Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Minister Littleproud Media Conference at Mural Hall Parliament House

​TOPICS: ​​ Deployment of ADF personnel into flood affected areas across New South Wales

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, everybody. Can I say that while today there is sunshine, it is still not safe. It is important for every Australian that is close to these floodwaters to simply still stay away. It will take time for the water to abate and you need to allow that to happen, and because you need to also ensure that you're respecting those men and women that are putting their lives on the line to support you and not putting them in harm's way because of your stupidity. 

So, please, just persevere with us for the next couple of days. It will abate but until then, you just need to stay away. And we will continue to work with New South Wales officials to make sure every effort is provided to them. 

To that end, today, I can announce that there will a deployment of 290 ADF personnel as of tomorrow morning into flood affected areas across New South Wales. That will surge up to 700 as we go into the next couple of days to support the recovery. Their job will be out there cleaning up, making sure we get rid of the debris, supporting people, just having boots on the ground, having trucks there to take away the debris, making it easier for those who are going through the recovery process to help their healing.

This is what it's about. The journey of recovery starts tomorrow with the Australian Defence Force on the ground. Can I also say, they'll be supplemented with three helicopters on top of the two that we've already provided. And we continue to work with Resilience New South Wales about further support on top of what already has been committed and we stand ready to do that.

Can I also thank the Singapore Government - the Singapore Ambassador, in fact, reached out and offered two Chinooks from their Oakey base. We thank Singapore; they are great friends of Australia and they are with us in our hour of need. 

We continue to work with New South Wales in making sure that they understand the opportunities the Federal Government and our international friends and family can provide to us. We are encouraging New South Wales to take up as many of these offers as we possibly can. 

We have serious concerns around some shortages not only of fuel but also essentially supplies, whether that be groceries or even nappies. So, it's important that the Federal Government yesterday initiated the national coordination mechanism that works with the supermarkets in getting groceries and essentials and fuel into some of these communities. Coles already has made that offer to fly in essential groceries into North Richmond, and we'll ​ continue to work through that mechanism and we are encouraging Resilience New South Wales to take these offers up. We do not need to add any more stress to these communities that are isolated. We are here to support them. We will provide the assets; our friends around the world are prepared to do that as well.

So, we're just saying to New South Wales, there is an opportunity for us to make sure that we get this right. But the national coordination mechanism will continue to rollout over the coming days to get that efficiency across our supply chains, particularly as the water abates. 

There's also another emerging issue and today I'll be writing to the premiers asking for our tradies to be classified as essential employees. We are finding that, particularly, tradies from Queensland are reluctant to go into New South Wales because they fear that borders may shut. That will inhibit the recovery. 

We need these tradies to get out and do critical repairs now once the water abates. So, it's important the premiers give this confidence to our tradies to be able to get there because this is part of the healing. And once we plan it out, once our 290 surging to 700 ADF start cleaning up homes and businesses, we need them to help in the recovery to rebuild. If we can't get the tradies there, then that will add to the emotional toll of what these people have gone through. So, we just need some common sense and I hope that the premiers will act accordingly and provide that classification to our tradies as essential services, so they have the confidence. And in fact, one insurer has already reached out to say that some of their tradies are too reluctant to go across the border into New South Wales as we speak now. So, there is an opportunity for both Queensland and New South Wales premiers to square this away. 

So, this is still unfolding, but let me say, we are also standing up Shane Stone to support the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia in the recovery. So, he obviously leads the northwest Queensland flood recovery and drought agencies. So, we understand that this recovery will be considerable and long, and therefore, we need the expertise of Shane Stone who has done an exemplary job in supporting those people up in North Queensland from a couple of years ago. He has the experience and obviously he will support the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia. 

But we will stand ready to support the New South Wales Government and Queensland. Obviously, events are still unfolding in Queensland and even in my own electorate. In fact, only a couple of kilometres from where I live, Leyburn, is facing some challenges there today. So, our thoughts are not only just with New South Wales but with Queensland and right across the country.

But we will be there, we will fix this, we will get you back up and going again today. That is the commitment the Federal Government will make to not only New South Wales Government but to any state government that finds themselves in this predicament. 

QUESTION: Where are we seeing the weather system move? We understand it's moving away from, I guess, the Hawkesbury region but further into Victoria? What [indistinct]…?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Unfortunately, we're now going back down into the Gippsland, who are just coming out of the most horrendous bushfire out of the Black Summer. They are now looking at a really severe flooding. So obviously, the Bureau is watching that carefully, so too with Emergency Management Australia. We're working with the Victorian Government. And I've got to say, all state governments have done an exemplary job in their response to this unfolding disaster. We'll continue to work with Victoria to make sure that any assets that are required will be provided. They only need to make that request. But we are concerned about particularly the Gippsland, as we speak, and that could obviously also go into Tasmania. There are concerns around Tasmania as well. So, this system will take time to move out to sea and you can only see what's happened on the East Coast with us up here on the mainland, the destruction it's caused. So, this is a very serious system.

QUESTION: What are we- there is an issue with floodwaters hanging around in terms of disease and also mess that's staying around. What do you have to say to people who may be looking to enter floodwaters to get back to their home? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Stay the hell away. Just wait. We will look after you, but you need to stay safe and you need to keep the people that are there to keep you safe, safe. That's all we're asking. And we will make sure we're there to support you. It's important you don't rush in and throw things out straight away. It's important you take photos for your insurance as well. So, we're just saying to people, we know there's a lot of emotion floating around at the moment but we just need to be calm and work through this, and that's why we want to get those first 290 pairs of boots on the ground with khaki uniforms running around the streets, just helping people, because we want to take some of that pressure off them, that emotional pressure that they're feeling. And so, if we can get that out there and do that in a methodical way, then, you know, we'll keep them safe, we'll get them through this, and particularly, there are nasties right through, not only in terms of snakes and spiders but also disease, that needs to be taken into account and effectively understood before you rush in and be- in terms of the recovery.

QUESTION: Minister, on another matter, are you aware of a freedom of information request seeking access to emails you've written personally from your personal email account to the department? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. But if there's one, I'm happy to comply. I have a personal email address but I use that mainly for my own personal use. I can't remember any emails I've ever sent to any officials, to be candid. So, happy to comply, but I'm not aware of any FOI. 

QUESTION: Is it difficult to deploy the Defence Force and get them stood up when the Defence Minister is not here? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. It's a longstanding arrangement whereby, not only do the requests come through the Emergency Services Minister, those have been in place for some time. But we already have entrenched ADF liaison officers and EMA liaison officers in the crisis centres. So, this is longstanding arrangements and there is an acting Defence Minister, and I couldn't think of a better one in terms of Marise Payne, who has years of experience as a former Defence Minister. So, I don't have any issues with respect to that. I mean, we all from time to time have to take leave and I think we just need to understand that we actually are human beings. And there are times when we need time to recover from illness or sometimes just take a break and that's where there is the capacity for other cabinet ministers to take over those positions on a temporary basis. And that's what Marise Payne has done and has done an outstanding job in doing it. 

QUESTION: What do you make of Scott Morrison having to apologise over his comments yesterday about the allegations made to Newscorp. Does it damage the Government's, I guess, statement to women that they're with you? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. It just shows that he's a human being. He was emotional yesterday. I mean, he feels all the pain and all the hurt that's being thrown around across the country and particularly in this place and we've got to fix this place. Because this should be the exemplar, not the laggard, and he's feeling that and we all express our emotion in a different way and that's something that the Prime Minister's done. And the fact that he's felt as though he didn't handle that particular moment the way he should have, the fact that he came out and apologised, I think speaks more volumes about him as a human being than if he just ignored it. So, these are trying times, it's not an easy way to deal with a difficult situation and you're never going to get it right. I mean, it's simply making sure that, effectively, you do something about it. That's what has to happen. It has to come back to that one word and that's respect. Respecting one another, respecting one another's boundaries, that's all we're asking and that's what we've got to fix. Not only here in this parliament, but right across the country. [Indistinct] 110,000 women and men marched across this country last week, that's a pretty strong message that things aren't right out there and they're not right here.

QUESTION: The ADF personnel, was that a request from the New South Wales Government and what will they actually be doing?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. So, the New South Wales Government put in that request last night, night before last. So, we obviously were already preparing for that, the ADF were obviously, as part of the crisis centre in New South Wales, were understanding. And they were actually scoping with the New South Wales Government the demand that would be required. So, that's why we're starting at 290 and will surge to 700, because as the waters abate, we will have to continue to move them through. And it's their job is to get out in the streets, to clear away debris; they'll have machinery, they'll have trucks, they'll have boots on the ground where they'll be in there, simply, cleaning up, removing all of the debris that's been left after the waters abate. So, this is not just a physical display of support from the Australian Government, it's an emotional one as well. We saw during the bushfires that as soon as you were able to put those men and women in our greatest uniform on the ground, it gave a lot of comfort, emotional comfort to those people who have just gone through a lot of trauma. So, that's why we were very keen to encourage New South Wales Government to take up our offer to put boots on the ground as quickly as we could.

QUESTION: Back on the issue of women, this morning Sussan Ley called for quotas in the Liberal party. Would you also support quotas for women?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not in the National Party, that's a matter for the Liberal Party. I believe we're all made equally. What we do need to do is continue to ensure that we put the environment around men and women to come forward and put their hand up. We've got to continue to do that, particularly more for women. I'm proud to say in the National Party, we bought in three new female Senators. And in fact, if you look at Susie McDonald, from Queensland. She won a pre-selection against a stale male and is now in the Senate. I mean, that is the story of the National Party. We're empowering women to come forward. I think, we also had more than 50 per cent of our candidates and the last federal election were women. So, we, in the National Party, believe in creating that environment to encourage them to come forward. There are strong women putting their name up, also, for the New South Wales Senate pre-selection. So, we have four of our five Senators currently that are female in the National Party and it could actually go to five out of six and that's a great thing. And we would like to see more in the House of Reps and that's basically putting the environment around our women that come forward. And I think the outstanding women that have come into the parliament from the National Party, particularly the Senate, it just goes to show that when you put that environment around them, you do bring the very best out and we got the very best candidates to come forward and they won. And we're richer for that as a National Party.
Thanks guys.​