SUBJECT/S: Government’s flood response

TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: First of all, thanks to Michael and Judy Perkins for having us out here, and obviously as well to Justine Keay, to Brian Mitchell and to Anne Urquhart who've been wanting me to get out here, so we had somebody from Federal Labor, from the ministerial level, to see it for ourselves.

I remember during the campaign when we suspended campaign operations because dealing with the floods here was meant to be above politics. That's what it was meant to be. And it is not good enough for the Prime Minister of Australia to turn up during the campaign, have all the comments that are above politics, and then after the election go missing. It’s not good enough to do that. And all were wanting, and all anyone's wanting here, is an acceptance of the fact that there has to be an offer to the farmers that are affected of more than an invitation to take on more debt. If the only thing the Commonwealth can offer is an invitation to take on more debt, that's not good enough for the farmers of Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the Federal Government should be doing?

BURKE: The inquiry will work through some of the long term structural issues. But I remember how quickly we acted after the Victorian bushfires, and immediately we reprioritised all the Landcare money to Victoria at the time, because there was work that could be done straight away on remediation, because if you don't do it quickly, then if you get another big rain event or big fire event coming through, then the damage second time round is that much worse. So you prioritise your Landcare funding, you prioritise your natural resource management. You do what you can to get in there straight away with the things that you know will help, while you're doing the long term inquiry to work out structurally what needs to be changed. But the last thing you do, is go missing. And Malcolm Turnbull has gone missing.

JOURNALIST: What should they have done after the initial floods?

BURKE: Well, I'm not going to pretend from one visit here, that I'm across every aspect of the remediation that needs to be done. But I have no doubt whatsoever, that the natural resource management groups and the people who are here working the land, would have had immediate priorities for revegetation. Would've had immediate priorities for removal of some of what had washed through. Those sort of demands would've been there, they would've been there immediately, and the government should be able to reprioritise existing funding, help Tasmania out, and put something on the table that is better than an invitation for farmers to take on more debt.

JOURNALIST: I understand some farmers are having issues with getting approval to do the work on rivers around their properties. And that environment laws might be part of that are you effectively calling for a watering down of environmental laws for landowners?

BURKE: When you're talking about issues such as revegetation, and the clearing away of debris, there are usually a number of measures that can be taken immediately in a disaster context and that works in every part of Australia.

Certainly, once again, as a long term measure, you should have in a place like Tasmania where we know this won’t be the last flood, there should be some plans that are put in place that give a very simple guide to people, following the disaster, as to what's reasonable to act on immediately. And that sort of guidance gives people the open door as to what they can do straight away, in getting their property back up to scratch, that won’t cause significant environmental challenges, so that they can get on with that work straight away.

Sometimes there will be issues that are more complex environmentally, we can't change that - that'll happen sometimes, but a bit of planning beforehand can make the world of difference.

JOURNALIST: In your role, have you spoken to anyone within the Federal Government or Departments about doing this work which you can see needs to be done?

BURKE: The local Members of Parliament have obviously made the call for the inquiry straight away, and they've been very vocal. For myself, I wanted to see for myself as I've done today, and there'll be work that flows from this.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor going to vote in favour of the Governments revised Federal tax legislation?

BURKE: We've had a few times now where they've announced legislation, they've demanded Labor form a position, and then by the time its turned up in the Parliament, it’s been quite different. So I think you'll understand, its wait until we see that legislation, and work through our normal processes and deal with it that way. 

Tony Burke