Minister Collins doorstop interview, Lismore


TOPICS: Small business and housing roundtables in Lismore, recovery efforts in Lismore 

JANELLE SAFFIN, MEMBER FOR LISMORE: I’d like to welcome to Lismore Julie Collins, the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and the Federal Minister for Small Business. And as you know, Julie was to visit us last year, and we weren’t able to proceed with that and she gave an undertaking to be here, to come back and she particularly gave it to Jane Laverty from Business NSW, our regional manager, and she’s here today. We both know, we all know, that small business is always a big issue, but particularly here post-floods, and for small businesses as they recover, and also with housing. We all know that we have a housing crisis. There’s been absolute neglect over a period of time with governments and housing, and we would need about 18,600 houses here or dwellings to address the shortfall that we have. So that’s another big issue. There will be two forums here today – the housing one, you’ve got some of the people here from housing, and also small business. Look, I was in Federal Parliament with Julie, so we’re old colleagues. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other in a long time, so it was very nice - we used to sit near each other, so it’s very lovely. She’s a really effective Minister, and she’s also very kind. Which is very important, particularly as she’s in housing and homelessness and small business. So I’m quite delighted that she’s here, and delighted she’s got those portfolios, and I welcome Julie. And also behind me is Senator Tony Sheldon, our Special Envoy for Disaster Recovery, who is no stranger to our whole area, to the Northern Rivers. He’s a frequent visitor, so I welcome him back and everyone else who’s part of the contingent with them. I can see them all out there, from the Department, from different places, so everybody’s welcome and I’ll hand over to Julie.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING, MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS AND MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Thanks Janelle. I’m really pleased to be in Lismore today to listen to locals, to listen to small businesses, to listen to individuals, to listen to housing and homeless service providers about how we can work better with the other tiers of government, the state government, about how we can better provide services on the ground and the supports that are needed. The thing that I expect to hear today is about how things have gone in the past and looking to the future. What has worked well, what we can do better. But also what supports are missing that we need to work with other tiers of government on providing for small businesses and for individuals. 

We do know that here in New South Wales that a significant number of people have been impacted, we also know that the Commonwealth assistance provided today is well over a billion dollars here in New South Wales. But this recovery needs to be done properly. We need to make sure that when we build back, we build back better, and that we have a more resilient community in the future and it’s terrific to have Special Envoy Tony Sheldon with us today but also Jane here form Northern Rivers Business NSW to listen to them. They’ve been on the ground here in the past, about how things have been working and what more needs to be done, and I’m happy to hand over to Special Envoy Sheldon to talk a little bit more about what support is being provided here in Lismore and what we might hear today.

SENATOR TONY SHELDON: Thanks very much, Julie and Janelle. It’s great to be here. One of the things that is really important and that is to make sure that these programs, the-now well north of 1 billion dollars has been spent in the Northern Rivers, is being spent correctly. Correctly means listening to local businesses, listening to the community up here about the housing challenges, listening to local members. Over these next couple of days, I’ll be meeting with Steve Krieg and also with the Federal Member to have a chat about what are some of the things that they think we should be doing to streamline best practice. To make sure we’re building back better in the Northern Rivers. When we get these challenges with natural disasters that are happening, these natural hazards that occur, the humanitarian disasters, the lessons that we will learn again today are to make sure that we are more resilient and more prepared for the next time, as well as fixing some of the issues that we’ve got, the one step bureaucratic problems that are happening in the system. All put in place with good will, but we’ve got every intention to make sure it works even better. 

The other thing I want to say is to all levels of government, to local government, to state government and also local politicians of all different political persuasions, that there’s been a real pull together by so many people to make sure that we get this right and we also get it better as we improve what is happening, to make sure it’s better for everybody and that means serving the community in a more substantial way. As part of that the Minister for Emergency Services today, Minister Murray Watt, made an announcement about further work, again as part of the ongoing review. Every time there’s a natural disaster that turns into a humanitarian disaster, we need to look at what we’re doing. And very early in the piece as a government there’s been a decision made to make sure that we’ve now got Andrew Colvin, who’s the ex-federal Commissioner of Police, who has also played a very pivotal role in other roles in the bushfire recovery period, who’s going to be heading up a further and important inquiry into making sure that we’re ready, resilient and learning from our experiences we’ve had in just these last 12 months to make sure we’re also fit for future. These ongoing reviews should always be happening. Because there’s no doubt about it and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from members of the community about what needs to be done better and what’s worked. So I’m really looking forward to the discussions we’re going to have this afternoon. 

JANE LAVERTY, BUSINESS NSW: Welcome to Minster Collins, Senator Sheldon and of course our Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin into the Northern Rivers Business Hub. This is a partnership project of Southern Cross University, Business NSW and the NSW Government. It sees us provide small businesses and medium businesses in the Northern Rivers with the really important resources as they’re trying to recover from such a catastrophic event. Highlighting the Minister’s portfolio being for small business and housing, never has this been more important to bring these two portfolios together for business, because without housing many of our businesses actually can’t attract the right staff and skill talent. So feeds into our golden triangle of pain of staffing, skills and housing, and really looking forward to spending time with the Minister, the Senator and the Local Member and our businesses to share what they’re feeling, what is happening, what they actually need to thrive in 2023 and also as a community we can support to bring more housing online across the Northern Rivers to help our community and help out businesses. 

JOURNALIST: Who is attending the roundtable, and what are you expecting to come out of it today?

LAVERTY: We have a whole range of industry sectors and also our housing leaders in the region to sit around the table, express where they’ve come from, where they’re going and what additional support they may need. They are very grateful for the support they’ve had from both the State and Federal Government. But as we now move into 2023, there’s a lot of challenges ahead. The cost of business is crippling for many of them and so they will need further support. Many of our businesses lost very critical equipment. They’re currently doing what we call a MacGyver – they’ve got gaffer tape and string holding things together – many of them without warranties on their equipment. We’re concerned that if any of that key equipment for their businesses starts to fail this year, that they will be in a lot of trouble and they don’t have the cashflow to spend $20,000 or $100,000 or $200,000 on critical equipment. If they lose their equipment and they have to knock back contracts or not take jobs. That means we have job losses, and we don’t want to see that. From retail to manufacturing, all manner of representatives to help provide the Minister and the Senator and the Local Member with some insights with what is working or what we could do to improve the year ahead for business and industry in the Northern Rivers. 

JOURNALIST: So you mentioned bureaucracy. Senator Watt I think two weeks ago, mentioned the CSIRO report. He said it was going to happen soon, it would be released soon. But it’s still not out. Isn’t the bureaucracy holding up a document that is important for the Northern Rivers to see?

SHELDON: I absolutely agree that transparency of what’s available and what the future holds from the CSIRO is a critical step in not only moving forward in the Northern Rivers, but also a big step in how we respond to these natural hazards that are continuing to increase right across the country. That report is in the hands of the NSW Government, there are conversations in place to make sure that report can be delivered as soon as possible. There is a real hunger to make sure we get it out there. But it’s also being mindful that there needs to be consideration of all levels of government of the report so they can have some degree of response while the community is having its important role to say what needs to happen to make the changes that are necessary in the Northern Rivers. It is not only a CSIRO report in its essence, it is a report that can have an effect like one of those examples of what’s best practise for the future. So there’s been a great deal of thought about the report and findings of the report and the ongoing impact. 

JOURNALIST: Is there an ETA?

SHELDON: I really want to make sure we get it right. I wish I could give you a time right now but there is a lot of well-meaning, hard-working levels of government going into the outcomes of this very important report. One of the things that is certainly important in the report is part of the $115 million that goes into further projects that come out of the CSIRO report. I know the report is critical for us to move forward. It is critical for the community. It is also important to get it right. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, a lot of businesses say that on the outside they look like they’re busy but underneath they have a lot of loss in terms of losing equipment and that the cost of business is rising, could we expect more support for businesses to come out of your visit to the Northern Rivers?

COLLINS: Well, the visit today is all about listening to what are the concerns. We’ve heard Jane talk about some of them in terms of equipment. We’ve obviously had some grants out there, together with the state government. What we want to do today is listen, to make sure that we get any further response down the track, from whatever tier of government correct. We need to make sure that what we do is right and, as Senator Sheldon points out, we need to get it right as well as move quickly. So we're trying to do both of those things. But it's really important that we do listen to what locals was saying to us. You know, we can go to Canberra and we can come up with a whole heap of grants programs, but that's no use unless it's responsive to what people are telling us on the ground. And this is about making sure that we get details and criteria of anything in the future correct, and that's what the review that Senator Watt’s talking about today is about too. It's about making sure that in the future, we do get better and faster at responding to natural disasters right across the country. Our disaster ready fund is out there. That's $200 million that states and territories can apply to, in terms of building back better and making communities more resilient in the future. We want to listen today about what else is needed. In terms of what tier of government needs to provide it, we can work out later, but we need to listen really carefully to locals to make sure that any future design of what happens we get it right. 

JOURNALIST: Will you be meeting with David and the rest of the team from the NRRC who are leading the charge, especially on homelessness and housing. I guess it’s the same sort of thing really. Whether it’s bureaucracy or whatever it is, everyone in Lismore who’s suffered thinks it’s slower than what it should be. Will you be meeting with them to try to fast track some of that?

COLLINS: Well we obviously want to make sure that, as I said, that we move as quickly as we possibly can. We know that too many people have been impacted. We know how critical housing is to an individual, to be able to function, to be able to go to school, to be able to work. And not to mention, of course, the humanitarian and sanitary needs of housing. So we do need to listen really closely to what people are telling us, and we need to be able to respond faster in the future. I’m sure they’re legitimate, and I want to hear them today. I want to hear about what is it that we as a federal government can do, but also how we can work better with state and local government to try to respond better in the future. 

JOURNALIST: So is that a yes for NRRC?

SAFFIN: Yes, it is. This afternoon, Senator Sheldon and I are meeting with NRRC, with David and team. And in answer to you, Josie, yes of course I'll ask for everything. Doesn't mean we’ll get it. That's my job, and I do that extremely well. I know what some of those things are. And in answer to you, Simon, Minister Watt I know wants to get it out as soon as he can. We've had that discussion when he was here recently, and I'm pushing and poking and saying the sooner the better. But hopefully by mid-February at the latest. And they're going to sit down with the local MPs and community leaders and mayors and the NRRC and talk it through.