PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11053


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/04/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11053



The Prime Minister is on the line. Prime Minister, good morning.


Good morning Alan.


Prime Minister, can I just say to you that even broadcasters get depressed.

I feel very depressed today. I've argued and cajoled, and tried

to persuade you about a national disaster fund. Here we are yet again,

there are people in appalling plights, can there be anything more

important for your initiative or John Fahey's today than the

concern of these people?


No, there isn't but can I say a couple of things about that.

Firstly, any person who is insured is entitled to get full recovery

on their insurance policy. There can't be any argument that this

was a storm. In the past insurance companies have said well, this

is flood damage and it's not fully covered.


PM, I am sorry to interrupt you but that isn't the point, that

is not the point. They know that. What is the point at the moment



Alan, I am sorry....


No, let me just tell you the problem...


But, Alan, please, I mean, you asked me a question and I....


You are talking something that they all know, John, fair dinkum.


Well, I am sorry, could I just go on to say...I mean, I know you

say the answer is to have a national disaster fund....


But you won't even consider it.


No, but we effectively have one at the moment.




No, I am sorry...


No, you're kidding me, John. I can't believe you go to Western

Australia and you say you don't need a national disaster fund

and when you go to Western Australia your existing structures are

so inadequate that you say, well, we've got to give them $10

million, we've got to give them....If the fund and the processes

were okay you wouldn't have to give them $10 million they would

be adequate to cope.


In every major disaster of this kind when there has been a demonstrated

need over and above, and I am quite certain that there are demonstrated

needs over and above what is covered by the existing arrangements,

they'll be discussed by me with the New South Wales Premier.


Prime Minister, do you understand, I am sorry, I mean, do you understand

that the SES have 5,500 calls that they cannot currently service of

people whose homes can not be lived in at this moment. And they are

asking the Prime Minister of this country to, for God's sake,

recognise this is a problem and can you get the army or someone in?

Can you get tarpaulins available, can you recruit tradesmen, can you

provide money from a fund which will actually get this work done so

that the rain isn't falling in homes which are already flooded?


Alan, I understand very, very strongly and very, very deeply how you

feel and you are right to be concerned about the people of Sydney

as I am. It is easy to say that when you have something like this

that strains services to the maximum and, in fact, it's easy

and appropriate to say, well there should be more of them. And I can

assure you and I can assure your listeners that if there is a need

for more of those services over and above what are now available which

is demonstrated out of this well I will talk to the New South Wales

Premier about providing those. But I have to say in defence of what

you have just said, defence of myself and defence of the Federal Government

and indeed of State governments, that there are extensive arrangements

available already, they do come into operation. I think the State

Emergency Services have responded magnificently and in this disaster....


Subsidised by employers.


I beg your pardon?


Subsidised by employers.


Yes. Well, part of the Australian spirit, Alan, is to help each other

when they're in need and that involves....


Well, that's what I am asking you to do now.


Well, there are arrangements. The arrangements that operate now will

involve the expenditure, potentially, of millions of dollars of money....


PM, if they worked why would you have to give $10 million in Western

Australia? If they were working....


Hang on, Alan, what happened in Western Australia could well happen

in New South Wales...


It's happened here.


Well, Alan, please, let me....look, I know you feel strongly about



I really feel quite depressed.


I know that but I think it's also fair that you let me finish.

In Western Australia, in Katherine, in a number of other places where

the ordinary standing arrangements for the provision of...the Commonwealth

supplements the cash grants given by State governments to people who

because of the disaster need money. Now, that is how the arrangement

works. The State provides a certain amount, once it goes beyond a

certain level the Commonwealth then comes in and subsidises the State.

So all of those people who are in an immediate cash need as a result

of this disaster can go along and ask for that. We also have ex-gratia

arrangements available and if the New South Wales Government believes

that the existing arrangements are not working they can talk to Mr

Fahey, they can talk to me and make sure that those are also available.

In addition to that, if there is a clear demonstration, as there was

in Exmouth, that as a result of the disaster businesses are being

destroyed quite separately from homes, and I'll come to homes

in a moment, then that fund was essentially made available for emergency

relief for the small businesses to get the town going again.


But you can understand that it's more...I am sorry, I mean,

I find it hard, I don't want to say that you don't understand

but look, there's a street in Kensington, the whole street is

done over. Now, these people firstly have got to do the most basic

thing and that is find someone who can take their call and answer

their problem. The windows are smashed, the house all blown in. 176,

all the windows smashed, ceiling and floor damage. 117, water leaking

down all the walls, it poured at half past one last night. We are

asking a system to be in place where these people aren't asked

to make phone calls where people arrive in their droves by a national

plan and fix these people up. They are pensioners, they are poor people,

they are people on shift work, they have got wages and salaries, they

can't afford to pay any kind of money to get someone there at

the moment because a workman is going to say, can you pay. They don't

have $250 spare. What do they do, will the Prime Minister tell me

what they do.


Well, if they don't have cash available for their immediate needs

the existing arrangements involve them getting that and if the State

doesn't have enough money to support all of that...


How do they make contact? How do they know who to ring?


Well Alan, nobody, let's face it, you have an emergency number.

I mean, be fair. The State emergency services all around this country

work extremely well and it doesn't automatically follow that

something run from Canberra is going to be more efficient than something

run from Sydney.


Where's the Army, someone said where's the Army, they've

got tarpaulins?


Well, the Army is always called in and is always available if asked.


By whom?


That has to be asked by the State authorities because they have the

police. The New South Wales Government – and look, I'm not

sort of pointing the finger at them, they've done a very good

job – the New South Wales Government is responsible for the emergency

services and the police and they are the first points of contact.

And if they need help they would automatically go to the Army. They

don't have to ring me. They don't have to ring the Defence

Minister. They have standing arrangements. The Army was automatically

called in to Katherine. The defence forces were involved in Exmouth

in Western Australia. When I went to Exmouth in Western Australia

I came across ADF personnel. They didn't have to ask my permission

to go there. There's a standing arrangement. You talk as though

these things don't happen.


They're not happening. John, this occurred on Wednesday night.


Well, maybe you should be...


You're the Prime Minister.


Well, I'm telling you what the arrangement is and if that hasn't

happened then that is something that ought to be...


PM, this occurred on Wednesday night, it is now Friday and SES, who

are phenomenal, won't come anywhere near solving this by the

weekend. There are people who could be your mother or your brother

without a roof over their head and they don't even have a car

to get from A to B because they can't get the work done. They're

requiring an operation bigger than any of the component parts to be

able to address the problem immediately.


Well Alan, can I tell you, you are – it did happen on Wednesday

night. Under the standing arrangements that exist, if the response

of the Defence Force to a request from the SES or the New South Wales

Police had not been adequate I would have heard about it. Mr Carr

would have got in touch with me. You are the first person who has

suggested to me or implied to me that the SES has not had the co-operation

from the defence forces to which they are entitled. As a result of

this phone call I will now get in touch with Mr Carr. I'll get

in touch with the Defence Minister and I'll find out whether

any request was made and what happened to that request. But I will

be very surprised, given the past attitude of the Australian Defence

Forces, that if they had been asked to help that they wouldn't

have immediately gone in there and help. They don't need my...


Well, if they don't help in this disaster when will they help?


What I'm saying to you is people don't go and – I mean,

there is an arrangement, if they were asked they would have gone.

You are implying that in some way they have to ask me.


No I'm not.


They don't have to ask me. I mean, I could be anywhere. You have

a standing arrangement. They don't have to go through the Prime

Minister. They ring up the relevant contact person in the Defence

Force and say we need help. Now, that happened in Katherine and it

happened in Exmouth and I assume that in the case of the Sydney storm

it would have happened it they had have needed it. Now, Alan, as a

result of your call I will now, I'll get in touch with Mr Carr

and I'll get in touch with the Defence Minister and I'll

find out whether any request was made. But I want your listeners to

understand that in circumstances like this the Army and the Navy and

the Air Force, in an emergency situation, are always available to

help if they are asked and if they are called upon because the local

State services can't handle the problem. Now, that has always

been the case and I don't want anybody to think for a moment

that we just let the State emergency services think we leave them

alone. We don't. We are always ready to supplement and all they

have to do is ring up.


That's right but there are people out there who don't have

insurance, and they should have and so on but they mightn't be

able to afford, but they are Australians and they are part of our

world. And today they are left without any means, most probably, to

be able to repair their house or repair their car. It's most

probably a little butter box of a thing which is 15 or 18 years old.

And I'm saying that surely to God there has to be a better mechanism

in place than all these fragmented responses. But you say, you say

it's terrific but I don't see evidence of it being terrific.


Well, Alan, I don't think when something like this happens anything

is terrific because you never expect something like this and it was

absolutely ferocious and the way in which it devastated parts of Sydney

must have been absolutely terrifying for the people concerned.


Will you have a chance to drive out and have a look at it?


Yes, I will. I will try and do that today. Yes, I will. Unfortunately

I couldn't do it yesterday because I had a long-standing commitment

to go to Newcastle.


PM, they're relying on you. I want you to understand that. The

desperate people that have rung me this morning – many calls

I couldn't put to air – are relying on you. That's

all I can say. I can't put it any higher than that.


I want them to understand that I am concerned about their plight.

And if there are areas of additional help over and above the arrangements

that already exist then that help will be made available. And could

I stress again what I started to say at the beginning and that is

that the insurance arrangements, surely there could be no argument

from any insurance company who has a policy covering people against

storm damage that that person should be able to recover in full to

the extent of that policy. Because this is not a flood, it was a storm.

Anybody who argues that there's not a liability under a storm

damage provision in an insurance policy in relation to this is...


I don't think that's happening though.


Well, I just wanted to add my weight...


Yeah, well it's not happening.


...and suggest that it was happening.


As for other areas of unmet need, of course, as we have in other disasters,

we've been willing to look. I have to say at this stage I've

not had any request from Mr Carr. I mean, in Western Australia what

happened was that the Western Australian Premier rang me and said,

look, this and this and this is the problem, we're covering it

up to here but we need your help over here. Now, I haven't had

that call from Mr Carr. Obviously if Mr Carr believes that there is

a need over and above he'll talk to me. Now, I'm not being

critical of him because I think the New South Wales Government has

responded appropriately. I think the SES and the police have done

terrific. I'm not interested in any point scoring politically

on something like this. They're trying hard, I know that, and

the emergency services are always stretched. I mean, the nature of

an emergency is that when it happens everybody is stretched to the

limit. You can never have an emergency response or a national disaster

response that means you have people to spare even in the greatest

emergency. No nation can afford to have that and no citizenry would

want a country to have that kind of arrangement. They want an arrangement

which is flexible and strong when it's needed. Now, of course

out of every disaster you examine whether changes and improvements

can be made but no government can guarantee against the terrifying

and the devastating aftermath of an unexpected freak storm. You can

provide help but you can't guarantee that everything is going

to be fixed in 24 hours.




Sorry, I'd like to be able to do that but I can't.


Okay, well I thank you for your time and for your consideration.




Transcript 11053