BOCKING: As we know, so much of the focus today is on Rockhampton, you only have to look at the front page of the Daily Telegraph, and there is the inundation for all to see, basically homes just appearing as dots rising out of murky flood waters, flooding up to 400 homes as the Fitzroy River reaches its peak.
Already almost 90 people camped out at evacuation centres, another 500 seeking shelter with friends and family, and emergency Cabinet meetings being held by the Queensland Government this morning, the Defence Force providing its assistance, that we heard from the Colonel just before the news. The Acting Defence Minister at the moment is Jason Clare, he’s also a Labor MP in Sydney’s west, and I’m very pleased to say he’s on the line. Jason, good morning.
CLARE: Oh, good morning, Stuart, how are you?
BOCKING: I’m well. Nice to be able to chat with you again, shame it’s in circumstances such as this. In terms of supplies for some of these towns and cities, groceries and the like, how are we going there, given the difficulties in actually accessing some of these areas?
CLARE: Well, you’re right, things are really tough up here for thousands of Queenslanders, and perhaps toughest in Rockhampton, where they’ve been almost cut off. The way to get foodstuffs and emergency equipment into Rockhampton is with our Hercules aircraft, which fly from here in Brisbane where I am, up to Mackay, and then they’re trucked in, and we’re trucking in something like 50 tonnes of foodstuffs every day, things as basic as nappies and Weet Bix and pasta, or I think yesterday it was something like 40 crates of Long Life Milk, batteries for torches, candles, those sorts of things. So the road, the northern road accessing Rockhampton is still open, and we’ve been able to use our C130 aircraft to fly up to Mackay and then truck that in. The advice that I got this morning is that that road is expected to remain open, even as the flood peaks in Rockhampton today, so that’s a good thing.
BOCKING: It’s incredible. Have you based yourself in Brisbane for the time being?
CLARE: Well, I’ve been here yesterday, and here today, just so that I know exactly what’s going on. I’m going to head out to the Amberley Air Force Base this morning, just to thank the Air Force officers that are flying the Hercules up there into the Mackay and Rockhampton area, for the work that they’re doing. They’re doing something like three to four sorties a day, so they’re spending something up to 16, 18 hours a day, flying food up to the people of Rockhampton, so it’s an incredible task.
BOCKING: We’ve heard a lot about the assistance packages available, is money flowing already Jason, I mean I notice there was someone saying the other day that they were in desperate need of money, and a local State MP just provided $50 out of their own pocket, just because they needed funds, how quickly is that money going to flow for these people?
CLARE: Yeah, well it’s a good point, there’s two things that the Federal Government can do, the first is getting Defence Force support on the ground, and we’ve just spoken about that, and the second is financial support. We have made available emergency funds, that people can get access to if they’ve been forced to leave their home, and my advice is that by contacting Centrelink you can get that money put into your bank account straight away. And then the next stage of it is the recovery, and hundreds of millions of dollars that we’re going to have to inject into the local economy, fixing up the local roads, fixing up bridges, local schools and railways, as we find what the impact of this flood has been, once the water eventually recedes.
BOCKING: Being based in Queensland, and obviously seeing those images a little closer, have you been astounded by the scale of what we’re dealing with here?
CLARE: Yeah, you made the point I think, when you spoke to Colonel Foster a moment ago that we haven’t seen anything like this for a long, long time, and that’s true, you know, perhaps not since Cyclone Tracey has the Defence Force been so involved in a natural disaster like this.
BOCKING: That’s right.
CLARE: Cyclone Larry was big, and you’ll remember that we had General Cosgrove involved there.
CLARE: The Defence Force, I’ve got to say, have got a lot of experience when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. I was talking to Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Force yesterday, about this, and he told me that he used to be a helicopter pilot, and he spent a lot of his time in his youth in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, flying Black Hawks, doing the same sorts of things that our pilots are doing today, and over the last few weeks, doing emergency food drop-offs, emergency medical drop-offs, things like insulin for people that have been isolated, and making sure that we’re rescuing people that need to be rescued, before it’s too late.
BOCKING: Well it’s interesting as well, because in recent times obviously we’ve seen a lot of work done by the military overseas, Indonesia, Banda Aceh, in the wake of various natural disasters in parts of Asia, and we’re very grateful to (a) be able to provide that, and (b) know that we’ve got the call on where we need it, but it’s not often we do need it, even after things like the Newcastle earthquake, and various things, but an event of this scale, it really does bring the Defence Force into their own, doesn’t it?
CLARE: Yeah, it certainly does, we’ve got a first class Defence Force, you see it in Afghanistan, where they’re fighting a dangerous and difficult war, you see it in the peacekeeping work, that they’re doing in East Timor, and the Solomon Islands, but you also see it here at home, and you saw evidence of that only a couple of years ago with the bushfires, and we’re seeing it again today on our TV screens, where we see them, whether it’s the Black Hawk helicopters as I said, that have been rescuing people, the big Hercules that are delivering food into Rockhampton today, and for as long as that’s needed, or whether it’s the Navy now, with bringing up Sea King helicopters from Nowra today, up to Roma, because we think that the area St George is going to get flooded over the next few days, and we might have to do more emergency work in the St George area over the course of the next few days.
BOCKING: So what, they’re flying up from HMAS Albatross, are they?
CLARE: They are.
CLARE: So Premier Bligh has said, look, we need more support, and our response has been, okay, get it up there.
BOCKING: Have you spoken to Barnaby Joyce, he’s a local of St George?
CLARE: No, I haven’t spoken to Barnaby, but you’re right, he’s a local of St George, he knows what’s needed, and I might pick up the phone to him, and say g’day, and say look, is there anything else that you think needs to be done?
BOCKING: Give him a buzz, yeah, he’d be a good man to get in touch with. Just quickly on another matter, there are some reports the Australian War Memorial has been struggling under severe financial strain, do you know too much about that, is that right?
CLARE: Look, I’m not sure, what I do know is that the Prime Minister has asked the minister responsible, which is Warren Snowden, as well as Penny Wong, who’s the Finance Minister, to have a look at this, and conduct a review before the budget comes out in May.
BOCKING: Yeah, because we’ve got ANZAC Day coming up, the centenary of the Gallipoli Landing in a couple of years time, and they’re talking about severe job losses and the like, under a crippling financial situation, so it doesn’t sound good on the reading of it, for the Australian War Memorial.
CLARE: You know, it is a very, very important place, and as you say, the centenary of World War I is coming up, I was — you might remember, I was in Kokoda a couple of years ago, taking some kids from Western Sydney up there, to better understand the meaning of ANZAC, and I’ll be going with Scott Morrison up to Sandakan in Borneo in a couple of months, to celebrate this ANZAC Day, commemorate this ANZAC Day, taking young people from Sydney, so they understand the greatest military atrocity to happen in Australia’s history, and the War Memorial plays a very, very important role for all Australians, in understanding our history.
BOCKING: Yes, well we’ll certainly chat again in the aftermath of that, if not before. Appreciate your time, Jason, thanks so much.
CLARE: Yeah, my pleasure, and Stuart, can I just make a final point, to thank all of the Emergency Services workers, whether it’s the police, the firies, the ambos, the Defence Force people that we’ve spoken about, all the council workers, there’s hundreds and hundreds of them up here in Queensland, and they’re doing a terrific job for all of us.
BOCKING: Terrific, wish you well, Jason, thanks so much.
CLARE: Thanks, Stuart.
BOCKING: Yep, Acting Defence Minister, Jason Clare in Brisbane this morning with that rescue effort well and truly underway, involving all arms of our Defence Forces.
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