Australia — Jason Clare Minister for Defence on Queensland floods, Australian War Memorial

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.

BOCKING: Yeah.

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.

BOCKING: Right.

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.

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia

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