Victorian Bushfires – 2UE
JOURNALIST: First on the line, we’ve just got hold of the Federal Community Services Minister, Jenny Macklin. Good morning to you, though a good morning it isn’t.
JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning to both of you. No it’s a very difficult time here in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: What did you feel Minister when you were with the Prime Minister yesterday touring these devastated areas?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well the hardest part really is talking to the individuals and families. Yesterday at Whittlesea, there were hundreds of people there many of whom who have lost absolutely everything. They were literally just there in the clothes still smelling of smoke that they had come out of the fire in. Many people had come there because they didn’t know where else to go to try and find out whether their relatives were still alive, so very, very difficult for many people.
JOURNALIST: Now the Prime Minister said yesterday there would be $10 million in immediate aid but that clearly now is only a drop in the bucket, isn’t it?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well there are a number of different things – that $10 million is a community recovery fund – but there’s money being put into a bush fire relief fund as well. Lots and lots of Australians all over the country want to donate and they can do that through the Red Cross. The other assistance that has been put in place is emergency payments which will start flowing today by Centrelink and we’ve got Centrelink staff now in the recovery centres. I think the other thing that’s very important, which was really emphasised to us yesterday, was the need for additional counselling services. Centrelink are getting people from all over to come into these relief centres both for the people who have lost their homes and lost family and community members, but also for the fire fighters. Of course, most of them are volunteers, they know these communities, these are very, very tight knit places and it’s going to be very tough for people.
JOURNALIST: Is there the sort of assistance that people will need? If you haven’t got a house, you haven’t got a phone, you haven’t got a car, you haven’t got a couple of $2 coins in your pocket, how do you call your insurance company? How do you do all those things you are going to need to start rebuilding your life?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why people are in these relief centres. Centrelink will provide this emergency payment just to enable people to buy a change of clothes, and toiletries, just the real basics we’re talking about. Red Cross are there, the Lions Clubs, the Salvation Army are there feeding people. Of course, we’ve got the Ambulance Services working to provide emergency help to people in the relief centres. There are phones in these places for people to start ringing. But really at this stage the people I spoke to yesterday are largely concerned about people they haven’t heard from, they don’t know whether family members are dead or alive.
JOURNALIST: So this is still the most pressing problem, to find out how many people might yet be dead or missing?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. It’s a terrible task for police and emergency services as they go through towns like Marysville and Kinglake where so many homes have been lost. They still don’t know how many people they are going to find.
JOURNALIST: And people, Minister, have nothing to go back to. The whole towns are being destroyed.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s exactly right and so they’ve got very difficult decisions to make but in the first instance of course they want to know whether their relatives are alive or not.
JOURNALIST: Yes. Is there a Cabinet meeting very soon to discuss this, because it’s going to have to be an enormous amount of money?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Prime Minister and I have decided that the important thing for us to do is really to stay here in Victoria today. We are with the Defence Forces today. They have swung into action. They’ve got tents and stretchers being set up in some of the areas that need immediate assistance. They’ve got heavy equipment being moved in to establish control lines so the disaster plans have swung into action and that’s really where the priority lies.
JOURNALIST: Are you and the Prime Minister going back out to the (inaudible)
JENNY MACKLIN: We’re going out to Marysville shortly.
JOURNALIST: Okay, thanks very much indeed for your time.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Yes, thanks Minister.
JOURNALIST: Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services at the site really of this unspeakable tragedy.
JOURNALIST: It’s the practicalities of it. People looking for their relatives have that on their minds, but the others who, as we’ve heard are left with nothing. Where do they get a change of clothing, where do they get a toothbrush even, it’s the practicalities that you start thinking is so difficult, but as she says I suppose there are phones at the relief centres so that’s where they start.