Media conference at Parliament House, Canberra

13 November 2020

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good afternoon everybody. Today, our nation takes its next step in the healing of this year’s black summer. Tragically, 33 lives were lost. Ten of those were emergency service personnel. It’s important that these recommendations, that the government released from the Royal Commission last week are now supported by the Federal Government. We have made it clear to the states that we intend to support the recommendations and implement them. It's important to leave a legacy from this tragic event over the summer, to make sure we learn the lessons, and to build on that to build a more resilient Australia. There's been over 240 inquiries in our natural disasters since the 1920s. It’s time now to implement, to get on with the job. That legacy must be achieved, not just by the Federal Government, but by all state governments. We all have a role to play. This is a partnership, and one that we will work together with the states to achieve.

I have already called a meeting of Emergency Service ministers and had that last week to give them a flavour of this report, to make sure that they have a commitment to the recommendations. We will allow them time now to work with us, and National Cabinet today has tasked the Federal Government and myself to lead that group of ministers in achieving these recommendations. The 80 recommendations – 14 of those are for the Federal Government, 23 of those are joint. 41 are for the states and two are for industry. We will continue to work with all sectors to make sure we achieve this.

But I can announce today that before Christmas, the Federal Government will be bringing into Parliament legislation to declare a state of emergency. This was a recommendation key to the report in its findings about when the Federal Government should come into a natural disaster and the role it should play. We will not be taking over the operational management of disasters. That is the remit of the states. They are the professionals, they are the ones that do it better than anyone else in the world, I believe, right here in Australia. We will allow them to continue to do that. But where there is needed to be a surge of resources, then the Australian Government will come in with its agency, whether that be the Defence Force or any other federal agency, to achieve that. We will do that with the respect of the states in working to make sure the main and sole goal is to keep Australians safe.

We'll also be enhancing Emergency Management Australia in lifting its capability, particularly under the national coordination mechanism, which has been in place already we have seen through COVID-19, an integral part in keeping shelves stocked, but also in terms of monitoring stockpiles, critical stockpiles of necessary items for disasters for all Australians. We will also be making sure that there's a data fusion of all the states coming together to make sure that our crisis centre here in Canberra can make sure that the information, the critical information, is disseminated quickly to those people on the front-line so that real-time decisions can be made.

We're also announcing that we will be creating a national disaster recovery agency, a single agency that will look after all natural disasters. That will bring together the current flood and drought agencies and bushfire agencies into one. That will be up and standing by 1 July. But can I say that if there is disasters of any scale, of any magnitude in this country before then, then the existing agencies will continue on in those recovery. We have already committed over $2 billion to the bushfire. We’ve got $10 billion out with respect to the drought and over $3 billion for the floods. But we will now bring one single agency into effect to achieve that, and that was a key recommendation.

We are also asking and creating Resilience Australia. And that will bring together 10 scientific agencies to make sure the critical information that’s needed for our emergency service personnel to prepare, but also fight fires and natural disasters is provided at one central point. It will bring all these agencies together so the science is there, it is collaborated and disseminated through one single point. That just makes sense. We will now also be working with the states, particularly, around hazard reduction and making sure we create a framework, a national framework, that there is transparency and we will ask them to commit to accountability. We understand there's reasons why hazard reduction can't take place at times, but we have to have a commitment and understanding that while it's not the only contributing factor to the severity of natural disasters, it is one that can be mitigated, and we would like to see the inclusion particularly of First Australians brought into that, that their thousands of years of knowledge and wisdom can be intertwined with today's science. That would be what a modern Australia could achieve in keeping its people safe. We will continue now to work with the states in making sure that the implementation of this, of these 80 recommendations takes place. The time for more reviews is over. There is a real fatigue out there in Australians about the number of reviews we've had and the lack of action. We all need to have a commitment to achieve these recommendations, we have to have the commitment from everybody to do that. Otherwise, the legacy that we leave will have failed those 33 lives that were lost this summer. So, I say to the states, this is our time. This is our opportunity to leave a legacy for a stronger Australia well into the future. Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: When a national natural disaster is declared, what happens in the hours and days after that? What, in effect, happens?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: In effect, still we will define the trigger points in the legislation, as to what is the exact juncture in which the Federal Government would surge in with its assets. We would still obviously go to the Governor-General to have that signed off. But the legislation would clearly define that. And then it would depend on the type of disaster, in terms of the agencies that are involved. Predominantly, the Australian Defence Force and the Prime Minister took the unprecedented step this year of compulsorily calling up army reserves. Never been done in our nation’s history. But he saw the need and he waited for the states to ask him. It never came, but he saw the problem and he acted. That's leadership.

QUESTION: What other federal assets can be rolled out?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Emergency Management Australia's ability to be able to go in with expertise. Obviously scientific agencies, in terms of any science that needs to already- any observations, weather observations, health officials, any technical and scientific expertise that are required can be placed. Predominantly it will come from the Australian Defence Force as it has always, and has previously.

QUESTION: Minister, you mentioned that the Commonwealth will be providing- is focused on providing surge capacity to help the states. The Bushfire Royal Commission went into significant detail on aerial waterbombing fleet. It noted that it was stretched further than ever before this summer. It noted the extension and overlapping of fire seasons between northern and southern hemisphere and it called for a new sovereign national fleet to be established. But the Commonwealth has chosen not to endorse that recommendation.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, that's not correct.

QUESTION: Well, you noted it and you said that AFAC was-

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: With respect, it’s important to understand and appreciate the circumstances around this, because the Federal Government doesn't determine what the suite of aircraft is required in a year.

QUESTION: You fund it.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, if you’d like me to answer the question- it’s a pretty specific question, so it’s important you understand the answer. So, the arrangements have and always are that the people who determine the suite of aircraft that come into this country are our fire commissioners. They are the exports. The Federal Government plays a coordinating role with respect to that, and we have lifted our funding to just under $26 million a year - that's just for the standing costs. That's not for the operational costs. We have then kicked the tin again. But we allow, we allow the peak body, AFAC, to determine what type of aircraft is required. And then NAFC is their commercial arm that procures those aircraft. We will allow the fire commissioners, the state fire commissioners to work through the suite of aircraft that is required and we will ask them to endorse what the royal commission has placed in this report around a specific aircraft that they have outlined. Now, we will build on that and we will build on that with respect to what those fire commissioners provide through AFAC, and then we will work through, as we have always. The Federal Government does not and has never determined the type of aircraft that comes into this country. We do not have the expertise for that and we will not try and impose our will on that. We will allow the fire commissioner, the professionals to do that. That is their job, that is what has kept us safe in the past.

QUESTION: So, why did the Government’s response to the commissioner’s finding say that NAFC was sufficient?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Because [indistinct] pertains to the decisions for the state governments to make, not us. Because we will not determine the type of aircraft. That is up to-

QUESTION: Will you increase the funding quotient from the Federal Government if that’s requested from the state governments?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it will be proportional as it is already, in terms of the proportion that we have all committed to make. This is not a free hit for anybody. We’ve all got to put the shoulder to the wheel, the states and Federal Government. We have already made serious commitments around what that proportion of funding is from each jurisdiction, and from the Federal Government we will continue on that and then we will work through with respect to the type of aircraft that is required with AFAC and NAFC to make sure we get that right, and it will be provided to the Australian public every year, year on, year out.

QUESTION: So if the state requests more, they pay for it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it’ll be proportionate. We’ll all pay extra. That’s what proportionate means. Everyone pays their share. And if it goes up, you pay an extra piece as well. I don’t think that’s rocket science; that’s pretty simple math.

QUESTION: The response said that it will would stay at the current level for NAFC from the Federal Government.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that was before the royal commission came out. We-

QUESTION: that was the response to the Royal Commission.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. We continue to make sure if there is requirements made with respect to the aircraft that AFAC and NAFC ask for, then we’ll all be on the hook for that. That’s just common sense. Now, if the science tells us, next season we’re going to need three very large tankers, two LATs and a couple of extra Elvis helicopters than we normally have, well then, they’re all going to have to kick the tin on that. That’s just common sense.

QUESTION: Minister, what about the role of the private sector, the recommendations about insurers. Is there any excuse for them doing the wrong thing against customers? At this point, should they be given clearer advice on risk?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, we’ve all got a role to play in this. There’s a mutual responsibility for everyone. In fact, I’ve just met with the Insurance Council earlier today. And they have a responsibility to cough up when disaster hits, and if people are insured. But also, there's a mutual obligation for the policy holder. The policy holder has to do their bit in mitigating the risks as well, making sure that their properties are clean, making sure that they’ve done everything they possibly can to protect them and their families. So, there's a mutual responsibility in that, and we’ve said to the insurance industry that: you have a responsibility to simply pay up under the terms of your policy. Don't shirk your responsibility. And to be candid, I haven't had significant complaints about the insurance industry with respect to the bushfires. In fact, we've helped. And the fact that the federal and state governments kicked the tin with debris clean-up meant that we have seen that more has gone to the policy holder to rebuild. In fact, in Kangaroo Island, the insurance agencies were telling me that it could have cost them up to $100,000 to remove the debris off Kangaroo Island, and the policy may have been only for $250,000 so they wouldn't have been able to rebuild anything significant. So, that was an important play by the federal and state governments in the debris removal, and we’ll continue to work with the Insurance Councils and make sure we get that right. But I think, as a whole, they’ve done a pretty good job.

QUESTION: Minister, when it comes to natural disasters, climate change is part of that discussion. In the last couple of weeks, as more and more of Australia's trading partners have unequivocally adopted net zero by 2050, the Prime Minister has started to be talking more about an ambition or aspiration of reaching net zero emissions as quickly as possible. If the Prime Minister was to consider- were to consider endorsing a target of net zero by 2050, would the Nationals oppose that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: You’ve got to get to- the reality is you’ve got to get to 2030 first and you’ve got to be honest to people about how you’re going to pay for it and who’s going to pay. So that’s why we are saying that we have led the world in making a commitment to 2030. The other mob can't get to 2030. They don't know how they’re going to get to 2030. They don't know who's going to pay for it. In fact, if they say they’re just going to get to 2050 and it is zero, by 2030 that's around a 40, 41 per cent reduction in emissions that you're going to pay for. So, the responsibility of political parties and governments is to be honest with its people. And you’ve got to be able to have- you’ve got to be able to have the facts and be able to say: who’s going to pay for it, how it’s going to be achieved. If you don't do that, then you’re not worth your salt.
 
That's why we’ve got- that's why we’ve got the Labor Party tearing itself apart. Joel Fitzgibbon had this epiphany on the 19th of May last year when he had a near-death political experience, that he finally decided he might stand up for somebody, because he's worried about the jobs that are going to lost in his electorate. Well, Joel lost his job this week. The people of Hunter should just remember that if Labor still get in, they’ll still lose their job whether Joel is there or not, because this is about getting the facts right and about making clear you know how they’re going to pay for it. We have made our commitment that we’ll meet our 2030. The question for Labor is how they’ll meet 2030. Then after the 2050 target, we have said that we have to be honest with the Australian people about how we get there. We can't take a linear approach or you will pay at 2030. So we will continue to work through that. We will make sure it's actual technology, not taxes, because ultimately you're all going to pay.

QUESTION: Just on the national emergency declaration legislation, has it been drafted yet? And do you expect it to pass this year or it’ll just be introduced to parliament?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It will be introduced. We are working with the Opposition. The drafting of that legislation is being finalised by the Attorney-General, and there’ll be discussions with the Opposition about trying to expedite that legislation in the last two sitting weeks. We’d hope to achieve that, but we respect their right to obviously review that legislation and work with us constructively. But with respect, they have been respectful in trying to work through these issues and we’ll continue to make sure that dialogue opens.

QUESTION: Minister, just on the topic of net zero emission, Australian Super sold down its stake in Whitehaven Coal and committed to a net zero portfolio by 2050. Do you have a view on Australian Superannuation Funds taking those steps?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s an investment decision they get to make. That’s different to banks. So, banks can turn off the capital tap. That- the decision by ANZ to say: we aren't going to lend to somebody because we believe we are the social arbiters of our society, is wrong. Their job is to simply lend money, to make sure that they’ve mitigated risk around lending that, whether it can be repaid back, not to impose their social will on anybody.

With respect to particular investments, that's up to individual companies to make. But banks play a very significant part and have a very privileged part of our economy that they need to respect and understand. They simply do their job, which is lend money, and make sure that people can pay it back. They don't have to go past that. With respect to individual investments, I respect anyone's right to make an individual investment. That's up to them. And those that want to invest in those superannuation funds can make the determination whether they want to stick with them or go somewhere else.

QUESTION: That's with respect to the private sector, but we've already seen some state premiers and chief ministers put their support behind a net zero emissions by 2050.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I bet they have. What are they doing? They don’t have to do anything.…

QUESTION: Well, you’re asking them to do heavy lifting in response to natural disasters. Aren’t they leading the way?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I'm saying it's a partnership. No, I'm saying it's a partnership. We have never said that we are asking the states or anyone to do the heavy lifting. I just said in my opening remarks, this is a partnership with respect with the natural disasters and how we are going to face up to them in the future. A nationally coordinated approach, that’s how we want to do it. That’s how we will do it. And we’ll continue to work with the states but we expect them to do their bit. We’ve all got to do our bit.

QUESTION: Will Shane Stone head up the natural disaster agency?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No decisions been made with respect to that. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in creating this and bringing those agencies together, but we’ll do those as quickly as we can. But people should still have confidence, whether they fall under the bushfire, whether they fall under floods or the drought, they are still going to be covered until such time as we get this one agency up. That money will continue to flow.

QUESTION: Minister, one of the recommendations was to have downscaled climate projections to help tackle bushfires. What’s your view on that? It doesn't look like the Government's supporting those.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. So, there’s $88 million that we’ll be putting into research for natural disasters. So that’ll be able to amplify up particularly, not just on bushfires, but any natural disaster, and that will then work in with Resilience Australia in bringing together those 10 agencies as well, making sure all the data is brought together, collaborated, collaborated, and then we can disseminate it to those people, particularly on the frontline, to make those management decisions. So, the $88 million that we’re putting out is cold hard cash that we- in fact, hopefully will have signed up in terms of contracts very soon. There's been initial discussions already had because we announced that a couple of months ago, and we're very keen and very close to signing up and making sure that that body of work starts very soon.

QUESTION: Do you think climate research can help tackle bushfires?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. I think it’s one of the tools that you actually feed into, and that's why you have Geoscience Australia, you’ve got the BoM, you’ve got CSIRO. There’s so many agencies that are bringing so many different data points together, and what we're trying to do is actually bring them in to one point and then make sure that they can be interpreted for those that are preparing, particularly our fire commissioners. So, they’re the ones that plan meticulously for this. They sit down before every bushfire season, every disaster season, and simply work through the science and know where they actually then have to have their assets, how we, as a federal government, help them nationally coordinate that approach, particularly with COVID this year, with the lens of COVID over the top.

So, that is why the best way to help us to be even more resilient is using that science to be better prepared. And that's not just emergency service personnel, that’s each and every individual out there. And that's why we are able to come out and say we're going to have to pivot from bushfire threat this year to a La Nina event, which- cyclone and flooding. And that's why we plan for that to make sure that we can do that quickly, while also keeping us safe from COVID-19.

QUESTION: Just to clarify your previous answer, you talked about the focus on the 2030 emissions reduction target first. To be absolutely clear, are you saying that Australia shouldn't set a 2050 target until closer to 2030? When should we set a 2050 target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. No. We have said, and the Government has said this quite clearly. Part of the Paris Agreement is that you must commit to zero emissions at some point in the second half of the century. So, obviously the Prime Minister is saying if we can get there quicker, then we will. But we’ve got to do that through technology, not through taxes, because ultimately, someone will pay for it. Let me give you a perfect example. I have four coal-fired power stations in my electorate. We are putting in place in one of those carbon capture storage. That will reduce emissions from that coal-fired power station by 90 per cent. So, the end game is about reducing emissions. Why would you not try and do that while keeping your electricity prices down, and while not imposing effectively a tax on the economy? Because ultimately, you’ve got to pay for it. That's what happens.

QUESTION: So, the Nationals don't want a firm 2050 target, they want to stay in the second half of it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not until such time as we know how we're going to achieve it and who's going to pay for it. That's the responsible thing to do. We've signed up to the fact that at some point in the second half of the century that there will be zero emissions. But until such time as you can effectively identify how you’re going to get there, who's going to pay for it, we’re not signing up and I don't think anyone has. We've made our international commitments. Let's not complicate this. We signed up. The US is just coming back to where we were, but we said in 2030 we'll hit our targets. So 2030 is where you've got to get to first. So talking about 2050 is superfluous. It means three-fifths of bugger all. You've actually got to get to 2030.

QUESTION: You need to know where you’re going, don’t you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Exactly. That's exactly the point. You’ve just made my point beautifully. You've got to know where you're going, and that's exactly why we're saying, by 2030, we know exactly where we're going to be. And then from that trajectory on, post-2050, then the aim is to get to zero emissions at some point in the second half of the century. Simple as that. But you've got to commit to 2030. That was- this is the bizarre thing. It's an international commitment. So Labor is effectively saying they wouldn't sign up to an international commitment to reach a target by 2030. They want to hijinks you guys and they’re thinking: no, no, forget about the 2030. Let's just talk about the 2050 target, because it's going to blow our party up because we've got Joel on one side prancing around and we got Albo on the other, taking the uppercuts, trying to deflect it all the way. I mean, the mob is falling apart. Let's be honest. At least we've got a plan. We know where we're going. We proved it. We're going to stick to our international commitments. That first international commitment is 2030, post that, at some point in the second half of the century.

QUESTION: Minister, just on trade with China, is Australian stock still getting through or has there been any further delays in products?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. From what we understand, we continue to send considerable amounts of product. Obviously, last week, there was issues around timber and some of those, we've got to say, are issues that we've been trying to work through and are results of the bushfires. The fumigation that is used with respect to the logs that were sent over wasn't working on burnt logs, and we were aware that back in July. And the department is working with the industry to try and remedy that with the different types of fumigation and the methods that we’re undertaking. It hadn't been as successful as we'd like, and that's why we're now trying to work through a new protocol with the industry and Beijing to make sure that that timber can continue to get through. But timber from other states can. We're continuing to monitor the situation and continuing to make sure that if there are issues, we’ll work through them commodity by commodity and make sure that we strongly represent our industries.

QUESTION: If you knew there was bark beetle in the timber back in July, how did shipments of it arrive in China in the last week?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So, no. So, they were still allowed to go through, but we were trying to change, and we've been working with industry, to change the fumigation method in which it was used. So effectively, effectively, it wasn't until another shipment had subsequently gone through that there was more found, that China raised the issue again with us that there was concern. And effectively, they've asked for that timber from Victoria and Queensland not to come until such time as we can sort out the protocols within those states. And we will- but we will be putting these protocols across the country because I think it's important that we don't just let this happen to another state. So that's what the department and industry are working through now. And it's a challenging situation, particularly for those burnt logs that we've been trying to get out, and get income into the forestry industry’s pockets since the bushfire.

QUESTION: So, you knew it was a risk when the ship sailed from Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There’s a risk every time a ship sails from Australia. That is the inherent nature of exports of agricultural product. What we’re trying to do is make sure that we mitigate those with science and intelligence to make the appropriate protocols in place to protect the Brand Australia.
    
Thanks very much, guys.