctors raised $84,000 a couple of weeks ago in a big fundraiser for the families of those two blokes who died when their RFS truck rolled in Buxton just before Christmas. I was at a barbecue at the Gallipoli Mosque up in Auburn that raised four and a half thousand yesterday. That money will go to those families as well. I was speaking to a bloke around the corner who’s driving down to just south of Picton down to Balmoral today to provide electrical equipment, appliances and all the sorts of stuff that people need to help them get back on their feet in that community.
That’s just one town that’s trying to do its bit and as an Opposition we’re trying to do our bit as well and provide some constructive ideas about how the Government can help our community, Australia, to recover from these bushfires.
For example in November we suggested that there should be extra money put in for more water bombing equipment that helps put out fires. We also suggested that there should be financial compensation for the firefighters who put their lives at risk putting out the fires. And recently we suggested that there should be some more money put in to help with people recovering from the trauma of what they experienced during the fires particularly for young kids and mental health challenges that they’ve got to get over.
In that spirit can I suggest another constructive idea for the Government to take up and that is to put their hand in their pocket and pay for the cost of removing all of the rubbish and all of the debris on the houses and the lots that have been destroyed by the bushfires. I can’t imagine what it would be like if you had your house burned down and you had to run and lose all of that precious stuff all the irreplaceable stuff. But that’s happened to more than two thousand families across the country.
Normally insurance pays for this but the cost of removing all of the debris and all the rubbish from your home is normally $40,000 to $50,000. That’s because you’ve got to remove all the asbestos and we’re seeing plenty of examples of that. It means destroying the slab and getting rid of that and sometimes the septic tank. If insurance pays for it that means you got less money to rebuild. So we’re suggesting that the Government take up what the Victorian Government did after the Black Saturday bushfires and that is the Government pays for it and they get a contractor to come in and remove all of the debris. Because this is a national crisis I think it makes sense for the Feds to fund all of that. States can coordinate it, get the contractors and subcontractors out there quickly, but the Feds could pay for it out of their two billion dollar Bushfire Recovery Fund.
Now there’s a lot of people that are anxious for this to happen. I’m hearing from insurance companies and people that have lost their homes that they want the Government to crack on to get this done quickly so I’m urging the Government to make this decision now. Hurry up. Pay to clean up those lots so that people can get the site cleaned up and start the process of rebuilding.
Can I also encourage the Government to put their hand in their pocket and fund a tourism campaign to get people back to a lot of these places that have been hit by the fires. A lot of these places are tourism destinations that have been hit really hard by the fact that people had to flee because their lives depended upon it. As one bloke told Murray Watt one of our shadow ministers this week when he was down the South Coast – “they used a foghorn to get people out of town, now we need a fog horn to get people back to town”. So I’d encourage the Government to put together a tourism campaign to encourage people to visit these locations, spend money in the local coffee shops, spend money in the local super market and help speed up the recovery for these towns. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: There’s been some complaints about the provision of bushfire funding and how quickly it’s taking to get to those communities. Do you believe Andrew Constance or Stuart Robert?
CLARE: Well I think Andrew Constance would know because he’s there on the ground, and he’s the one saying it’s taking too long. This can’t be done fast enough. The money has got to get there and it’s got to be spent to help these communities recover. We’re hearing too many stories of people that are missing out or haven’t got funding yet. By the same token I heard a story the other day about a rural firefighter who’s going to miss out on compensation because she’s not considered to be a frontline firefighter. She’s working in a recovery centre providing nappies to young mums, food to families, chain saws to people who need to take down dangerous trees. She’s running that recovery centre down south of Picton and she misses out on compensation because she’s not considered a frontline firefighter. The Government should fix that as well.
JOURNALIST: On the issue of sporting grants, you represent a safe Labor seat that has apparently only received one sporting grant for one club here as part of the Government scheme. Has your community been hard done by?
CLARE: Well no seat is safe and any politician who thinks they represent a safe seat won’t represent one for long. You got to work your guts out to represent the people who need you and need a voice in Canberra. That’s what I do. You know I think more generally what’s happened here is that Bridget McKenzie needs to go. She needs to quit. This is dodgy as all hell. We’ve got an Audit Office report that says we don’t know whether she had the legal authority to even make these decisions. And we’ve got a smoking gun in the form of a document from her office where they have colour coded marginal seats showing that they’ve allocated money based on how safe the seat is. She should quit. Just like the last time this happened a minister quit. And if she doesn’t quit Scott Morrison should sack her. If Scott Morrison doesn’t have the guts to sack her well that’s just another failure of leadership and just another example of bad judgment by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s gone missing over the last few days. We need to know what he knows about this. What did he know and when did he know it? We need answers from the Prime Minister about whether he knew what was going on here and what involvement he had and his office had in allocating this money during the election campaign to marginal seats.
JOURNALIST: And while cutting funding to elite sports.
CLARE: Yeah that’s exactly right. If gold medals were handed out at the Tokyo Olympics for sport rorts then this Government would win a gold medal. There are sports people that are training now getting ready for the Olympics and they need all the help they can get. We find out today that the Government has cut funding for our Olympic sports people by 20 per cent. We should be putting money into local sports where it’s needed not where it wins votes. We should be providing more support for our Olympians who are training their guts out to represent us in Tokyo in a couple of months time.
JOURNALIST: Would it be fair to say the Government doesn’t care about sport on an elite level?
CLARE: I think all Aussies care about sport. But the point here is put your money where your mouth is and put money where it’s needed not where it’s just going to win you brownie points or win you votes.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we need more clear guidelines to make sure these kinds of funds are distributed more evenly?
CLARE: I think we need an independent commission against corruption to tackle this issue. That is the only way we are going to stop people like Bridget McKenzie acting the way she has acted. If she thinks she can get away with it she’ll do it again. That’s what she said this week. But if we had a National ICAC I think this would stop it in its tracks.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor dumping its franking credits policy?
CLARE: I think Albo was pretty clear today in The Daily Telegraph. He said we’re not taking this same policy to the next election. We lost the election. You’ve got to listen to what people have said and what they’ve told us and learn from that. And that’s what we’re doing.
JOURNALIST: It’s not very clear though. You’re dumping the policy that you took to the election but will you take a watered down version perhaps of franking credits to the next election?
CLARE: What Albo said is we’re not taking this same policy to the next election. What we do at the next election is way down the track. Nothing that we develop as a policy can be implemented for years. What we’ve said is that we’re not taking this policy to the next election. What I’m focused on today is coming up with ideas that we can implement right now. A constructive Opposition should be thinking of ways that it can help the Government to do the things it’s supposed to do which is help people. So the suggestion I’ve come forward with today is something they could pick up right now. Fund the cost of removing the debris from all of those homes that have been incinerated by the fire.
JOURNALIST: But is it dead and buried or will there still be a franking credits policy?
CLARE: Look at the words that Albo’s used. We’re not taking the same policy to the next election. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. I’ve said the same thing. So has Jim Chalmers so have many of our colleagues. No party in Australian history has taken the same policy that it took to the last election after it gets beat to the next election. That’d just be stupid.
JOURNALIST: So does Labor still agree that franking credits are excessive?
CLARE: Look there is always going to be a big debate about how do we make sure that we’ve got the funds to deliver essential resources to all Australians. That’s a debate that’s going to keep going long after I’ve retired from Australian politics. The policies we take to the next election will be drawn up a long time from now. We’ve got two years till the next election that’s way down the track.
JOURNALIST: So Chris Bowen previously said Labor needed the money from franking credits to fund schools and hospitals a position now wholly backed by Jim Chalmers. What other ways are you going to fund the agenda?
CLARE: Well you’ve got to find ways to fund schools you’ve got to find ways to fund hospitals. That’s the challenge that this Government has. And I think it’s letting the side down when it comes to that and that’ll be the challenge that confronts us as we put together policies for the next election. But look we lost the election. You know I don’t like it. I’m sure there’s a lot of Australians over the summer that have been looking at the failure of leadership that we’ve seen on display thinking boy we might have made a big mistake here in re-electing this Government. The fact is they won. We’ve got to cop it. We’ve got to make sure that we listen to what people have told us. That we learn from that and that we come up with policies that are going to earn the trust and the support of all Australians at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Do you still believe it’s a good policy though? That the issue was you just couldn’t sell it to the public?
CLARE: Look the bottom line is we lost the election. We made plenty of mistakes. The Libs and Scott Morrison ran a pretty good campaign. We didn’t run a good campaign. We made, as Albo said, a bunch of different mistakes. We can’t afford to make those mistakes next time because Australia depends upon it. We’ve seen so much evidence of that over the last few weeks. This country needs strong leadership and it’s not getting it at the moment. You know we’ve been in, we’ve been in effectively a warzone for the last couple of weeks. For a lot of that our leader has gone missing. When a country is battling the sort of ferocious fires that we’ve seen people need leadership and I think it’s going to take a long time before people forget those images of the red skies over Mallacoota. Or kids having to wear masks as they flee from fires. Or people taking themselves, their kids, their dogs, their cats, their horses, onto a beach. Or firefighters swearing abusive messages at the Prime Minister on the TV, or those forced handshakes. It’s going to take a long time before people forget those images. Australia needs better leadership. The Labor Party needs to be good enough to provide it. That’s our challenge as we get ready for the next election in two years time.
JOURNALIST: Just on interest rates as well. Do you believe that interest rates should be cut at least next month to stimulate the economy after the devastating fires?
CLARE: As always that’s a decision for the Reserve Bank. Already interest rates are at record lows. Interest rates are a quarter of what they were when we went through the Global Financial Crisis ten years ago. Think about that crisis. Think about the challenges that hit Australia then. The only developed country in the world I think that didn’t go into recession at that time. Interest rates are much lower now than they were then. That shows you how weak the economy is at the moment and that was before the bushfires. The bushfires don’t help, particularly in places that have been hit by the fires you’re going to have farms and local businesses that have really had the guts kicked out of them. They need help and they need it now which is why I’m calling on the Government to do what Andrew Constance has said the other day and get in there and provide that assistance A.S.A.P.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Labor and Anthony Albanese at times have gone a bit too far in politicising the bushfire crisis?
CLARE: Look at everything Albo’s said. He’s tried to provide the leadership that this country needs when it’s been missing from the other side. Provide constructive ideas. Back in November we said convene a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, all the states and local governments, to look at what we need ahead of the bushfires, ahead of what’s become a black summer. We got a letter back from the Prime Minister saying that wasn’t necessary. Just think about what would have happened if we had that meeting back in November – how different things might have been. We would have had more water bombers there sooner. We would’ve had compensation and support earlier for those firefighters. We would have had the Army out there earlier. The Navy out there earlier. The Air Force out there earlier. It’s just such a pity that that idea that we came up with wasn’t supported earlier.
We’ve been coming up with lots of good ideas trying to help. Normally oppositions will just sit on the sidelines and criticise. We’re doing something different. We’re trying to provide the leadership that this country needs and ideas that this Government obviously needs. One of them was that meeting, another one was compensation for firefighters. Another one is help the kids and firefighters who are having nightmares at the moment because of the fires that they saw that burnt down their house or their school or their town. You know ten years after the Victorian fires a quarter of the population in those areas are still struggling with mental health issues. So we need that extra support there and thankfully the Government has listened to us and done something there.
Here’s another idea. Clear the debris off people’s sites now. Pay for it. Don’t force the people who’ve lost their home to pay for it. I know insurance usually covers it but most people are under insured. It costs $50,000 to clear these blocks. So that’s $50,000 less they’ve got, less that they’ll have, to rebuild their house. Now come on. Do something good here federal government. You’ve got a two billion dollar fund. This will cost about one hundred million bucks apparently. Get in there provide the money and help clear these blocks now so people can get back on their feet and rebuild their homes – and rebuild their lives.
Thanks very much.