Press "Enter" to skip to content

Gillard Warns of Dire Times Ahead

1.45pm AEDT – Prime Minister Julia Gillard has warned that conditions in parts of Queensland are dire.

Julia Gillard at her Canberra press conference this afternoonSpeaking in Canberra, Gillard had little to add to information provided earlier today by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. She said the death toll was likely to rise as difficult weather conditions continue to prevail.

Gillard confirmed that flood waters in Ipswich would be at least 16 metres and possibly higher. The 1974 flood peaked at 20 metres.

Gillard said some places had now been hit twice in a matter of weeks by floodwaters. She said offers of assistance had been received from many countries and an offer of extra personnel from New Zealand had been taken up.

The Prime Minister was asked whether the reconstruction effort would affect the ability of the government to bring the budget to surplus in 2013. She said it was too soon to tell what the repair bill would be but restated her commitment to returning the budget to surplus in 2013.

Gillard said shocking and dramatic scenes had been witnessed in the past 24 hours. “Now, as a nation, we are grieving the loss of 8 lives, 4 of them children, and 72 people are unaccounted for.” She said the nation needs to brace itself for an increase in the death toll.

As the Prime Minister spoke, media reports said roads out of the Brisbane CBD were clogged with cars.

  • Listen to Julia Gillard’s press conference (21m)

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s press conference.

PM:

For many days now Queenslanders have been battling with flood waters and the misery that flood waters bring and many Australians have watched this battle and they’ve shown their sympathy and support by donating to the various flood relief efforts.

I’m sure that many Queenslanders and Australians right around the nation would have been hoping that the worst of this was behind us and that we were shortly to move from the immediate crisis into a recovery phase. Tragically that hasn’t occurred. Yesterday we saw some simply shocking events in Toowoomba and other communities in the Lockyer Valley, literally walls of water, smashing into cars and to buildings. We’ve seen very dramatic images of cars tossed around, of people on roofs of houses and on the roofs of cars and people literally hanging on for dear life to trees and to signposts. I’m sure those images have shocked Australians.

That means that now, of course, we are in a situation where as a nation we are grieving the loss of eight Australian lives, four of them children. 72 Australians are unaccounted for and that means in Queensland and around the nation there are people who are frightened, people who are desperately waiting for news of their loved ones, a weight that would be bearing so heavily on them, it’s very hard to imagine what a weight like that is like. So to those people who are bereaved, to those who are now waiting for news of their loved ones, I want to say to them, as Prime Minister my thoughts and my sympathies are with you, the thoughts and sympathies of all Australians are with you in these dreadful and difficult circumstances.

The nation does need to brace itself for the fact that the death toll as a result of yesterday’s flash flooding and walls of water is likely to rise. We know that search and rescue efforts are underway. Difficult weather circumstances continue to prevail and I have been continuously in contact with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, but with 72 Australians unaccounted for, with flood waters so dangerous and moving so swiftly, we do need to brace ourselves for the likelihood of further bad news.

Today I have been briefed by our National Security Adviser, by the Head of Emergency Management Australia. I have spoken to the Commanding Officer of Operation Queensland Flood Assist. As we speak we have helicopters, Black Hawks and Sea Kings in the air, working hand in glove with the Queensland emergency personnel on search and rescue efforts. As those search and rescue efforts continue flood waters are now threatening more parts of Queensland, including Ipswich and parts of Brisbane.

There are some communities that have been hit by flood waters for a second time. Hit once, evacuated, gone back and now being hit again. So they circumstances in Queensland continue to be very dire indeed.

We will continue to provide the support of the Australian Defence Force and I have made it very clear to Premier Anna Bligh that any resource she needs from the Australian Defence Force will be made available to the people of Queensland to assist them during this very difficult period. In my various conversations with Premier Anna Bligh she has made very clear to me the courage and commitment of Emergency Services personnel who have faced these incredibly harrowing circumstances over the last 24 hours. Indeed they were joined by volunteers, by others including by media helicopters to help get people off roofs last night.

To everyone who has helped so courageously and so competently I give my thanks, I know you are still out there, still engaged in search and rescue, I thank you for what you have done, what you are continuing to do and what you will do in the days ahead. Our Emergency Services personnel have simply been magnificent in very very difficult circumstances. I would like to say to the people of Queensland that I understand the past few days have been very harrowing indeed and that there are still more dark days ahead, but the spirit of Queensland is to face these circumstances with courage and with determination. We’re seeing that on display today, we saw it on display even in the amazing images in Toowoomba yesterday.

To the people of Queensland, can I also say Australians are thinking of you and anything that they Australian nation can do to assist the people of Queensland in these difficult days will be done. Queenslanders are showing courage and determination. We will meet that courage and determination with the assistance they need in these very difficult days of the Queensland flood crisis. I do note that we are also facing flood waters in other parts of the nation, in New South Wales and in a typically Australian contrast we have people fighting bushfires in Western Australia. Right around the nation there are Australians who are doing it tough, Australians who are also showing a great deal of courage. Our thoughts are particularly with those caught up in this immediate and very difficult crisis in Queensland, but around the nation our thoughts are with people battling floodwaters, battling fire, battling these difficult circumstances. I’m very happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you say you’ll do anything you can to help. Is it possible that you would consider setting aside you target of bringing the Budget back to surplus by 2013 in order to pay for the clean-up, the road damage, the damage to other public infrastructure. Is it time to set that aside and commit yourself to long-term funding for this infrastructure?

PM:

Well we are committed to long-term funding for the rebuilding of Queensland and in the days ahead as floodwaters ultimately subside the rebuilding task will become clearer and what we need to do and finance to enable Queensland to overcome the damage of these floodwaters will become clearer. We will do that, and bring the Budget to surplus in 2012-13, and yes that will entail some tough choices.

JOURNALIST:

But can that been sustained?

PM:

Yes we will do both, but the immediate task at the moment, we are searching for Australians who are unaccounted for, the immediate task is to facilitate all of those efforts. For a number of days now during the Queensland flood crisis we have had the Australian Defence Force there through Operation Queensland Flood Assist, we have some 150 Defence Force personnel who have been there working alongside the people of Queensland and the emergency services personnel. What I have said to Premier Anna Bligh and what I want to restate here very clearly is anything else that is needed from the Australian Defence Force will be made available to assist Queensland as they face these incredibly difficult circumstances. We’ll just go to the back.

JOURNALIST:

What is your sense of the predictability of this disaster, whether or not the extent of this could have been foreseen and would you like to see better warning systems, perhaps the use of the SMS warning system developed after Black Saturday for flood prone areas?

PM:

Well the SMS warning system has been used in parts of Queensland, so something that was learned through the devastation in Victoria with the bushfires was worked on and now that is available and can be used in other disaster circumstances. In the days to come I’m sure that there will be a review of things like whether warnings and the like, that is work to come in the days ahead, but right now in the midst of this emergency our thoughts are on dealing with the emergency and our efforts are on dealing with that emergency. Can I just say too, and the reviews will happen in the future, but I think we live in a world, we approach a world with more technology than we’ve ever had before with resources available to us that were unimaginable for earlier generations, but the power of nature can still be a truly frightening power and we’ve seen that on display in this country, we’ve seen it through fire, we’re now seeing it through flood. Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Are you, I’m sorry to press the question, but are you in any way concerned that the people, even with the emergency alerts via SMS and other means, people weren’t forewarned enough?

PM:

What I’ve seen today is I’ve seen the experts from the Weather Bureau in Brisbane talk about the limits to their ability to track these extreme weather events in individual localities. Now I am not an expert from the Weather Bureau, you would have seen that at Anna Bligh’s press conference she was joined by an expert from her Weather Bureau so that information is there, I’m sure people will want to review and look at what else can be done by weather bureaus, but I believe he sought to explain how this event happened with no warning and happened with such severity.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister just on the first question, back to the first question, because the commitment on the surplus is central to the Government’s objectives, does that mean that any rebuilding investment would have to be funded from perhaps other infrastructure funding that’s been set aside already or that there would have to be savings elsewhere in Commonwealth outlays to pay for that rebuilding?

PM:

We will make the choices in the Federal Budget that are necessary to work with Queensland on the rebuilding and to bring the Budget to surplus in 2012-13, and there may be some tough choices. We want to make sure that we are working to rebuild critical infrastructure in Queensland and that will be done. Those Budget choices will be made in our Budget cycle and we don’t even know yet and can’t know, it’s not possible for anyone to know, what the damage bill is going to be from these floods across Queensland, we’re only going to know that as floodwaters subside and they we’ll be working with State Government, with local government, on the rebuilding. Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister how can you fund the health deals from July this year when the States haven’t actually handed over their GST revenue, it’s only six months away, is it possible to proceed with the reforms that you planned without that money in the bank?

PM:

There’s plenty of time to talk about health and health agreements. Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you’ve given the sense of ADF personnel who are up in Queensland but what other Commonwealth resources have been deployed up there, can you give us an idea?

PM:

Well the Commonwealth resources, the ADF, we’ve had the Joint Taskforce operating 150 personnel, we’ve had helicopter assets assisting, we’ve got helicopters in the air now for the search and rescue efforts, we’ve had helicopters working in Rockhampton for communities that have been isolated. You would have seen for example those Blackhawk helicopters have been used to do things like medical evacuations. We’ve used fixed wing aircraft including C-130s to fly supplies around that have been needed, we’ve got those huge military trucks available also to take supplies around and they are trucks that are able to sometimes push through in circumstances where other vehicles can’t and we are there standing by and will deploy whatever assets are necessary to assist Queenslanders through.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in terms of offers from overseas and what we need, what offers have we got for help and assistance from overseas and what have we taken up?

PM:

Well, we’ve taken up the offer of New Zealand for personnel, and those personnel have already hit the ground and are deployed in Queensland assisting. We’ve had message of sympathy and support and offers of assistance from literally around the world: from the United States; from the United Nations; the EU. In our own region, we’ve had similar offers from China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka, as well as from East Timor and New Caledonia. We are taking advice of our emergency services experts about whether we need to accept those offers and action particular forms of assistance. To date, the one that’s been actioned has been the New Zealand offer. Obviously, New Zealand was able to get personnel to us very quickly.

JOURNALIST:

Obviously, for us, when we help a lot of other nations in natural disasters, often it’s both personnel and money. Am I guessing for us it’s not a case of money, it’s more just potentially logistical help and personnel?

PM:

We’ve seen nations donate money in past very difficult times in Australia. For example, in the Victorian bushfire crisis that did happen, and we have also sourced expertise that may be strained in Australia because the event is so pressing. We have sourced expertise in the past. For example, we have had people assist us with things like disaster victim identification. Now, the main thing here is our experts, both at Defence and in emergency management and the emergency management leaders in Queensland will make it clear if any of these offers should be taken up to assist us, and what form of assistance they would most require, whether it’s a particular form of expertise, for example.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, are you going back up to Queensland in the next few days to have a look at how things are going on the ground?

PM:

Look, I will certainly be going to Queensland. I will either go to Brisbane tonight or tomorrow morning. As Premier Anna Bligh has made clear, the circumstances in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley are of such crisis and emergency that this is not the right time to visit. Emergency personnel and police need to be getting on with dealing with the emergency, but at the appropriate time, obviously, I will look to visit and touch base with people.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott said he would like to do a similar thing. Would you offer, or would you potentially take him with you?

PM:

Oh, look, we certainly facilitated Mr Abbott’s visited to Queensland. He visited, for example, to Dalby, and we facilitate that visit with the use of aircraft and the like, so I’m happy to make whatever arrangements suit, but at the moment in the immediate crisis area, where you saw those graphic images yesterday and where search and rescue is continuing, this is not the right time for visiting. The focus has to be on the search and rescue efforts.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in your briefings this morning, have you been given any indication as to whether the next few days is likely to see the passing of the ’74 flood level in South-East Queensland?

PM:

The updated advice to me, talking to the preparation in Ipswich, is that they currently believe the levels will be just a bit less than the 1974 flood level, but I do stress the hydrology and hydrologists reports that we get vary. They’re done constantly and the reports vary as they see floodwaters emerge, so we’re obviously going to keep a very careful eye on that. We are monitoring the situation continuously and the situation continues to change and new facts emerge.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what is the update that they have for Brisbane city?

PM:

Look, I’ve spoken to the Premier of Queensland and to the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and as you would know they’ve swung into operation the Brisbane City Council disaster management arrangements. They are probably the best source of advice for minute-by-minute updates of what they are expecting, and we are working together to share information at every point.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in your talks with the Colonel in charge of the joint taskforce this morning, did he give you any indication of the kinds of things they’d been doing – medical evacuations and those sorts of things, the activities they’d been doing.

PM:

Just to be clear, what the Black Hawks and Sea Kings are doing at the moment is assisting in search and rescue. Those helicopters couldn’t be got in the air for a period of time because of the adverse weather conditions. It simply wasn’t safe to get them up in the air to begin these tasks. As soon as it was safe, then of course they were deployed to begin these tasks. More generally, across Queensland we’ve had helicopters and fixed wing aircraft involved in resupply and helicopters involved in emergency evacuation.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, given the Opposition’s argument about the lack of dams that we’ve built in this country, have you had any advice or got any thoughts on whether even if dams had been built they would have done much to mitigate the damage that we’ve seen, given the volume of water that-

PM:

-No, I don’t have any advice to that effect, and I’m sure in the days to come people will want to talk about some of those issues, but obviously the focus of people now is on the emergency and meeting the emergency as it unfolds.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, I’ve seen one figure of something in the order of $11 billion of damage and the cost of the clean up. Have you had any advice on the overall cost of this, and would you put it in the billions of dollars?

PM:

I’ve been very clear that this is going to be a lot of damage and a very big price tag, but I’ve also been very clear that we can only work that out when floodwaters subside, so yes, people are trying to work through and predict what they might see when floodwaters subside, and location by location I can understand why people are turning their mind to that and that forward planning, but we’re only actually going to be able to know when floodwaters subside and we can see what’s happened to bridges, what’s happened to roads, what’s happened to airstrips, what’s happened to critical community infrastructure – schools and the like. It’s only then that we will be able to get a very clear estimate of what the rebuilding task is, but yes, all of this is in the many hundreds of millions of dollars, many hundreds of millions of dollars and we will be working with the people of Queensland in this rebuilding. Thank you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
AustralianPolitics.com
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024