Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Victorian bushfire relief – ABC Insiders

Program: ABC Insiders

***E & OE – Proof Only***

BARRIE CASSIDY: Jenny Macklin, welcome.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: In the end you’ve sorted it out by making it clear that this money was uncapped but it would have been better all around, wouldn’t it, if the two had never been linked in the first place?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the important thing is to recognise it’s not only uncapped, it’s unconditional. We want to make it really plain, especially to the significant number of people who’ve been so devastated by these fires, that we’re with them for the long haul.

What I’m getting back to me now is that people want to know that we’re going to be there to help them rebuild. That’s why it’s so critical that we’re not only providing the emergency payments that we have over the last week, but that we get down to the task of recovery.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But now that the stimulus package has gone through, how much of that money will actually be available for the Victorian bushfire effort?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s really a matter for the State Government. As you know, there are two capital funds that they could use if they wanted to, in the social housing area for example, or in the rebuilding or re-establishment of schools. But they’re priorities that the Victorian Government will settle on.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay. You will be making announcements today though won’t you on how some of the money already raised through the Red Cross relief fund will be spent?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well these announcements will be made by John Landy and the Premier and the Prime Minister. You’d know that a massive amount of money has been donated by Australians and by people overseas as well, who really want to help individuals and families who’ve been so affected by the fires.

And the way it’s going to work for a family say of two adults and two children, they’ll receive around $10,000 from this fund, made up of all the donations that people have already given. And that’s really to help people start getting back on their feet. The money that we paid out over the last week, and about $9-million has gone out via Centrelink to families…

BARRIE CASSIDY: But that’s Government money as opposed to the relief…

JENNY MACKLIN: That was really just Government money for emergency things so people getting clean clothes, toiletries, that sort of thing. This money that’s coming from the donations will go to families, to individuals who’ve in many cases lost absolutely everything, to help them really start re-establishing themselves.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And that’s about $30 million of the $100-or-so million that’s been raised?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. And of course what John Landy will do is advise where else the money can be allocated.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the way that this works, which makes this appeal a little different from the others, is the Government is actually picking up all the administrative costs and so all the money goes directly to the appeal.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s the idea. We’ve donated some money to this fund, as has the State Government. And then on top of that of course you’ve got very significant donations coming from corporate Australia. But this money will go to help people re-establish their lives.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now you’re appointing case managers for every family affected by the bushfires. Who will these people be, where will you recruit them from, and what is their task?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s already started. Both the Prime Minister and the Premier really wanted to make this work. You can just imagine the significant number of things that families have to put together – get the kids back to school, get a job organised, get the block cleared if the house is completely gone, think about how you’re going to deal with the insurance company and the bank. All of this could be a red tape nightmare.

So we’ve already got individual case managers on the ground in some of the relief centres. Some of…

BARRIE CASSIDY: And who are they? Where did you find them?

JENNY MACKLIN: Some of the staff are from Centrelink so we’ve got Centrelink social workers. They’re actually on the phones as well. We’ve got a dedicated phone line for this case management system and we’ve got qualified Centrelink staff answering the phones and then qualified case managers from Centrelink and from the Victorian Department of Human Services. And in some places we’ll also use non-government agency staff, places like Anglicare who might have qualified social workers who can join in.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay. Now you’ve spent a lot of time in the area during the week. You must know when you see the totality of the damage that the death toll will go a whole lot higher than the official rate at the moment.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s certainly what we’re being told but of course they’re really matters for the police and the Coroner. The devastation is beyond your imagination. Even when you’re in Marysville for example and you see it with your own eyes, it’s very hard to take in. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the people who went back in yesterday to see their town, the main street just gone, all the homes virtually gone. It is very hard to really comprehend.

I have to say my heart goes out not just to the people who’ve lost so much and especially those who have lost their family members, but to the police who are doing a very, very tough job right now. It’s very difficult.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And what will your ongoing role be now?

JENNY MACKLIN: The way it’s been established, you’ve just had Major General Cantwell indicate his role with the Reconstruction and Recovery Authority which the Victorian Government has established. They’ve also set up as part of that a ministerial group and I’m the Commonwealth coordinating Minister on that group – so to make sure that all of the Commonwealth’s efforts can feed in to support the Victorian Government in what will be a very long reconstruction effort.

There are some things that the Commonwealth can do directly. Of course the defence forces have been out providing very practical support, both with the fire-fighting effort and getting tents up, some of those sorts of practical things.

We can also help with insurance and banking, those issues, Centrelink of course. So we’re there to help.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay. There were some political issues. We might leave those for another day perhaps.

JENNY MACKLIN: Probably a good idea.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in.


BARRIE CASSIDY: Family Housing and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin.