Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management. Will the minister update the House on what actions the Morrison government is taking to ensure the safety and support of communities across Queensland and New South Wales who are bravely fighting devastating bushfires?
I thank the member for Wide Bay for his question and his concern. In fact his own electorate has been thrust into this fire emergency in the last 48 hours. Sadly, two homes were lost at Peregian Beach. These fires, which started late last week as high up as Mareeba, have spread right down the Queensland coast and into New South Wales and have taken 17 homes in Queensland and nine in New South Wales. There are 122 blazes still going. The federal government, at the request of the state government, immediately mobilised the resources of the Australian Defence Force, thanks to the defence minister, using Kokoda Barracks to house New South Wales firefighters who came into Queensland to help around Canungra. Canungra army base was also used. There were also water tankers helping Queensland firefighters to keep water up in their fight against those fires. Defence Force assets were also used in the area of Shoalwater Bay, where fires were close. With the aid of the Queensland government, we have also enacted the first stage of support payments to communities. There will be further assessments and applications made, but they can only be done when we can get state government personnel on the ground when it's safe. We cannot send those personnel in until it's safe. Once it's done, we expect those applications to come through, and we give the commitment that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the state government and make sure those applications are assessed very quickly and that the money flows. It's important we do that.
Today we also introduced the Emergency Response Fund legislation, a $4 billion fund that will create a $150 million dividend that will be paid every year, upon a catastrophic event—up to $150 million. This is on top of the disaster payments that we pay out to communities. On average, the Commonwealth government has paid $1.1 billion to state agencies and to the community.
We can take solace out of this—the only solace we can take—that not one Australian life has been lost. That's because we have a world-class emergency management system, predicated by the backing of world-class emergency management personnel. They are the people who are prepared to put their lives on the line for us. In fact, Neville Smith, a New South Wales firefighter, has been injured. I'm pleased to report to the House that he's recovering well in a Brisbane hospital, and our thoughts and prayers are with him. Can I say to those emergency services personnel, who are prepared to put their lives on the line—in fact, in Neville's case, he was about to lose his own property—and are prepared to go out there and support us: you are truly Australian heroes.
On indulgence—Very briefly, Mr Speaker, I associate Labor with the comments of the minister, and stand with him in giving praise to the firefighters, whether they be full-time personnel or volunteers, who've done such remarkable work, including the incredible work that was done saving houses around Peregian, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.