Interview with ABC Mornings Perth

3 February 2021

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Well, the Federal Government has just in the last few minutes announced some financial assistance for people affected by this bushfire in Wooroloo. The Minister for Emergency Management is David Littleproud and he joins me from Canberra. Good morning Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, and thanks for having me.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: What sort of support are you offering?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The initial support is $1000 per adult and $400 per child for anyone whose property has had fire damage to it. So, that's just an initial support payment to give some immediate release and dignity and respect to anyone that's gone through these fires. And that's for a couple of LGAs at the moment, Swan and Mundaring…

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Mundaring, thank you, yes.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Mundaring - so, I'm a Queenslander so it's a little hard for a Queenslander to get their tongue around it.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: We're here to help you, Minister. [Laughs]

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: [Laughs] So, obviously we've initiated that. There'll be further initiations. I've, in fact, spoken to Fran Logan, the Emergency Service Minister there, this morning to also work with him. And there'll be further announcements between Western Australia and the Federal Government later. But we're just allowing Western Australian Government and their officials to get in to make assessments. And you've got to understand, they can only do that when it's safe. So, they're doing an outstanding job and we're just working through. But the Federal Government wanted to make it clear that anyone that's doing it tough, that's been impacted by this, that they're there to support the Australian people. This is Australian people's money. It is there to support them in their hour of need.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: So, when we talk about- so, obviously that $1000 for adults, $400 for kids, you know, we'll get them clothes, get them those immediate things that they need. Down the track though, I understand you need to assess the damage, but can you give us some idea of how much money we're talking and how quickly that can get to families who need it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes. So those disaster recovery payments, they'll be available from 8am tomorrow, and that's through Centrelink, or I think they call it Services Australia these days. So, you can make an application tomorrow. Services Australia are ready and preparing now so that at 8am tomorrow, anyone that makes a claim, they can process. Now, they'll ask some questions about the damage. From the bushfire events that we went through on the East Coast last year, some of those processing payments were within 40 minutes, money was in the bank account. So it's not an arduous process. I just say to people, please don't self-assess or think there's some sort of stigma about just asking for some initial support. This is your hour of need and the Australian people want to be there for you. So, please don't self-assess. Make the call. Services Australia will be ready.

And then obviously further to that, as WA authorities can get in and make assessments, when it's safe for them to get in, then we'll obviously work with them around further assistance as the time goes by and we're able to support in any way. But we've obviously got to also let the Western Australian authorities fight the fire. So it's just a balancing act at the moment. So, we're just letting WA get on with the job, the great job that they're doing in fighting fires. And we're just saying to those that have gone through it, we're here with you.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: David Littleproud is the Federal Emergency Management Minister, just announcing there: $1000 for an adult and $400 for a child for those families affected by the bushfires. If you have had a damaged home, destroyed home, you'll be available to apply for those from 8am tomorrow via Services Australia. And further down the track, though, we're talking more substantial money, whether it's 5000, 10,000. And again, you will make every effort to have that money flow through in a timely manner?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. And so under the disaster recovery arrangements that have been long standing with the states, effectively, the state government will make the assessments and then there are different categories - A, B, C, and D - and that's not just for personal individuals, but it'll also be public infrastructure that'll need to be repaired. So, the Commonwealth plays a part in that and we share those costs. So, we allow the professionals who are the Western Australian authorities to go and make those assessments. They make that application and effectively we share it together.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Okay. Now, you've, Minister, taken a pretty big swipe today at Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and NBN. Now, you say these organisations are putting lives at risk during natural disasters. What are these companies doing or not doing?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: What I asked as far back as 2019 was for them to provide the information about the assets in some of these disaster areas, what sort of assets they are, so that emergency service personnel can make strategic decisions about whether they should be protected or not; whether they deploy resources to make sure they don't get damaged by a fire, for instance, because the communications is critical in an emergency, not just between emergency service personnel, but it's also about people whose homes are relying on that piece of infrastructure for their communications. If we can't get the message out, then we're putting people's lives at risk. Now, this isn't something that's new. And in fact, it's also in the royal commission. It's part of the recommendations of the royal commission. And despite the fact that I've written to the telcos and in fact had a person conversation with Andy Penn, we still can't seem to get the action that's required. And you know, at some point the- you just can't keep writing letters back and forward, you just simply got to get on with the job. And I mean, unfortunately, you know, Western Australia's going through it now. But we just- as a nation, we can do better than this and I just say to the corporates, it should be about people not profits. I get that there's commercially sensitive information that you're going to be sharing but we're not going to share them with anyone. We're going to share it with those people who are going to use that information to protect lives. That's all we're saying. And I just hope that out of this, that the telcos can just get on with the job and get it given, all what information the emergency service personnels are given to them now.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Okay, so when you talk about assets, are we talking about, what, mobile phone towers? Is it that simple - a map of where these towers are? What other assets? What are you talking about?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, it's a little bit more. Yeah, there's some little bit more sophisticated infrastructure that's provided in terms of transmission of not just the towers themselves, but actually there's other assets that are in there that are very pivotal to the delivery of telecommunications. So it isn't just a mobile phone towers, it's actually more critical than that. So obviously we have a fair idea - the mobile phone towers are quite visible. This is other infrastructure that's there that should be protected to play the role in supporting the delivery of those communication lines.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: And this data sharing that you say these telcos are reluctant to do, do they say it's commercial in confidence, that it's about not giving information to competitors? I mean, I know you said that it's kept by you and nobody else. The DFES, for instance, is not to be passed on. They obviously don't trust you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: That's- effectively, they didn't want any of their information that could potentially put it in the hands of the competitor. And I get that it's commercially sensitive. They're investing, they're investing millions of dollars into this infrastructure. But what we're saying is, well, let's share it in a sensitive way that protects your commercial interests, but keeps people safe and allow emergency service personnel to simply know what they're trying to protect and whether it will play a pivotal role in keeping the continuity of communications going through a disaster.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Okay. And the worst-case scenario, the risk here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, if you if you start losing and we saw in the bushfire season last year here in the East Coast, if you start losing communications, you're cutting off very important information from front line emergency service personnel. They're making real time decisions and need real time action. But it's also about delivery of communications through many of the means that we're sending warnings out, apart from ABC. And can I say, please turn on your ABC and listen to the ABC. They're a trusted voice on this. But we need to also provide other warnings as well. So it's just about the dissemination of important information in a timely way.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Yeah. It's nice to hear those words from a Liberal Minister…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: National. National, sorry. I'll just [indistinct] National Party…

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: National Party. Coalition, I'll take say coalition. Got me out. Got me out. We'll say coalition.

Okay. Now, so is there any ultimatum that you can put to these telcos? Have you given them a date or a time to come back to you? I mean, if they can just keep saying no and as you said, you just keep writing letters to each other.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's why I'm hoping and that's where the frustration I've got of simply saying just do it. And if it's a bit of public shaming that the telcos cop, that's what it [indistinct] should take. I mean, I think every Australian would expect the telcos to act in a way that represents our community and our society. So with all due respect, I don't think we should have to ask any further. I think the telcos just need to get the job done. And I think you've, because you and other media outlets are taking interest in this, I think it's a good thing that we might finally see some action, but it's sad that we had to get to this juncture.
NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Yeah. David Littleproud, before I let you go, I don't know if you can answer this question, but quite a few people now texting through wondering, and I guess it's a WA lockdown and we'll check with our State Government, but whether Centrelink offices are actually open today, because not everyone's going to be able to do this online tomorrow. So, you probably don't know the answer to that.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. Sorry, but I'll- let me endeavour to get that information to you. We'll come back to you and let you be able to disseminate that. I'll talk to the Services Minister straight away and get that information to you.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS: Yeah. And we'll make some calls here, because I think people, if they're going to need to go into a Centrelink office, not everyone is going to be able to do that online. It is important. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. David Littleproud, the federal Minister for Emergency Management, who belongs to the National Party, not the Liberal Party, my mistake. I was meant to say coalition.