Date: Friday, 11 March 2022

Kimberley Kitching; Flood crisis;

Laura Jayes:  Let’s go live now to the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time, Minister. Appreciate it. First of all, Kimberley Kitching, she’s been remembered even by her opponents as such, a great patriot and a kind person this morning. Is that how you remember her?


Simon Birmingham: Indeed, Laura, thanks for the chance to be with you, and it is a sad morning for all of us as members of the Australian Senate, and I know for those across the parliament, for the Labor family and for so many of Kimberley’s friends and loved ones. Kimberley was somebody who lit up a room full of energy, full of life. She was also a true warrior for her beliefs for the Labor Party, but mostly for Australia. And that certainly is one of the things that ensured Kimberley stood out. And you can see that from the comments that so many people are making over the course of last night and this morning as this sad news breaks that people do acknowledge that she was willing to speak up, sometimes to ruffle feathers in speaking up, that she was a fierce defender of the values that underpin our democracy and the values that transcend party lines, but that are there to ensure that we have the freedoms and the rights as Australians that we enjoy. And that was indeed what saw Kimberley fight for Magnitsky law reforms, fight for the ability to impose types of sanctions and ensure that we had, as a nation a strong awareness of the threats from totalitarian regimes in our region.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, and she’s got tributes today, not just from her, her colleagues in Australia, but internationally as well. I know that Bill Browder sent a really nice message to her and her partner, Andrew. One thing that strikes me about Kimberley, if you agree with me, Minister, is that she was fierce, but she also had friends from across the aisle. I mean, amongst her closest friends are Bill Shorten, one on one side and Andrew Bolt on the other. That says a lot about a person.


Simon Birmingham: It sure does and it’s how politics should be. You should be able to to sit down, break bread, have a drink and be able to enjoy the debates of politics with those with whom you have a difference of opinion. That is indeed what our parliaments are formed to be able to do as well. And I think there are lessons in tragedies such as this in terms of the need to be kind to one another, the need to absolutely stand for your values, fight for your values and be fierce about them, as Kimberley was, but also to do it in a civil way and to be willing to have those sorts of engagements and to reach out where you can to others of differing perspectives and opinions. Now Kimberley would want us, I’m sure to do that, just as I’m sure she would also want us to continue to focus on how we respond to the atrocities happening in Ukraine at present, how we continue to strengthen Australia. And no doubt you would also want the Labor Party to be putting up a good fight at the next election. So there are things in which we disagree. But it was always a lively conversation with Kimberley in any circumstance.


Laura Jayes: Indeed, let’s talk about the flood crisis now. The prime minister announced that there would be extra emergency payments to a number of shires, particularly in northern New South Wales, but not the Byron Shire. When Mullumbimby is part of that, it was one of the hardest hit. Are you going to fix that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, when we took the decision to have these additional payments made, noting that many thousands of payments have been made to date, we did so on the basis of advice about the scale of natural disaster that had occurred, that we were looking there around those initial shires identified at not just another flooding event, but a natural disaster of greater scale and intensity than had been seen recently. We did, however, make clear to the National Resilience and Recovery Agency and to other officials that we wanted to receive continued advice about impacts in other regions. And as the PM has indicated, we’ll respond to the situation in other regions based on that expert analysis around the scale of disaster and what is appropriate there.


Laura Jayes: Do you really need expert analysis, I mean, we can all see what happened to some of these parts, which weren’t a part of the original shires that were declared by the prime minister. So look, I understand there’s a process here, but if these suburbs or townships have been hit really hard, but they’re not included in that bureaucratic declaration, you’ll fix it?


Simon Birmingham: That’s precisely why we want to make sure that we treat everybody as fairly and equitably as you can in a situation like this. We’ve already put more than $480 million of payments out the door to hundreds of thousands of individuals across Queensland and New South Wales supporting them in terms of the immediacy of responding to a situation like this. We made the decision that we would provide payments above the normal standard in these areas, where there was an intensity of natural disaster of such scale that we could see that the initial support needed supplementation and if there’s comparable circumstances well we’ll respond in a comparable way.


Laura Jayes: Ok, Minister, just finally, there’s been since this we’ve seen this disaster, there’s been a lot of blame games between bureaucracies, between agencies and even between governments. Surely this is the disaster where we can sort this out. Is it beyond politics at the moment to do that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope not, Laura. It shouldn’t be. Now we have a defence force leadership embedded in the coordination centres in both Queensland and New South Wales. We’ve had defence force on the ground and indeed they’ve played a role in rescuing 113 people since February 25. They’ve been engaged in a whole raft of different ways the types of payments and financial support, the need to provide for greater resilience for different communities. And we’ve been investing in those areas and we stand ready to continue to invest in that type of resilience. But it is also a case where the reality of circumstances need to be acknowledged too. That it’s not going to be possible for any government of any political persuasion or any state or federal nature to have everybody in the right place at the right time to respond to disasters of unprecedented scale. And that is what we saw in relation to these floods. And so there are always lessons to learn from each of these disasters, and it’s important for state and federal agencies to come together and work out how they can be even better prepared the next time a natural disaster strikes. But when it is, as we saw in these communities, floods never seen in the existence of those towns or cities before in terms of Western settlement in Australia, that’s a pretty clear indication that we had something that was above any type of planning or expectation levels to.


Laura Jayes: Minister, as always, appreciate your time, thanks so much.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.