Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston. Yesterday the minister told the Senate:
I think you will find that the majority of Australians impacted by these bushfires have been very happy and grateful for the response by this government.
Megalong Valley resident Glenda Lane has been told she is not eligible for bushfire recovery assistance despite her smoke stained home. After facing drought and bushfires, she is now in a perilous financial position. Is the minister really saying that Ms Lane should feel happy and grateful for the assistance that she has received?
Thank you, Senator Ayres, for your question. If you actually listen to what I said yesterday, I said that the majority of Australians are very happy with the response that has happened, not just by the federal government but by state governments as well, in relation to these unprecedented disasters that have occurred. In relation to the specific example that you have raised, as I said yesterday in response to a question very similar to the one that you have just asked, if you have a particular individual who is experiencing particular difficulty, we are more than happy, on a case-by-case basis, to look at the circumstances around that particular case to see whether they are able to be supported.
I will take Senator Watt's interjection. I think the Australian public in general, particularly those who have been affected by bushfires, have been very, very grateful for the response they have received across-the-board—from the state governments across the many states that have been impacted by bushfires.
I have to say that I saw the military walk off the aircraft on Kangaroo Island and the Australian government's response through the ADF—and I thank Senator Reynolds for the response process that she put in place—and I watched the faces of people on Kangaroo Island, people who had lost their houses, lost their farms and lost their livestock. When those boots got on the ground on Kangaroo Island those people were very, very grateful. So I can assure the chamber that my statement yesterday was absolutely accurate: I do believe that the majority of Australians who have been impacted have been grateful for the response they've received across the board.
However, there will be individual circumstances—possibly like the one that Senator Ayres raised in his question—that we would be more than happy to take on and have a look at on a particular case-by-case basis so that we can have a look through the recovery process, both state and federal, to see whether there are other things that are available to the constituent to which you refer.
A month after losing his home in the bushfires, Weetaliba Rural Fire Service firefighter Joe Borgia had only received the disaster recovery payment, was still waiting for other funding approvals and was forced to accept donations from neighbours just to keep going. Is the best advice this minister has for Mr Borgia really just to be happy and grateful?
Senator Ayres, you do a disservice to this place and yourself by making a comment like that! The reality of this is that it was an absolutely unprecedented disaster and there have been hundreds and thousands of Australians who have been out there working on the fire front—our firefighters, our emergency service workers and our defence forces. They've been out there helping Australians—
A point of order on direct relevance: could this minister not hide behind the goodness and courage of other Australians and respond to her 'happy and grateful' lecturing of Australians in this chamber?
That was my point, and I would like to reflect on this. I think that on many occasions now, instead of raising a point of order, Senator Wong raises debating points. Obviously, that is disorderly. I think she should be called to order much quicker.
I'll take that submission. I was attempting to call Senator Wong to order on the point of order. On questions that are highly politically charged: the minister is entitled to address them in a manner that the minister sees fit. It is not appropriate to call a point of order for an answer someone doesn't like when there has been a politically charged question. Senator Ruston to continue.
Thank you very much. This just gives me the opportunity to update the Senate on some of the activities that have actually been undertaken as part of the bushfire recovery. Over $121 million has been paid to families and individuals, and over $155 million has been paid to 88,900 eligible individuals in disaster recovery payments and allowances. We've paid $5.2 million to 1,500 volunteer firefighters, and almost $300,000 has been paid to 23 applicants under the expansion of the Community Child Care Fund. (Time expired)
Members and senators are hearing from countless Australians in areas devastated by bushfires, frustrated about inflexible government bureaucracy and severe delays in receiving assistance. Why is the best this minister can say to Australians struggling in the aftermath of the bushfire crisis simply to be happy and grateful?
I will take the premise of the comment that's just been made there. I did not say yesterday that Australians should be happy or should be grateful. I said that the feedback I've received on the ground from the majority of people who I have encountered since I've been out on the bushfire firegrounds has been that they are grateful for the response that they've received from the federal government and the state government, and from their communities—their local government. I think that to come in here and seek to misrepresent me is not doing Senator Ayres any service.
However, what I would say, Senator Ayres, is that the response to these unprecedented fires has been unprecedented in itself. It's the first time that the military has been called out to the kind of degree that it has. This is the first time that the federal government has had to stand up a National Bushfire Recovery Agency, and there has been an absolute myriad of programs put in place, including the $2 billion made available by our good economic management.