Parliamentary speech: Disaster Support

Parliamentary speech: Disaster Support Main Image

31 March 2022

Mrs Phillips (Gilmore) (11:21): On what will be the last parliamentary days here in the 46th Parliament, if we've learnt anything over these past three years it's that disasters can strike at any time.

When I first came to this place, farmers, businesses and workers supporting farmers were in dire trouble because of drought. Then, in late December 2019, the Currowan bushfires began and, over many months, raged and tormented 80 per cent of my electorate.

It's often been called the Black Summer bushfires, but it's really the eerie orange dark skies, the ash rain, continuous smoke, rotting food and no communications that most people will remember. There was a tragic loss of lives; families will never be the same. Community members and volunteers were left to pick up the pieces: neighbours looking after neighbours, shop owners looking after customers, and local emergency committees and emergency services volunteers and workers giving their all to help people.

But what people were tormented by even more was not being able to get the help they desperately needed. People were tired—and they still are. When you've lost all your business for weeks on end and been told that you don't qualify for federal government support, what a slap in the face it is. When your home has burnt down and you need to rebuild and put in an underground water tank but are told by the government, even the Morrison government minister, that you don't qualify for HomeBuilder, that's a slap in the face too. When you're a farmer and you've lost equipment and stock and been told that you don't qualify because of off-farm income, the government doesn't get it because the drought meant more off-farm income was needed.

There are many stories like this, all with the same theme, where people have been left behind by the Morrison government. It's not for want of trying; I wrote to various ministers, and they just didn't listen or didn't care. There have been nine disaster-declared floods in my region. People, businesses, roads and infrastructure have taken a battering. Ask anyone driving on our thousands of kilometres of insanely potholed and cratered roads what they think; they'll be quick to tell the government that there have been landslides across Gilmore, closing roads and cutting off communities for weeks on end.

I've spoken previously here about the Araluen Road and the devastation this has caused and, more recently, about Kangaroo Valley, where this beautiful tight-knit community was completely isolated by road. Even when the road was able to be opened, it was only by escort and at certain times. Supplies were choppered in for this community. But, again, business owners, despite being severely impacted, tell me that they have been told they don't qualify for even a basic federal payment. Again, I have raised this issue and will continue to do so.

There's a constant theme here, where disaster impacted people have been left behind by the Morrison government. Disaster mitigation is something I, along with my communities, have been vigorously pursuing.

Our many one-road-in one-road-out communities need greater assurances and protections for the next disasters. That means a more secure power supply; more secure communications, so that emergency information can be relayed and so that people can keep in touch with loved ones; and better, safer places of last resort. But, again, calls for fireproof power poles for some communities and for the Mt Wandera transmission station have fallen on the deaf ears of the tone-deaf Morrison government.

We know that the Morrison government has an Emergency Response Fund that it has not spent on disaster mitigation. It could easily choose to put in fireproof power poles and embark on an ambitious plan to improve drainage and roads to assist local government, but again it does nothing. Then, in the budget on Tuesday night, the government finally said it will spend some of the Emergency Response Fund on mitigation, but guess what? It's completely left out my bushfire and flood impacted communities.

Could there be a greater insult to my disaster impacted communities and people?

There are no words for this incompetent government, but perhaps Senator Fierravanti-Wells said it best: 'Morrison is not fit to be Prime Minister.' It is time for the Morrison government to go.