Television Interview With Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 8 July 2022


SUBJECTS: NSW Flood Crisis

NATALIE BARR: Thank you, Michael. Flood-ravaged residents in southwest Sydney have given the New South Wales Government an ultimatum as they mop up for the third time this year. They want the government to either raise Warragamba Dam or buy back flood-prone homes. The Premier agrees something must be done, but he wants a 50-50 funding arrangement with the Commonwealth. For their take, we’re joined by Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you. Jason, good morning. Let’s start with you. Splitting the cost to raise Warragamba Dam. Is that something that the Federal Government would support?

JASON CLARE: The Prime Minister has already had initial discussions with the Premier about infrastructure. The focus this week has been on the rescue and the recovery and now the clean-up. I think you’ve seen a step-change in the relationship between the federal government and the state government this week in the work that we’ve done in the teeth of the emergency and that’ll continue in the weeks ahead with the clean-up. We’ll work constructively with the state government on this as well. I think the Australian people don’t care whether it’s federal government or state government, Labor or Liberal, they want us to work together on this when the emergency is at its peak and in the aftermath of it.

BARR: Because we’ve been talking about this for many years. You’ve had residents very emotional, very frustrated, saying that those words that you’ve uttered just then have been uttered for decades. Would the Federal Government put a lot of money, possibly up to a billion dollars, towards raising that wall?

CLARE: What you saw that was different this week was you saw a Prime Minister and a Premier standing together, talking to residents, listening to them, understanding the concerns that they have got and working constructively together. That’s what Australians want. We’ll sit down with the New South Wales Government and work with them on this. I think there’s a business case they’ve got to put to us. There’d be different environmental approvals that would be necessary, but we come to this wanting to be constructive and wanting to work together.

BARR: Sussan, what do you think? Because several of these floods happened under your watch, nothing seemed to go ahead, did it, further down the track?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, Nat, if I was a resident facing my fourth flood, I would find those remarks pretty ineffective. And I think the government needs to work out which Minister is responsible because I read that first it was the Infrastructure Minister who then sent the question to the Environment Minister, who then sent the question to the Emergency Services Minister. So how is that helping when we have people who absolutely need action? So, talking about sitting down and having a nice conversation with the state government is not good enough in the face of these awful floods? Because I’m heading out there today. I’ve had briefings and I’m sure Jason has too and he, of course, is closer to the action in terms of where his electorate is. But I’ve had those briefings and it’s heartbreaking to hear from people who are so affected when they feel yet another flood event.

BARR: Hang on, Sussan. The first flood I mean, I’ve been standing out there, too. The first flood was March last, the first big one was March last year. Then we had March this year and April this year. And with all due respect, what did your government do?

LEY: We worked closely and started a planning process at the federal environment level that I was actually involved in. So, at the moment, the issue is with the New South Wales Government, but a lot of work has been done by the Commonwealth. Now, this incoming government seems not to know how to pick up that work and continue with it. And that’s my point. At least start with the right Minister. It’s waiting there and it needs New South Wales. Absolutely, yes. But at least start in the right area of the government to get this ball rolling.

CLARE: I just think Sussan’s got a short memory here. Go back to the start of the year. We had a tinny army that rescued people in the floods. You had people had to hire their own helicopters because rescue services weren’t on the way. They were too slow. This is one of the reasons they lost the last election, we’re trying to do things differently.

LEY: That’s a completely different issue. That’s not related to the dam. That’s a completely different issue.

CLARE: Hang on a second, Sussan. Being in government is about being proactive. Hang on. I listened to you, listen to me. We need to be proactive here. We got helicopters ready and soldiers ready on the ground before we were even asked. In my area of child care, where you’ve got more than 60 child care centres closed today because of the floods, I directed my department before the floods even happened to make sure that payments were available to people automatically. They didn’t have to wait like they had to in the past. In addition to that, it’s about making sure that we work together with the state government that involves all Ministers in the federal government.

LEY: Jason, on Monday this week, I raised the issue that payments that could have been made in hours were taking days. The floods were on the weekend, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. It wasn’t until Thursday that actually a signature on the paper was made, coincidentally, when the Prime Minister came back from overseas. Now, I know that flood victims don’t want to hear the tit for tat, but we’re here to make sure they get these payments and they get this support when they need it, and they don’t have to wait for too many ducks to line up when, as I said, it was simply a signature on a piece of paper and it took three days.

CLARE: I think there’s a bit of political amnesia going on here. Remember what happened during the floods up north, where one part of the country got one payment, another part of the country got another. People had to wait for a Minister to sign things off before they got those child care supports. They don’t have to wait for that anymore because I acted even before the flood started.

LEY: I’m checking the Services Australia website to make sure that people are getting the help they need. And when I checked on Monday, the help was not there.

BARR: Okay, well, it may have been a couple of days, but I think it’s, it’s burnt into our memory, the fact that, as Jason said, people had to go rescue themselves and their communities up north. So that’s still a sore point. But we have to solve something in Sydney, don’t we? So we will keep talking. We thank you both for your time this morning.