Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Victorian Bushfires – ABC2 News Breakfast

Program: ABC News Breakfast

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VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Jenny Macklin joins us now. Minister good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning to you both.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Tell us a little bit about where you’ve been and who you’ve spoken to and what you’ve seen.

JENNY MACKLIN: We went out with the Prime Minister on the first day, the Sunday we went to Whittlesea and on that day there was still many many people looking in terrible shock. The services on the ground were beginning to be put in place. I have to say the Red Cross and that relief centre has swung into action as they have in the other centres just so quickly. Then we went out to Yea and Alexandra and also Marysville. Of course, the devastation in Marysville is very incomprehensible even when you see it with your own eyes. The police in Marysville have an enormously difficult task now and of course all the support we can give them personally and any support that we can give by way of counselling, all of that’s been offered. But of course in the meantime they have the difficult job of working with the Coroner on people who have lost their lives. So on the way back we went to Wallan. I’m sure you’ve heard of the extraordinary efforts there of the volunteers and while we were there just these piles of clothing and goods and toiletries being brought in, a fantastic army of volunteers. And yesterday I went down with the Premier to Gippsland to Traralgon and a couple of other places.

JOE O’BRIEN: So you’ve been to a lot of them, the worst affected areas. Having been through there what does that inspire you to do in terms of trying to help these people?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well probably the most inspirational thing is the effort of the volunteers because the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, but also just the individuals in these towns, the way in which they come together with the local government workers, with the CFA of course, the volunteers in the CFA are just extraordinary. Many of these people are in the same families, they all know each other, they’re very very tight knit communities, so that’s the thing that strikes you more than anything. Given my responsibilities, one of the things that I’m absolutely inspired to do is to support those volunteer efforts wherever we possibly can. So one of the things, it’s only small really, but we’ve extended additional emergency relief which will be handed out by these volunteer organisations. We’ve got a Community Rebuilding Fund. One of the things that we will need to rebuild is some of these community facilities, the local footy club, the church, the basic community infrastructure.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Could you just take briefly, take us through the additional relief then that’s going to be handed out?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the emergency payments that are being handed out right now is really aimed at getting people money for the absolute essentials.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And that’s not (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: No, no. This is $1,000 for each adult and $400 for each child. So that’s being handed out in the relief centres as we speak. Centrelink staff are working alongside the Department of Human Services, so we’ve got now a lot of people who have received their money, more than 2,000 people have received money from both the State Department and from Centrelink. It’s a sad thing to have to raise but we’ve also made available funeral assistance, so up to $5,000 for funeral assistance will be made available to those families who need that for people who have lost their lives, so all that’s happening on the ground now. There are social workers and other counsellors, and Centrelink staff working on the ground. I spoke with some of them in Traralgon yesterday, they’re really responding to people’s immediate needs.

JOE O’BRIEN: There is some criticism from victims about being required to provide identification in these circumstances to get payments and obviously they can’t do that. Have you worked to clear that up?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yesterday I issued an instruction that people be lenient. I’ve met people myself over the last few days who came out with nothing, no purse, no wallet, no ID and so we do have to be understanding of that fact, and I’ve made it clear to Centrelink that they need to be careful in this regard.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Minister, pleased to have you on board, thanks so much.

JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.