Minister Shorten interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing


MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Bill Shorten is the Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, but first and foremost he is also the member for Maribyrnong in Melbourne, which is underwater this Friday afternoon. We spoke to him from the local control centre a short time ago.

Bill Shorten, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. For people outside of Melbourne who aren't necessarily across what your neck of the woods is like, paint a picture of the area that's been affected, in and around Maribyrnong for us.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, when people land in Melbourne, they land at Tullamarine Airport. If they drive into town, the Maribyrnong River is sort of on their right, so it's the north-western suburbs of Melbourne. This would have been, though, the biggest floods since 1974, if not bigger than that, we're still waiting to see the numbers. But it's been- these are normal working class, middle class suburbs of any of Australia's big cities, good places to raise a family.

DORAN: So in terms of the damage that's been felt so far, are there any figures on the number of houses that have been affected, the number of rescues and the like?

SHORTEN: Yeah, listen, it's still early days. And hats off to the Victoria Police, the local council workers, the SES and the local Red Cross. In my area of around the Maribyrnong River, we think there's probably been a hundred houses that have been flooded, where there's water across the floorboards and the carpets. There have been something like 60 evacuations or rescues done, I should say rescues. 

The SES has had three boats on the water since early this morning. And the river was flowing a lot faster than usual, and as the SES volunteers were telling me, as they're piloting their boats upriver against the flow of the river, a 30 horsepower engine was just barely holding its own, so it was moving fast. 

The waters rose 4.4 metres plus in a very quick amount of time. There were knocks on doors from 3.30 this morning. The evacuation centre was set up. And as I said, there's been something like- I'm aware of 60 rescues. Some- many done by the SES, but some even done by local, Good Samaritan neighbours, which is quite remarkable.

DORAN: You've mentioned that this is probably the biggest flood since the mid-seventies. How prepared do you think people were given that- I guess this has been building up for a couple of days. We knew that there was some pretty heavy weather coming through. But how prepared do you think people in your community have been to deal with this downpour?

SHORTEN: I think the state emergency authorities were doing the best they could. I do think that the- we've had some near misses in the past, and I'm talking over the last 30 years. So perhaps people thought this one would be another near miss. But the waters rose very quickly. I don't want to tell residents how prepared they were. You know, they're still trying to work out; when can they get back to their house and what's the damage. But I do think the authorities - when the scale of it and the speed of it was evident - I think our authorities were certainly there helping out. And the real test, I think, in all of this is that everyone's alive.

DORAN: It's something that is a hallmark of Australia, whenever these sort of natural disasters hit, is the community rallying together. Evacuation centres being set up, support being offered to those who have been affected. What's the- that situation like in and around Maribyrnong at the moment?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that great Aussie saying: courage in your own troubles and kindness in another's, that certainly describes the local community here in Melbourne, and no doubt right through Tassie at the moment, where floods are under way, and regional Victoria. Courage in your own troubles, kindness in another's, neighbours looking after neighbours. 

The SES, they really are the orange heroes here. And, of course, the police and the Red Cross. There's been a lot of local generosity. At Essendon Airport, the Hyatt Hotel has donated 50 hotel rooms for the next three nights for people who have nowhere to stay, right through to 7-Eleven and the local milk bars providing food for the volunteers. And of course, the State Government, and I expect the Federal Government will provide assistance to in the coming days.

DORAN: Just on that issue of coming assistance, what sort of options are available from, certainly from a Commonwealth level, and I guess it helps not only that you are the local member, but you are the Minister for Government Services too. What sort of assistance can be on offer from a Federal level to people who've been affected?

SHORTEN: Well, this goes not just for my area but for the flood problems in general, and I don't think this will be the last time of them we'll see around our continent, or natural disasters. 

When the relevant State Government asks, in this case, the Federal Emergency Management Minister, Murray Watt, for assistance, they provide evidence that hardship has occurred. That Minister will issue an instrument and then that allows me to deploy, depending on the scale of the disaster, within about 24 hours, thousands of trained public servants who are good at counselling, social work, support. 

Specific payments which are available upon the State Government asking the Federal Government for help, and that's a necessary step is the Australian Government Disaster Relief Payments; that's a bit of a mouthful. 

But in essence, if you have suffered real and significant hardship, adults get a $1,000 payment, and kids in the household get a $400 payment. This is not about trying to compensate people for the total loss they've had. But when you might have lost your ID, when you're scrambling to find your insurance documents, when you've got- electricity's out, when you've got to buy food, you might need some accommodation, that's what these payments are for. 

In the event that you can't get into an affected area where you work, there is also a disaster relief payment available to help compensate. It's like the JobSeeker payment. So if you can't get to work, you get a payment to help compensate you for some of your lost wages. So they are things which Federal Government can do. And if the State Government contacts us, or sorts it out by today with the Feds, we hope that by Sunday, I can be here with our representatives, making sure people get a little bit of money in the bank account. So it's one less stress, because there's two stages to any natural disasters, aren't there, Matt? One is the actual disaster, the evacuation, the adrenaline. But then afterwards, you sort of- you hit the wall, don't you? The immediate threat passes by, and then you've got to clean up. And as we see those very tough scenes from Lismore, or in Northern New South Wales, or as we are seeing now down in parts of Northern Tassie, it's tough recovering. And so that's when we'll have people available to try and help as best we can.

DORAN: Well Bill Shorten, a difficult time ahead for your constituents, but also as you mentioned, people right across these states that are being hit by the floods. Thanks for joining us today.

SHORTEN: Thanks Matt, bye.