Doorstop in Forbes, NSW


SUBJECTS: Flood update; Federal and State assistance; flood impact on farmers and agriculture industry.

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: My name is Murray Watt, the Federal Minister for Emergency Management, and I’m very pleased today to be joined by the two local mayors; Phyllis Miller from the Forbes Council and Ken Keith from the Parkes Council, along with Brendan Moon, the Coordinator General of the National Emergency Management Agency. And can I thank both Phyllis and Ken for talking with me about the damage that we continue to see in western New South Wales from these terrible and never ending floods.

Behind me now, you can actually see the Forbes Golf Course well underwater as it has been on a number of occasions this year. I was actually in Forbes about a month ago with the Prime Minister, inspecting the floods at that point, and even then Forbes had flooded five or six times this calendar year and, of course, there’s now been a couple more floods even since we were here only a short time ago, not to mention the floods that we’re seeing in many other parts of the country, as well.

This afternoon I will be visiting Eugowra, which is obviously one of the worst-affected communities from these recent floods. I’ve been in regular contact with the Federal Member Andrew Gee and I will be catching up with him this afternoon, as well as being in contact with Michael McCormack and Steph Cooke, the New South Wales Minister too, just to make sure that we’re getting a really good feel for what is needed on the ground.

My message, more than anything though, to the people of New South Wales and right across the country who are dealing with these floods is that your federal government is standing with you both in the response immediately after these floods and in the recovery. We will keep coming back to these communities as often as is needed to make sure that these communities get the support they need in what is going to be a very long recovery.

There are so many effects from these floods, whether it be on agricultural production or roads infrastructure or the damage to people’s homes and small businesses as well, and people can be assured that all three levels of government are working together closely to make sure that people get the support that they need.

From a Federal perspective, we now have about 200 ADF personnel on the ground just in this region, around Forbes, Parkes and Eugowra, helping people with the immediate clean-up and washing up and all that kind of activity that’s going to be needed, and I had the pleasure of meeting some of those ADF personnel myself today.

We’re also very fortunate to be backed in by some of our international friends. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the New Zealand team, who are based in Parkes helping with the local effort here, and we’ve also got people from Singapore, flood rescue experts, who are helping out in these communities as well. And we are deeply grateful to our international neighbours for the support that they’re providing, not to mention, of course, the incredible teams of locals, whether it be SES personnel, local government personnel, RFS personnel, police, all sorts of teams of people who are pitching in, and have been doing this for many months in a row.  So it’s no surprise that we are seeing a very high level of fatigue among these communities and that’s where that help we’re getting from our international friends is helping so much.

We’re also providing a substantial amount of financial support to these communities. I had a look this morning and there are now nearly 200 council areas or Local Government Areas across the countries that are disaster-declared and are receiving some level of support from Federal and State Governments at the moment. Just in New South Wales, we are on the verge of having 75 Local Government Areas declared for disaster support, and that’s about 60 per cent of the council areas across New South Wales alone. And again that gives you some sense of the scale of the damage that we’re seeing here.

So grants are now in place at the individual level, for farmers, for a range of other groups who need that help. And just yesterday I activated the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment for four more council areas here in New South Wales, being Cabonne, Dubbo, Parkes and Walgett. That’s the $1000 payments for eligible adults and $400 for eligible kids. So I can assure people that support will continue to flow and we will stay in close contact with local governments, state governments to make sure that people are getting what they need.

Richard Marles was here through the week as the Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister. The Special Envoy for Disaster Recovery Tony Sheldon as well. I thank them for being here and, as I say, we will be here as often and as long as is necessary to make sure that these communities get the support they need.

I’ll hand over to Phyllis and Ken to have a bit of a chat with you about what else is needed here, and happy to take some questions.

PHYLLIS MILLER, FORBES MAYOR: Well thanks very much, Minister and Brendan (Moon). We really appreciate your visit to see first-hand the devastation that we’ve been going through over the last month – I’m very grateful that you can see it for yourself. We will be making some representations, we believe that it’s now time that we have some renewal of our emergency management facilities and I will be, as I said to the Minister earlier, I will be going to the begging bowl and to the door and trying to get whatever funds I require to make sure that we have got great, great assets that can do and deliver services when we are in such a devastating predicament.

I think I need to remind you that we have been in flood for four months. I have got community members that for three months have been isolated on their properties. We have been doing food drops. We have been ferrying teachers into Bedgerebong school. This is not just a five-minute thing that’s happened here. So I’m very grateful to the Federal Government for everything that they’re doing for us and, of course, our State Government. And the boots on the ground are the important people not just some of them, bureaucratically, that make terrible decisions. I want to commend the workers, the people the RFS, Fire and Rescue, the SES workers, the boots on the ground and, of course, having the Defence Force here in Forbes is brilliant, and that’s going to get us back on the map in a much more timely manner than we could ever have imagined. So I want to say thank you. The Deputy Prime Minister was here the other day in his capacity as Acting Prime Minister and I cannot speak highly enough of the time he took and the care he took to listen to everything that we had to say, and I want to say thank you to the Albanese Government for everything that they’re doing. Thank you.

KEN KEITH, PARKES MAYOR: I’m the Mayor of Parkes Shire. I would like to endorse the words of my fellow Mayor from Forbes. And Parkes has had one of its unprecedented flood events. Areas of Parkes have flooded that have never, ever flooded before and the intensity of that rainfall has nearly taken out two bridges on access roads into Parkes, including the main arterial road to Orange.

The devastation of the damage was unbelievable but most of the homes in Parkes have basically been cleaned up thanks to all the volunteers and the SES and all the different charity and service organisations that all rallied together to help people clean out their houses. That community spirit in these flood-affected areas is so vital for communities, and they’ve done a wonderful job in helping people get back on their feet. I certainly echo Phyllis’s comments about the support that we’ve received from State and Federal Governments and also the SES and all those emergency services and those ones coming from overseas, from New Zealand and Singapore, to help our communities out.

We, of course, have also reached out to our neighbours at Eugowra in particular who were really smashed by the intensity of the event there and taken over supplies and assistance to them. Our thoughts are with Condobolin down the road, that will be the next major town that’s going to be affected by these floods. So a big thankyou to everyone that’s involved, and it really does show that Australia is a wonderful nation, the way we come together and support each other both financially and physically, but also in that cultural sense that we are kind to one another and we look after one another and we help one another. A big thank you to all the community that have rallied for these events over the last month or so. Thank you very much.

MURRAY WATT: Happy to take any questions. Molly, did you have anything there for us?

JOURNALIST (ON PHONE): Could I – first of all, thank you for doing this, appreciate it. Just first of all can I ask are you worried about the impact this flooding will have on the national and the state GDP?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, there’s no doubt that these floods are having a major impact on local economies and the national economy. In the lead up to this year’s Federal Budget the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, made clear that we expected it would have an impact on our national GDP this year and you’ve only got to look at the fact that the agricultural production in Australia has been very badly affected across large parts of the states as a result of these floods. I’ve now met farmers everywhere from Moree in the north west through here in the Central West, Victoria, Tasmania, and we’re, of course, concerned about what might be coming in South Australia as well. And we’re seeing very big impacts on everything from wheat, barley crops and canola, through to dairy and sheep industries as well, and that is inevitably going to have an impact on the national economy. It will be a blow to the budget, but again people can be assured that we will be continuing to support them through this recovery.

JOURNALIST: So just following on that then, how can you be confident that Australia is going to meet that $100 billion agricultural industry by 2030 pledge?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah we’re very supportive as a Government of the agriculture industry’s goal of reaching a $100 billion industry by 2030, and we’ve been seeing very good progress towards that goal over the last couple of years with high exports and high prices meaning we’re now heading for record exports just this calendar year. Now everything that I’m seeing and hearing suggests that there will be an impact on agricultural production and value this year but, I guess, the other side of the coin is that there’s other parts of the country that are receiving pretty much the optimal level of rainfall and can look forward to very high crop yields and prices as well. But I think that there is likely to be a temporary setback towards that $100 billion goal, but I’m still very confident that we can get there by 2030.

JOURNALIST: Just finally, are you – do you think there’s enough support on offer for primary producers that have been affected?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah well we’ve been working very closely with the New South Wales Government and NSW Farmers on the support that’s needed for farmers. Just this week, we jointly with the New South Wales Government agreed to increase the grants that are available for primary producers to $75,000, that’s up from the $25,000 that was originally approved. And we’ve now got similar grants in place for farmers in Victoria, a little bit lower in Tasmania at this point because the damage hasn’t been quite as extensive down there. I know I’ve said before I realise that won’t necessarily cover the cost of every single piece of damage that farmers have incurred, and this will be a sizable blow for them but I do think that those sorts of grants at the $75,000 level are a serious contribution from all taxpayers towards the losses that our farmers have incurred.

JOURNALIST: That’s all from me, thank you so much.