House debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Ministerial Statements

National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework

4:30 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome this opportunity to address the situation that has emerged in the context of these terrible disasters beyond the scale of anything we have ever seen and it is, I guess, a concession that should be made that on disasters of this scale we do need to learn lessons and some things that may have been unforeseen need to be addressed. But there are so many things that have been so glaringly obvious about the failures of addressing this disaster that they do need to be highlighted if we are to move forward at all. Just to put it in context, in Eden-Monaro we saw over a million hectares burnt. That is greater than the entire extent of the damage in the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, larger than the famous Amazon fires recently, larger than the Californian wildfires of 2018, all just within the borders of Eden-Monaro. Associated with that too, we lost over 1,000 homes across the LGAs in Eden-Monaro and close to around 9,000 livestock. I guess when you stick out that raw number of 9,000 livestock, it doesn't mean a lot to people. But if you are a farmer—I have lived on dairy farms with my family—and you have go out there and see an animal that is suffering from terrible burn injuries and then have to go through the trauma of euthanizing them—putting them down—and having to do it on a large scale and then dealing with the corpses, it is traumatic stuff. One farmer from out Batlow way was telling us the other day how his kids had to be involved in that too. Because these animals were suffering so much, they didn't have time to waste. He was in tears when he was telling me this story. So the trauma and the tragedy out there has been just enormous. It certainly has been a big awakening about the future we all face if we done do something seriously about climate change and that is something that we can talk more about.

We are now talking about the recovery phase and how we deal with that scale of damage, disaster, destruction. I have travelled all around Eden-Monaro meeting with chambers of commerce in Jindabyne, Merimbula, Eden talking to business communities, attending community meetings in Tumbarumba and it has been a common disturbing theme out there that the measures meant to have been put in place to help particularly small businesses haven't been. Some of these chambers of commerce have actually surveyed their members. For example, in Jindabyne they said that 71 per cent of the businesses that had applied for assistance had completely failed and they were mystified by the process. When I was talking to the Narooma Chamber of Commerce members, they were telling me that, looking at the Austrade package of event support, there is this 11-page document they have found absolutely impossible to navigate. When we talk about to assistance allocated to councils, it works out to be around $30,000 per LGA. They estimated that to stage the Narooma Oyster Festival this season is going to cost $85,000 and no business which normally would support that activity can afford to engage in the sponsorship that they usually do. So we have to completely revisit the scale of this assistance to these councils.

I think in the context of some of the other things we have been hearing in the last few days, what has made them particularly angry are things like the story about the $10 million North Sydney pool project, which used regional money. To hear someone from that area saying, 'Yes, but people from the regions sometimes visit and use the pool,' just underlined how ridiculous that situation is. I've seen the Bega District News reporting on the anger of the Mayor of Bega Valley Shire Council, Kristy McBain, who had to deal with those terrible fires at Tathra only a couple of years ago, which destroyed 65 homes, killed animals—no people thankfully—and killed off a lot of businesses. We've just seen On the Perch Bird Park fold at Tathra—the double whammy of the two seasons. Mayor McBain is absolutely livid. In the past she's asked for $5 million to help get them through the infrastructure and repair challenges that they faced, and they weren't granted that money, and then she saw $10 million of regional money go to a North Sydney pool. They've had situations where the disaster recovery money won't cover the loss of infrastructure, like dressing sheds and cemeteries and town halls. The whole scope of that program needs to be revisited. In relation to this North Sydney pool issue, the Bega member, Andrew Constance, who's a Liberal government minister, described it as disgusting. This has to be looked at. We have stolen regional money from shires who are really suffering from the damage of these bushfires, and they're watching this money being frittered away in places where it just should not be.

To go back to the effect on small businesses, I mentioned in questions to the Prime Minister that the Longstocking Brewery would normally be employing 24 to 30 casual staff at this time of the season but is now only employing four. The message we're getting from these businesses all around—because they do mostly employ casual labour based on the seasonal nature of their enterprise—is that these people are leaving town in significant numbers. In a country town, if you lose your job, you have no other option. There are no other jobs to go to and you're forced to leave town, and that creates this vicious cycle: you start to lose numbers and families and kids and then you lose your schoolteachers and maybe then you end up losing your local police officer. So it's a terrible cycle, which we have to intervene now to short circuit.

Of course the Longstocking Brewery is not the only example. I've had feedback, as per the other question I asked the Prime Minister, from the President of the Merimbula Chamber of Commerce, Nigel Ayling. There are 140 members of that chamber. Mr Ayling surveyed them, and 90 responders basically said they got no help from the assistance packages that are out there. He indicated that there are seven businesses that could close in Merimbula within the next 12 months and that there are a further 20 that are on the edge of closing if they don't get some help. He said:

When it comes to government assistance, it's a big fat zero with 100 per cent of respondents saying they have received no government assistance at all.

This is in the face of them losing 60 per cent of their annual turnover. When I met with the Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce they highlighted that 71 per cent of their members couldn't achieve success in their applications and they just didn't understand the process. It was just too hard. This is a message that's emerging all around the region. It underlines the fact that, instead of having these travelling buses moving around only occasionally, we need on the ground in each significant town a small business adviser and a Centrelink representative to help navigate people through these processes. It has to happen. I've had a lot of constituent feedback about how these buses have failed. Someone from Tilba, for example, indicated to me they weren't even aware the bus was coming and, by the time they heard about it, the bus had gone and wasn't coming back. So we need people on the ground for these next few months through to the next summer season at least to help people to navigate this stuff. And those advisers need to feed back to government how those processes need to be adjusted and improved and streamlined to facilitate getting money flowing now.

I know that there is hesitancy in the government because of the political capital that was made during the global financial crisis about so-called cheques to dead people and that sort of thing, but that immediate cash in the hands of people during that crisis saved us from going into a recession. The estimates of the government agencies that were advising us to do it that way were that we were essentially going to have 200,000 people on the streets unemployed, and that didn't happen. This is the issue: that money needs to be landing in the streets right now. If it doesn't happen right now, it's going to be too late. I know there is caution around this and you want to put accountability mechanisms in place, but there is this double mechanism now of things going from the federal to the state government and buck-passing that's going on. Minister Barilaro is saying this is unacceptable. The buck-passing has got to stop and the buck has got to land on the ground for the people that really need this to happen.

I would beg the government to take a good, hard look at how this is working. There are shamrock measures that are being taken, where we've got a shingle on the door saying 'Bushfire Recovery Agency' and then we find there is actually no agency, and then we find there is no appropriation for the $2 billion that we've heard has been allocated. It has got to start happening now. The government has got to get off the dime. If there are issues with the New South Wales government, sort them out. In my community, this is burning holes in the government. The fires have finished but there is one fire still burning—a fire of anger, and I am not exaggerating.

4:41 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to recognise Minister Littleproud for an important speech on disaster risk reduction. He outlined a sensible policy framework that says we shouldn't just respond to disasters after they happen but reduce risks upfront and ensure that communities are resilient before disaster hits. He was extremely clear that climate change is driving these disasters, making them worse, and will continue to threaten the fundamentals that make Australia a wonderful place to live.

He said:

Climate change is causing an increase in frequency and intensity of heatwaves, fire weather and contributing to drought. Our world-leading science agencies have told us that we can expect more extremes into the future, longer disaster seasons and compounding events.

I was pleased to hear the minister lay this out so unequivocally. It is important for Australians to hear this from their leaders. It's also important, as we pivot into rebuilding after these fires, to consider what disaster resilience really means for regional Australia.

The minister said yesterday:

When things are going well we may value efficiency and cost-effectiveness; but when faced with disruption the need for safety and security comes into sharper focus.

For many communities in my electorate of Indi, these fires have brought into sharp relief how much more needs to be done to build resilience before the next disaster hits.

Minister Littleproud and I spent a weekend in February touring bushfire affected communities of Indi, and I believe he has heard this message loud and clear. In Indi, like across much of regional Australia, these fires have exposed the brittle skeleton that sits beneath many of our regional communities: stretched health and mental health services; poor facilities; farmers who have lost stock, property and fencing; communities totally reliant on a single electricity transmission line; small businesses with just a few weeks of financial buffer before they have to shut up shop; and young people who have not had the opportunity to access skills and training.

Reducing the risk of disaster is not just about buildings and firefighting; it's also about fostering stronger communities. To properly ensure we reduce the risk of disasters and build resilience in regional Australia, these fires need to herald a step change in the government's approach to regional Australia. First, we need to support proper research into how to adapt to our rapidly changing climate. The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, established in 2013, is due to have its funding expire in the middle of next year. The bushfire CRC has done important work in building our understanding of how to manage fires. CRCs are supposed to be funded only for set periods, but there is an established practice of extending them when there is a pressing national need. I believe there is such a need, and the government should consider extending its funding.

Adapting to a changed climate is about more than bushfires. We need proper research into adaption and resilience in regional Australia. It's a real shame that the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility had its funding cut in 2017. The NCCARF could play a significant role in helping this country prepare for our future. In the next budget, the government should strongly consider reinstating its funding and establishing a sister facility in regional Australia to complement the existing base in the Gold Coast. We mustn't just respond willy-nilly. We have to respond smartly. Ensuring these two research centres are properly funded will be a gift to the nation in coming decades.

Second, building the resilience of regional communities means we need to properly invest in regional communities across the board. We need a national strategy to adapt our agricultural sector to climate change, including support to transition to climate-resilient crop strains, upgrade farm infrastructure and much more. I called for such a strategy last September, and it's now clearer than ever why we need one.

We need to properly invest in rural mental health. Our mental health services are beyond breaking point in regional Australia. There are not enough trained personnel, and it's way too hard to access services. The mental health impacts of bushfires are immense. We need to ensure our communities are mentally healthy to take on those challenges.

Our councils, who are the first to respond in these crises, are starved of funds to build critical infrastructure and community facilities, on which, in a crisis, people depend for their lives. We need to restore financial assistance grants to one per cent of federal tax revenue to ensure rural and regional councils are investing in communities and are empowered to respond in crises. We need to properly fund the ABC, which saved who knows how many lives this summer with their excellent, reliable emergency broadcasts.

We need to ensure our regional towns have energy security. Places like Corryong were completely cut off from the grid for several days during 'black summer' after the transmission lines burned down. This meant everyone in the town, including the hospital, lost power. Many in Corryong are calling for investment in a mini-grid to ensure that this will never happen again. An investment of just $12 million to build a small-scale solar array, batteries and mini-grid technology would mean not only that Corryong has a brand-new source of income for the community but that it will never again be reliant on a single fragile wire connecting it to the grid. I'm calling on the government to create a fund to support the development of community renewables, not just in fire affected areas but across regional Australia. In fact, I'm working with local community energy experts in my electorate to design such a proposal, and I look forward to working with government to make it happen, because this is truly about resilience.

Will all of this cost money? Yes, of course it will, but, as the minister said:

The economic cost of natural disasters is currently estimated to be $18.2 billion a year … The costs of disasters are projected to rise to $39 billion by 2050 even without accounting for a changing climate … If you put the investment in upfront to build your resilience, then you're more likely to get through. The overall cost could ultimately be less.

We need to heed Minister Littleproud's call and ensure that these fires herald a new wave of investment in regional Australia.

4:48 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to join with Minister Littleproud in extending my deepest sympathies to the families that have lost loved ones during this horrendous bushfire season, and I also want to acknowledge the members of this place who, when their homes and communities were under threat, worked with the community to safeguard them. I know the member for Macquarie, the member for Eden-Monaro, the member for Gilmore and others performed such sterling work during the horrendous bushfire season. The work that they did is a credit to them. I also extend my deepest sympathies to Australians across our fire ravaged land who lost their loved ones, homes, businesses, crops, livestock or livelihoods over this awful summer, and I extend my personal appreciation to all the members of the parliament, some of whom I just mentioned, and to our brave, heroic firefighters, who gave up weeks or months and often gave up their personal income, their holidays, and time with their families to help save properties and lives. They did this for gruelling days, weeks and months—what must have seemed like an endless tour of duty—to fight these fires, protect their neighbours and protect people they didn't know. It was a horrendous summer, but it also showed the Australian spirit and how Australians will come together to support each other in times of need.

In particular I pay tribute to those who never returned home. We owe them and their children much more than our respect, much more than thoughts and prayers. We've actually got to help them. It is something that we must honour. It is of great concern to me that increasingly there doesn't seem to be that much respect paid to the words of government ministers. We find out that the things that they say they are doing are not backed up by the reality on the ground, and that is something that needs to change. That is something that needs to be addressed very quickly.

I don't think anyone contests that the level of destruction we have seen in the last six months was unprecedented. Certainly it is a bipartisan point of agreement, I would hope, that it was unprecedented. Any reasonable person would say that this summer was unprecedented, but that doesn't mean that this summer's horrific toll was unexpected. In fact, for many months the government was warned of an intense bushfire season compounded by climate change. For months former fire chiefs, with hundreds of years of experience between them all, asked our Prime Minister to meet so they could explain their concerns to him. For months they were ignored. When pressed on it, the Prime Minister said that he listens to serving fire chiefs and not the really experienced retired ones. That was a shame—not just a shame for the credibility of the Prime Minister, but a shame in that we were not as prepared as we needed to be for those expected catastrophic fires. It was in November last year that the leader of the Australian Labor Party wrote to the Prime Minister to say in a bipartisan way, 'Convene COAG and let's talk about Australia's natural disaster preparedness.' The fact that that was ignored is obviously a shame. For many years, as those opposite would probably like to forget—they won't be allowed to—experts like Ross Garnaut warned the government that this scenario was coming with near certainty. In fact, he even predicted that it would all come to a head in the year 2020, this past fire year.

Those warnings were ignored. What concerns me, even though I join Minister Littleproud in thinking about all that was lost, is that there was still this self-congratulating spin, this trumpeting of how well the government did, when the Australian people could see quite clearly—day after day, week after week and month after month, as this fire tragedy spread throughout 2019 and into 2020—that the government's lack of preparedness had left us at the mercy of enormous fires across our nation. It should have been expected. There were warnings. What the federal government needs to do is not congratulate themselves but lead. They need to not coordinate from behind and after the fact but actively lead a national response to the bushfires, floods and other crises, if not to avoid the horrendous loss of life and property, but—this may strike a stronger chord with them—so that they can prevent fires costing our nation billions of dollars.

One example of where it is costing us big time is in agriculture. As was pointed out by PhD candidate David McKenzie, from Charles Darwin University, in his submission to the current House of Representatives inquiry into how we lift agricultural production in this country:

The primary challenge to the growth of Australian agricultural output is that of the intensifying propensity of natural hazard consequence risks due to increasing frequency and accentuation of climatic variability oscillations.

Academic-speak! He continues:

The 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review foreshadowed serious impacts of climate change on the Australian agricultural sector (Garnaut, 2008).

As I said, it shouldn't be news to anyone that catastrophic climate change will continue to be a threat, not only to lives and properties in this nation but also to our economy. We are seeing that played out in spades.

One of the ways we can better manage the fire threat in our nation is to listen to Indigenous knowledge that has been developed over tens of thousands of years. I was proud to open the Savanna Fire Forum in Darwin on 18 February, which focused on the amazing work of the savannah carbon farming industry. I'll just quickly give you an idea of the potential. The savannah projects have reduced emissions by more than 6.9 million tonnes of CO2 since 2013. These projects have achieved the equivalent of removing 400,000 cars from our roads. It is going to be able to generate income. Our country's tropical savannah covers about 1.9 square kilometres, or close to a quarter of our continental land mass. These savannahs are highly fire prone, so active fire management by First Nations people over the last 60,000 years has obviously helped to shape those savannah landscapes and these traditional practices. The transition from those traditional practices to modern farming techniques had a big impact on our environment. As a result, I think there is a renewed focus on ways that we can work with Indigenous knowledge to actively manage fire and work on what we know to be the case—that the two-way seeing of First Nations Australians will give us a much better idea about how to manage fuel loads and about how to manage fires by managing fuel loads early in the season. I hope that we can do that to the benefit of our nation.

4:58 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make some brief remarks on this important debate and in doing so I want to acknowledge the contribution of the member for Solomon, an excellent contribution that touched on many of the things that are of concern to me and the people that I represent in this place. I do want to acknowledge that the minister has done a good thing, and an important thing, in bringing this report before the parliament for us to debate and consider. It is how our parliament should work on matters of importance. There should be more ministerial statements and more opportunity for those of us who are not in the executive to debate them in this place and be accountable to those who send us here, as well as holding the government to account.

I have already noted, as I am sure most of us have, the terrible costs of the bushfires of this summer—fires that may well continue well into autumn—in particular that we have seen 33 deaths and enormous destruction of property. I extend my sympathies to all of those directly affected and acknowledge and pay tribute to all of those volunteers and professionals who contributed to the firefighting effort and who are working now in the recovery effort.

In terms of the report that is before us, there are a few points I want to make—three things that have arisen since the minister handed down his report. Firstly, Infrastructure Australia has now produced its infrastructure priority list. This is an important document which was prepared in December, before the majority of the fires. Yet it has a new and important focus that I have all members and indeed all senators have been paying regard to. That focus is on the risks that the member for Solomon was clearly articulating earlier—the challenge of climate change and the importance of building infrastructure that is resilient—as well as taking real action on climate change so that we don't see an inevitable transition towards summers like the one we have just had becoming the new normal, with all the attendant consequences. So I ask members to pay attention to that Infrastructure Australia report and to focus on resilience in our infrastructure and taking action on climate change to constrain global warning in keeping with the Paris agreement, to which this government entered into, and it's real aspirations to get to net-zero emissions.

In question time today, and in the ministerial statement this debate relates to, we heard some extraordinary evidence about the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, a much trumpeted body. We found out today that the $2 billion the minister and the Prime Minister spoke of is 'notional', which we now understand is Morrison government shorthand for 'non-existent'. This is quite extraordinary because this is something that should be bipartisan. But we on this side of the House won't be bipartisan at any cost. If we are serious about the commitments that we have made as a country and as a government, we should at the very least be serious about such financial commitments—and, indeed, to commitments to create an agency that does not yet exist. This is something the government needs to come clean on and act on, as indeed they have to do in terms of more support for small businesses which have been so grievously affected. They should follow the lead of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for small business, the member for Gorton, who, with my friend here the member for Macquarie and the member for Gilmore, called for urgent action to support small businesses that have been affected. It would be good to see the government acting on this.

In concluding my remarks, I want to echo some of the comments in the contributions to this debate by the member for Ballarat. She highlighted some very important issues of preparedness. She highlighted that, despite the fact that the incoming government brief on Home Affairs warned of the risks in this summer, despite the constant approaches of retired fire chiefs, the government did not do all that it should and could have done. Indeed, the government leant on an understanding it suggested at the time—which has now been contradicted by its actions—that these are questions for the states. How ironic it is that the Prime Minister's agenda now focuses on acquiring more power. That again suggests that this government is focused much more on marketing than real action. We do need to reflect appropriately on these things through any consideration of what has happened, what went wrong and how we can arm ourselves for the future.

The other point to make about power and pushing responsibility back to the states is the failure to bring together COAG, the failure to take national leadership, the failure to bring together a national coordinating role as the leader of the Labor Party called for quite early in the summer. So when we see this statement we see some fine words; but they are fine words that are underpinned by inaction and misleading statements. And they are fundamentally undermined by two things: this government's failure to have any plan to take action on climate and its failure to develop and articulate a plan to manage these risks to build our resilience into the future.

5:04 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is vital when we talk about disaster risk reduction, as the minister has done—and I welcome his statement—that we look at all aspects of managing, preparing for, recovering from and also mitigating the risks that we face. In terms of what we've seen in these bushfires, which, of course, had a shocking impact on my electorate—on the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury—we need to look at infrastructure that would have made a difference: making sure power supplies are there, making sure people can get calls or texts on a mobile, and making sure that there are back-up systems for landlines and internet, because in many cases people lost all communication. The only connection they had with the outside world was through the ABC, which is also something we should be looking at in terms of risk reduction—making sure that, when we can't reduce the risks, the systems we need in place are there. So there are massive infrastructure needs.

It will also be really important for locals to be involved in that planning process. Every area is different. I think we saw during these fires how important local knowledge is in the planning and preparation. We also need to use the Indigenous knowledge of our land that we have. So I think all of those things are key. Our frontline people also have to be resourced so that they can sustain the sorts of disasters that we are likely to see.

We've had a lot of focus on thinking about these things from a bushfire perspective, but in my electorate it was only a matter of moments after the bushfires were over that the rain started, and that brought with it flooding and landslides. There were massive storms. Trees were downed. So I think we have to make sure we don't confine our planning to one particular disaster. We know that, as climate change continues, we are going to see more and more extreme weather events of all kinds.

In talking about this today, I want to focus on the recovery stage—the things we have to plan so that we don't find ourselves in the situation we are in now, trying to recover from this massive bushfire season. It is becoming more of a disaster every day. I was really pleased to hear the Prime Minister say back in January, 'We will do whatever it takes, whatever it costs.' They are exactly the words that communities want to hear when they have been through something, quite frankly, unimaginable. Sadly those words are not being lived up to with commitments on the ground. The facts on the ground are not reflecting that sort of commitment from this government, which is why it is becoming a triple trauma for us: we've had fire, we've had floods and now we have a failed recovery.

I want to talk about some aspects of it—things that we can learn from this and things that need to be improved now. The first is that, when you say you're going to set up an agency to oversee the recovery, you actually have to do it. You can't just create a desk in PM&C, put someone there and say, 'There we are; there's the agency.' People expect transparency, and they expect an agency to be created.

At the same time, when you say you're going to put $2 billion aside to start this recovery, they expect that money to be put aside. They don't expect to it to be a notional fund—in other words, an imaginary fund. They expect it to be real dollars sitting there waiting to be used to support communities who are going through a really difficult time. Then they expect that money to flow, not to be held up in bureaucracy, not to have governments at different levels blaming each other for it and not to have the passing of the buck that we're now seeing.

We also expect, when you say you're going to give $76 million for tourism funding that will promote the areas that are bushfire affected and bring people back to those areas, that it be absolutely dedicated to those areas. The reason I raise this is that I still think there are questions that need to be answered by Tourism Australia and the minister on the record, in this place, about the commitment that was made. I say this because of a report in the Cairns Post. Chris Calcino, the journalist, writes that, in response to concerns about how coronavirus is going to impact the Cairns community and the concern about local jobs:

CAIRNS will be a major recipient of a new $40 million campaign to reignite international tourism as the Federal Government opens up bushfire tourism recovery funds to destinations peering over a coronavirus travel cliff.

The Morrison Government will invest $25 million into a marketing effort with a significant focus on Far North Queensland—money directed from a $76 million crisis package already announced for areas struggling in the wake of bushfires.

Now if that journalist has this story wrong then we need to hear on the record what is not accurate. Journalists—having been one—don't typically just make things up. Someone has given him information. If it's wrong, we need to hear it and we need to hear it in this place. Because the people who are dependent on tourism in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains want to see that money being used to drive tourists to our region. We want them back. We want a full house. In fact, we need it because the small businesses, not even those directly in tourism but those who suffer the flow-on consequences when tourism numbers are down, are really hurting. The promises that have been made are not being fulfilled.

Only five small businesses and primary producers have been eligible or have received a grant—five! Five have received a grant. I know of one in my community who's received a grant. You're excluded from the grants if you didn't burn down, so that means most people haven't even bothered to apply because they're not eligible. But of those who have, the numbers of approvals are terribly low. The bar for these grants is far too high as is the bar to get a working capital loan, which is meant to help small business.

Let me just give you an example of one small business. I have had emails from many but this one is from Peter. Peter runs a wilderness touring company. He notes that his tours to the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Bilpin stopped totally for weeks and weeks during the fire. The Darling Causeway was closed, the Bells Line of Road was closed and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden was closed for weeks yet he is not considered eligible for any sort of support. He can't apply for a concessional loan because, like many small businesses, he doesn't have anything that he can use as security, so he needs a grant to help him get through. He's already got through a really torrid time. He needs to be tied over until the numbers of visitors come back. That's why our proposal is that the government consider wage subsidies. It won't help every business but some businesses would be helped by wage subsidies for their workers, whether those workers are casual or part-time or full-time.

You know, it wasn't hard for the government to throw $10 million to North Sydney pool but it's really hard for them to give less than $250 a week to workers who have lost shifts. I refer to people like Noel, who tells me that he works in the hotel industry and he has lost two of his four shifts a week. That's what he faces now. The money is just not coming through. We have also proposed that there be a voucher for accredited accountants to guide people through the grant and loan application process. These are the sorts of supports that are needed. They're needed for individuals who are trying to get Centrelink support. They're needed for businesses who are trying to get business support.

I think in all of these things, what we have seen is just way more being promised than what is being delivered. Let me go back to what the Prime Minister said back in January: 'Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs.' My community is asking for modest support. They want the clean-up to happen fast; it's slow. There's still confusion about who's eligible and who's not. We want on-the-ground caseworkers to help solve these problems, to be able to bring together the multiple tiers. That's one of the things that we need to look at—how do we streamline the process so there are not three levels of government all trying to do little bits of it? We need to it to work in a cohesive, coherent simple way because, when you have been through a trauma of a natural disaster, it's hard enough to think straight let alone negotiate bureaucracy. So I hope that's what we see as we look at how we not only reduce the risk of disaster but improve the recovery process.

Debate adjourned.