House debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Questions without Notice

Australian Natural Disasters

3:47 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Human Services. Will the minister update the House on the steps the government is taking to support those affected by terrible natural disasters—namely the bushfires in Tasmania and the floods in North Queensland—in cities and towns such as Townsville, Groper Creek, Giru and the north-west? With the recent changes that have been made for responding to these disasters, I ask: what additional services have been made available to assist Australians during this most challenging time?

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Dawson for that question, and I acknowledge his hard work on behalf of his community. During his time as their member he's had to shepherd his community through several very serious disasters, and he does so with great vigour. As the minister formerly responsible for Emergency Management Australia, I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that he is a fierce advocate on behalf of his community, and he does a tremendous job. As the member knows, we as a government are committed to helping out Australians when they are impacted by things such as the terrible flooding we've seen in Queensland and the fires we've seen in Tasmania that have been discussed extensively in the House today. The impact of those disasters is absolutely devastating on those communities and the families within those communities.

My department, the Department of Human Services, plays a key role in delivering support services when catastrophic events occur, and I'm very proud of how quickly we've been able to deploy our support services to these affected regions. I directed more than 1,500 staff from my department to answer calls, process claims and provide support to disaster-affected people. Our information line is open every day and getting assistance out the door to people directly affected by these natural disasters. In addition, about 30 staff from my department, including our social workers, have been posted to the evacuation centres to provide information about support services to people who have suffered loss from the disaster, including damage to their property and lost income.

Many of the staff from my department have been directly impacted by these disasters. Indeed, I was talking to the secretary this morning and she reminded me that 20 per cent of the staff in my department have been directly impacted. But that has not stopped them from going to work and supporting their communities. We're also deploying our mobile service centres to assist people in hard-to-reach areas and help them get back to their normal routine. The government's disaster recovery allowance has been activated for Tasmania, and the disaster recovery allowance and disaster recovery payment have been activated for Townsville to provide further support for those families and individuals that have been affected. As of yesterday afternoon, I'm pleased to advise the House around 35,000 claims for the Australian government disaster recovery payment have been granted, with more than $42 million already paid into people's bank accounts. More than 130 claims for disaster recovery allowance have been granted, helping people pay their bills, feed their families and get on with their life.

Whilst the immediate danger has passed, we will start to move into the long and difficult process of recovery, repair and rebuilding. I want to reassure everybody in these affected areas that the Australian government will be there every step of the way. Anyone affected can call the Australian government emergency information line on 1802266, and they can complete a claim simply over the phone with absolutely no paperwork to do. We will continue to do all that we can to assist the Queenslanders and Tasmanians affected, and the government will work hand in glove to assist these affected communities.

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Just before members leave, I'm going to quickly table some reports and then I'm going to make an important statement. So, out of courtesy, I wanted to let members know that before they left the chamber.