Victorian Bushfires – Doorstop
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JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you for being here. As you would be aware the Prime Minister, the Premier of Victoria and I have been out in many of the bushfire affected areas over the last few days, meeting with many of the fire survivors, meeting with many of the families who’ve lost so much, meeting with the fire fighters, those extraordinary volunteers right around the State. I am very pleased that the Reconstruction and Recovery Authority has now been established and is up and running. Major General John Cantwell has been appointed as the immediate head of the Authority until Christine Nixon is available to take over the role. Major General Cantwell briefed us this morning at our early morning phone hook-up and he has already been out with Premier Brumby inspecting the areas in Victoria that have been so severely affected by these horrific fires. He’s certainly getting down to work and he will make sure that this Reconstruction and Recovery Authority delivers the task of rebuilding to the people of Victoria who have been so badly affected.
The Premier and I this morning are announcing that we are establishing a system of case management for the people of Victoria who’ve been so badly affected by the fires. A case manager will be assigned to each family that’s been affected by the bushfires. Families will be given a name and will also be given a phone number of a person that they can call to make sure that they get the help that they need across a wide range of areas where they will need assistance over the months and years ahead. It might be getting their children back to school, it might be getting a home, a temporary home, it might be dealing with the banks or the insurance companies, getting the counselling support that they need. Centrelink will play a critical role in this case management system. It will have social workers from Centrelink working very closely with the Victorian Department of Human Services and with the not-for-profit organisations to make sure that we have enough case managers to get on with this very important task.
If I can just inform you about the number of claims that have been paid now by Centrelink for the Australian Government Disaster Relief effort, this is from the Commonwealth, just under 6,000 claims have been paid now and the total amount of money that has been paid out is just under $7million.
JOURNALIST: The case management system that you refer to is this something that is like the (inaudible) in terms of other natural disasters, is this something that you were thinking modelling here and then using in future?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think it is a very important initiative because with people having lost so much they really need assistance to put all the pieces back together again. Whether it is getting that counselling support, it’s not just going to be important next week but may continue to be needed for some time to come. People will need employment assistance, assistance getting their businesses up and running again, assistance for farmers, assistance for parents as they get the help that their children need, and we want to make it as easy as possible that people get this extra help in a coordinated way.
JOURNALIST: In terms of schooling, what’s happening to those kids at the moment whose school burnt down?
JENNY MACKLIN: It varies in different parts of Victoria. When I was in Wallan the other day at the relief centre, the teachers from the Wandong Primary School were actually there at the relief centre. Their school hasn’t been burnt down but a lot of the homes in the area had been burnt down, a lot of the families have been affected and it was just fantastic to see the teachers coming into a fairly large room in the relief centre, got the kids painting and playing and occupied so that the mums and dads can really get on with the task of getting themselves re-established. Many of the mothers and fathers are of course volunteer fire fighters as well so it’s critical that we establish this support for the children and this is one of the tasks that I know the Victorians are very focussed on, but of course great to see this in Wallan the other day.
JOURNALIST: And with the payments that have been handed out (inaudible) what sort of things are they being spent on at this stage?
JENNY MACKLIN: Really basic things. These are emergency payments, for many people they’ve lost absolutely everything. I met people in Whittlesea on the first day, on Sunday, who had nothing. No clothes other than the smoke covered things that they were standing in so they needed a change of clothes, they needed toiletries. Of course, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and other volunteers are providing many of these items by way of donation but we really want to make sure that people have this money as quickly as possible and as I’ve indicated a lot of the claims I’m pleased to say have now been paid.
JOURNALIST: And how many more claims do you expect to come in?
JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve had just over 6,500 claims received so it’s a bit hard to judge but that’s where we’re at the moment, so most of them have been paid that we’ve received.
JOURNALIST: On (inaudible) subject briefly. (Inaudible) obviously be a town that you know the average wage earner in Australia could spend 40 years of their life paying taxes and superannuation and still retire with less than half their final earnings to live on, is that acceptable?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well as you would be aware we’re engaged in two very important examinations of this issue. The Pension Review will be completed at the end of February. We made a very significant down payment on this pension reform in December. We indicated in December that we will be addressing the issue of pension adequacy in the upcoming Budget. As part of the larger Henry Review of the Taxation system, the questions of superannuation will also be examined.
JOURNALIST: In what way will they be examined?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s going to be examined as part of our overall need to make sure that both pension and other retirement income is adequate.
JOURNALIST: Do you think, do you acknowledge there is a gap (inaudible)?
JENNY MACKIN: Well we certainly acknowledge that we have to address this whole question of pension adequacy and as I’ve just indicated we’ll do that in the upcoming Budget.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone.