Transcript by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

ABC Kinglake Webcast

Program: ABC Kinglake Webcast with Simon Rogers

SIMON ROGERS: On days like this what we like to do is talk to our political lords and masters, and one of those is of course Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Thanks for joining us this morning on the phone, Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: No worries Simon, and whilst I wouldn’t want to be pedantic, I’m not your lord and master, that’s fine.

SIMON ROGERS: Oh see, this is the whole political thing, if you’ve got to lead from – what’s the lovely Hacker expression from Yes Minister, you know, we’re politicians, we follow people’s instructions. We can’t lead unless we can follow their instructions. It’s a very weird one that.

BILL SHORTEN: Well yeah, the question is getting this blend right between leadership and listening.

SIMON ROGERS: Exactly. Well, I’m glad you’re here this morning to do a bit of listening and a bit of leadering[sic] perhaps. Where do we find you this morning?

BILL SHORTEN: At Whittlesea. I’m attending the announcement by John Landy, chairman of the Bushfire Appeal Fund, with the Premier to see the latest developments in providing assistance to people who’ve been affected by the bushfire.

SIMON ROGERS: No, that’ll be great. We’re actually chatting to John Landy a bit later on in the show too.


SIMON ROGERS: And how do you – from your perspective, how do you feel the response is going. There’s been a lot of amazing outpouring of assistance, both financial and material, of course, from all across the country, both from government and from private individuals. How do you feel that the administration of it’s going?

There’s some concern around that there are so many different authorities and programs and schemes happening that the people on the ground aren’t necessarily getting the, you know, the assistance because it has to be, of course, first of all assessed; there’s got to be listening tours and feedback and that sort of stuff. Do you think the process has been going smoothly enough?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I don’t think anything can be smooth as a result of the catastrophe which people went through. It’s all horribly new ground, the scale of the destruction and the loss that people have suffered.

Having said that, I do think that Christine Nixon and the Victorian bushfire relief and recovery authority are doing their job. They’re getting into shape. They’re setting up. They’ve only been in existence really functioning for four or five weeks, so I do think that Christine Nixon’s been out and listening and I’ve attended any number of meetings myself.

What the Federal and State Government are doing is trying to funnel our assistance through one point, which is the authority, so that’s sensible.


BILL SHORTEN: There’s so many different agencies you’ve got to talk to and deal with. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but it is. You’ve got to get people working together and that has been happening.

In addition, you’ve got former governor Landy’s Bushfire Appeal Fund, with the $300 million generosity shown by all levels of government, by citizens, civilians and industry. Everyone – many people have contributed to that fund but that also means that many people have a view on how it should be spent, so it’s a highly – highly complex role.

No amount of compensation’s ever going to restore people to where they were, so it’s getting that balance right which is complex. This morning at Whittlesea we’re seeing the next round of announcements from the fund.

So I think those centre points of the authority: being supported by the State and Federal Government, the independent bushfire fund administering resources, is – it is working. What I’m interested in is where the gaps emerge; unforeseen gaps, the law of unattended consequence that applies here.

Who – again, it’s difficult. People – every individual will recover at a different pace, and it’s getting that – making sure that people feel at least that they’re not forgotten. I was in Kinglake last night at a meeting of the not-for-profit groups, that’s the sporting groups.

SIMON ROGERS: All right, yes.

BILL SHORTEN: That’s the Kinglake West [Torlins 3:56]. Part of this is not just authorities somewhere else but it’s community gradually at its own pace, rebuilding. And I saw pretty good signs of that last night with all the various community groups which make up the texture and quality of a community talking about what they need.

SIMON ROGERS: Well, that’s great because I mean we need to get that – the information directly from the people who need it to people such as yourself and then pass that on. I mean, it just seemed to me, and the reason I’m asking for your overview, is that you’ve got a bit of a unique position, you know, being one step removed, if you like a bit further away, being federally – federal rather than state, it probably gives you a different perspective, that’s all, of how all the different organisations and authorities are meshing in together.

BILL SHORTEN: The Prime Minister very quickly, immediately after the fires on the seventh and eighth was in the area lending assistance and leadership.

But we’ve got three levels of government in Australia, and then you’ve got communities, which don’t fit neatly on lines on a map. Getting them all working together is not easy and that doesn’t mean people are malicious or bad, it just means that…

SIMON ROGERS: They’re people.

BILL SHORTEN: …they’ve got their particular responsibilities. And I think the short answer to your question is I’m amazed at how well things – people are working together and things are coming together. That doesn’t for one second make me think that everything’s being – that every person’s getting every bit of assistance they exactly need at the right point at this moment. And we need to identify the gaps and keep working with people.

There’s 380 case managers assisting people. There are relief and recovery centres. Christine Nixon’s authority’s working on what is the plan to go forward.

Yeah, you know, it’s just a work in progress and it’s all based upon a tragedy which means that it’s complex.

SIMON ROGERS: Oh, it is, and incredibly so, and that’s part of the problem, of course, that it’s so complex. We had a great talk the other day to Ben Hardman, the – our local Member for Seymour, the other week, where we had a folder, literally, of, you know, press releases and media releases that came out from every different government department, it seemed, both state and federal level, with every department having some fantastic idea, some scheme, some, you know, thing for the people in the affected areas.

There was one, of course, which was a classic, a slight bureaucratic mistake, where there was a program for people to access free computers in the area when they’d lost their computers. But the only contact point was a website, which was a bit sad…

BILL SHORTEN: Mmm, yeah.

SIMON ROGERS: …for people who didn’t have a computer [laughs].

So they’re well meaning but it doesn’t always come through. So trying to combine, trying to work out a way through all of those various schemes and options is – obviously, I think that’s where the case manager approach is going to be a very good one, because it gives people an actual individual they can liaise with, which seems to be the best way of getting their views across, doesn’t it?

BILL SHORTEN: It does, but overlaid with this is just the emotion of it all. As I said earlier, there’s no rule book about how people should recover personally. And I think I’m seeing a lot of the volunteers and a lot of the people who’ve been leading there, they’re feeling a bit flagged out. There’s just a lot of grief. Nothing will ever be the same as it was before 7 February, but that doesn’t automatically mean that people can’t be assisted to get on with their lives.

SIMON ROGERS: Well, yes, exactly. And as you were saying before, it’s the main thing to remember is everyone has a different recovery time, just as everyone had a different experience during the fires. And what we keep talking about, of course, is inclusion; just, you know, don’t leave someone feeling…

BILL SHORTEN: [Indistinct]

SIMON ROGERS: …you think, oh, we won’t go and bother Barry. He had a really hard time, we’ll just let him, you know, feel better by himself. And Barry’s sitting up there by himself thinking why isn’t anyone calling?

BILL SHORTEN: Wondering why no one’s helping. Yeah well, for me there’s probably two criteria. One is where there’s gaps in bureaucracy meeting real people needs and it’s not matching together, that’s of great concern and interest for me.

The other thing is that what matters at the end of the day is individuals and their families, how they’re getting assistance. So the press releases are important, the communication is important but what’s also important is that individuals don’t feel alienated. So it’s how it all – it’s how all the assistance is getting through to the individual is what gets me, which is for me the most important thing.

SIMON ROGERS: Right, and also, look, as we were saying too it’s all about the time as well. I mean, it’s at the period I think a number of people are saying now, where, your eight weeks or so, almost nine weeks down the track, people have got over the immediate urgency of actually getting through day-to-day lives and now it’s time and sometimes they’ve had a moment to think it can be a bad thing to have, because it can suddenly – you’re thinking about things that have happened and that the emotional force can come back and hit you again.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, we’re at Easter. Like it or not, that forces a bit of a delay on people and it’s time to gather breath. It’s a significant event, isn’t it, Easter? So I’m sure there’ll be a bit of reflection…

SIMON ROGERS: Okay, well – sorry, yes?

BILL SHORTEN: As the Federal Government’s, the Prime Minister’s nominee, we have to try and make sure the actual – what we think is happening is really happening.

SIMON ROGERS: Yes well, look, one way that we hope we can continue and the ongoing process, of course, and it takes six months, 12 months, years before people are back on an even keel. Now one of the great ways, of course, of coping with such a situation in the community is to have something like a community radio station.


SIMON ROGERS: Now, as you know, Bill, at the moment this is the ABC Kinglake Ranges, and the ABC have only got finance for another month or two, but you know how strapped the ABC is for cash. We’d always be asking about that. So the other thought was that to put on your, I imagine, rather long list of requests and things to do, is to – when the ABC has to move on from their commitment here, to see what you can to help us get a community station up and running that can carry on seamlessly from when the ABC has to leave.

BILL SHORTEN: Some of the advocates for community radio in the Kinglake Ranges spoke to me on Saturday when I was at Kinglake.

SIMON ROGERS: Yes, I think Kath Stewart(*) baled you up, didn’t she…


SIMON ROGERS: …at some stage during the football? And people were turning away from the football because they couldn’t see what this other match was on the other side but it was you being baled up by the ferocious Kath Stewart.

BILL SHORTEN: No, communities are lucky to have people like Kath Stewart. You can’t ever complain to having someone who – or people, and there’s a range of – you’ve got some other good advocates for your area. I don’t know what can happen. Certainly I’ll be taking it to the communications minister and others to see what can be done.

SIMON ROGERS: Exactly. I mean, that sort of thing, I mean it’s that sort of goodwill around at the moment and people wanting to help and it seems such an obviously good cause that…

BILL SHORTEN: [Indistinct]

SIMON ROGERS: …that’s sort of thing. You had all works up there and what did we say, greasing the wheels; is that an expression a politician can use? I don’t know, it sounds a bit dodgy, doesn’t it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I would say to you is that you’ll never die wondering. The propositions are being advanced and we’ll see where we go.

SIMON ROGERS: Excellent. Oh well, that’ll be fantastic. Any help; I think it’s such a good thing. They seem to be getting such response from the community and it’s a concrete thing that actually happens to them, so it’s good to see…


SIMON ROGERS: …there’re starting to see something on the ground.

BILL SHORTEN: All righty.

SIMON ROGERS: Excellent. Well look, have a good morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you very much.

SIMON ROGERS: And thanks very much for joining us on the air this morning. We’ll try and get in touch in another week or two and see how you think it’s all going.

BILL SHORTEN: Lovely, thanks.

SIMON ROGERS: Great, thanks very much, Bill.


SIMON ROGERS: Bill Shorten joining us there, the Parliamentary Secretary to Kevin Rudd, and he would be having a fair bit on his plate at the moment, I’d imagine. [Coughs] – excuse me – so that also he was saying, he’s down there and they’re going to make an announcement later on this morning with the Premier and John Landy about what’s happening with some of the bushfire money, and what’s happening with the latest announcement of grants and so on.

So we’ll speak to John Landy just after ten o’clock, and find out what’s happening there and what’s next and what’s coming up, and what’s going on.

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