National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework

March 03, 2020

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.