Release type: Transcript

Date:

Transcript: Interview — Sky News Live Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

Topics: Floods and emergency response; Minister Robert’s visit to Lismore; Prime Minister’s visit to Lismore

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's bring in the Cabinet Minister, Employment Minister Stuart Robert. I'll ask you one of the questions the Prime Minister was asked by one of the local journalists there in Lismore. Do you understand why many of the locals there feel abandoned?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Kieran, I was there Friday. So I was the first minister of any government on the ground as soon it was opened up. There was myself, obviously Services Australia, and the military. I walked the streets, met everyone we could, spent the entire day there, hours in the evacuation centre meeting with police and firies and emergency services professionals, spent hours with the mayor and talked to as many people, business owners, as possible to understand the support they need. At that stage, disaster recovery payments were flowing – $380 million now, in total. Category D funding had been announced. $50,000 for small business; $75,000 for primary producers and the like.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] So why do people feel abandoned then?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Because of the weight of this. Think about Lismore, and Kieran, this is really important.

Imagine going to bed with your kids and you know it's going to be 11.5 metres, that's the flood. And then you wake up at 5 AM and it's 2.1 metres higher. And an hour after that, the water's up to your neck and you're putting your baby on the roof. Get your head around that. The SES had seven boats there. Those citizens had a few hours.

When the mayor put a call out and 200 tinnies arrived to save thousands of their citizens in an area where everyone went to bed on a Sunday night thinking this will be like the flood we had a few years ago and are waking to the full horror of what they confronted.

Now, if I was one of those families and I went to bed with the best knowledge I had it’d be 11.5 metres and woke up with water up to here and my kid’s on the ceiling, you know, I'd be pretty upset, too.

And this is not my story. This is one of the ladies in the evacuation centres. I stood there with the police, with the emergency services, 750 people there. These are the stories I was hearing as I walked across the streets and connected with people. Now, the Prime Minister would’ve come with me on Friday, but he had COVID. The Emergency Management Minister was there on Sunday.

So I get it. I feel the horror. Kevin Hogan, the local member, also a member of the executive, has been working his guts out. Geez, I cried with him and his wife, too.

I get the frustration of these people, Kieran. It’s terrible, it is unprecedented.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Okay. So let me ask you then, because the Prime Minister said that when you get a flood of this sort, you can't have immediate reaction or immediate response that it's got to be the locals first. Now, given the nature of this emergency, given where it's happened in Northern Rivers where we know there's been a history of flooding and so on, why weren't there better mechanisms in place to provide the support to people or at least better than what there was?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, if you think about what the royal commission into the last bushfires made the point that the initial response comes locally from the state and the Federal Government comes helping with the emergency payments at the start following by the Category D, which is the further payment structures, and then we move and we progressively add more and more support as we're allowed to go in there.

So the very first thing the Federal Government did as roads were open, I went in there as the Small Business Minister to work through, on behalf of the Federal Government, what are the initial requirements, what do we need, what’s important here?

You'd expect a community to be first in, especially when they had no warning. I mean, what they did was extraordinary this community.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But given the nature of these sorts of floods and clearly there are, you know, we're facing more and more of these. The Prime Minister conceded this is a national security risk now, this sort of flood crisis, with climate change. He conceded as much in that news conference. That's where we're heading. How much more do we need in terms of mitigation and to have emergency services there so that people don't have to go around in their dinghies and save babies off roofs?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I think we need to pull out all the stops on this. Chatting with the Mayor, Steve, there was a mitigation report from the previous Greens council that he found in the bottom drawer, that had all of the steps needed to be taken to achieve that mitigation, and that council did nothing. It's why that community threw them out. And Steve is a very popular mayor, and he was talking about what's required.

And now, as the Prime Minister said, we're going to pull out all stops. We're all going to work together to achieve the mitigation we need for these communities.

It's why we've got the $4 billion fund there to ensure there are always funds separate from the general expenditure of government that we can draw down on. A minimum of $50 million a year and more if required.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Should the Prime Minister do a street walk? Should he do a street walk, as you did when you were there on Friday of last week?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think the Prime Minister answered that. I walked for hours and met everyone, so did Minister McKenzie. Now I didn't have a whole bunch of crazy loony protesters out there, led by the Greens candidate for Richmond. So I was able, with no cameras, to meet with and connect with everyone and hear all their stories and work through what's needed. I was able to get on the phone to Minister Dominello and other ministers, get on the phone to Resilience New South Wales and communities and justice, and get Services Australia resources in and to get more of those resources on the ground.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] They’re not all loony protesters. There are a lot of locals there too who want to give him, you know, their view and their response to this crisis. It's not just sort of loony protesters, it's locals too that want to have a word with him. Why doesn't he do a street walk, go and meet them face to face?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I think the question was asked to the Prime Minister, but when you look at some of those placards, Kieran, there are some loony protesters out there amongst them. Now, I had no problem doing a street walk, but again, I didn't have the whole media pack there. I can move quietly and connect with people. I didn't have a whole bunch of demonstrators there trying deal with another issue however important. It made it a lot easier for me as a senior Cabinet minister to connect and understand the issues and feed it back through the National Security and the Expenditure Review Committee process.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Shouldn’t he just front up?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Sorry, Kieran, say that again.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Shouldn’t he just front up? Even with the protesters, even if it is messy, just go and listen to them and where there are cameras and it's messy and it's ugly, shouldn't he just show up?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think the Prime Minister did show up. He did meet with a whole range of people. I think the issue you're raising is he didn't meet them with cameras in tow.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, I appreciate your time as always. Thank you.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you, Kieran.

[ENDS]