Parliamentary speeches

National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework

March 03, 2020

I rise to make some brief remarks on this important debate and in doing so I want to acknowledge the contribution of the member for Solomon, an excellent contribution that touched on many of the things that are of concern to me and the people that I represent in this place. I do want to acknowledge that the minister has done a good thing, and an important thing, in bringing this report before the parliament for us to debate and consider. It is how our parliament should work on matters of importance. There should be more ministerial statements and more opportunity for those of us who are not in the executive to debate them in this place and be accountable to those who send us here, as well as holding the government to account.

I have already noted, as I am sure most of us have, the terrible costs of the bushfires of this summer—fires that may well continue well into autumn—in particular that we have seen 33 deaths and enormous destruction of property. I extend my sympathies to all of those directly affected and acknowledge and pay tribute to all of those volunteers and professionals who contributed to the firefighting effort and who are working now in the recovery effort.

In terms of the report that is before us, there are a few points I want to make—three things that have arisen since the minister handed down his report. Firstly, Infrastructure Australia has now produced its infrastructure priority list. This is an important document which was prepared in December, before the majority of the fires. Yet it has a new and important focus that I have all members and indeed all senators have been paying regard to. That focus is on the risks that the member for Solomon was clearly articulating earlier—the challenge of climate change and the importance of building infrastructure that is resilient—as well as taking real action on climate change so that we don't see an inevitable transition towards summers like the one we have just had becoming the new normal, with all the attendant consequences. So I ask members to pay attention to that Infrastructure Australia report and to focus on resilience in our infrastructure and taking action on climate change to constrain global warning in keeping with the Paris agreement, to which this government entered into, and it's real aspirations to get to net-zero emissions.

In question time today, and in the ministerial statement this debate relates to, we heard some extraordinary evidence about the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, a much trumpeted body. We found out today that the $2 billion the minister and the Prime Minister spoke of is 'notional', which we now understand is Morrison government shorthand for 'non-existent'. This is quite extraordinary because this is something that should be bipartisan. But we on this side of the House won't be bipartisan at any cost. If we are serious about the commitments that we have made as a country and as a government, we should at the very least be serious about such financial commitments—and, indeed, to commitments to create an agency that does not yet exist. This is something the government needs to come clean on and act on, as indeed they have to do in terms of more support for small businesses which have been so grievously affected. They should follow the lead of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for small business, the member for Gorton, who, with my friend here the member for Macquarie and the member for Gilmore, called for urgent action to support small businesses that have been affected. It would be good to see the government acting on this.

In concluding my remarks, I want to echo some of the comments in the contributions to this debate by the member for Ballarat. She highlighted some very important issues of preparedness. She highlighted that, despite the fact that the incoming government brief on Home Affairs warned of the risks in this summer, despite the constant approaches of retired fire chiefs, the government did not do all that it should and could have done. Indeed, the government leant on an understanding it suggested at the time—which has now been contradicted by its actions—that these are questions for the states. How ironic it is that the Prime Minister's agenda now focuses on acquiring more power. That again suggests that this government is focused much more on marketing than real action. We do need to reflect appropriately on these things through any consideration of what has happened, what went wrong and how we can arm ourselves for the future.

The other point to make about power and pushing responsibility back to the states is the failure to bring together COAG, the failure to take national leadership, the failure to bring together a national coordinating role as the leader of the Labor Party called for quite early in the summer. So when we see this statement we see some fine words; but they are fine words that are underpinned by inaction and misleading statements. And they are fundamentally undermined by two things: this government's failure to have any plan to take action on climate and its failure to develop and articulate a plan to manage these risks to build our resilience into the future.