29 July 2021


MINISTER CASH: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. And can I just say on behalf of the federal government, I’m really pleased as a Western Australian senator, but also as a cabinet minister in the Morrison government to be here today in my home state of Western Australia. But in particular, to be joined by my ministerial colleague in the Western Australian government, Minister Reece Whitby, the Minister for Emergency Services. Today, we’re announcing a record $104 million disaster recovery package for Western Australians who were affected by Cyclone Seroja earlier this year. As you know, this was one of the most devastating cyclones to ever go through Western Australia, and to those communities who were affected and continue to be affected. And that’s why Minister Whitby and I are here today, on behalf of the Commonwealth and Western Australian Government, we just want you to know, we’re with you every step of the way. The Commonwealth and the Western Australian government have worked very well together in terms of the payments that we are now outlining.

In particular, the Western Australian government, led by Minister Whitby have worked on the ground with the disaster affected communities to work out exactly what they need. There is one thing that we have learned when it comes to natural disasters across Australia, and for Minister Whitby and I here in Western Australia, you’ve got to listen to the affected community. And you’ve got to ensure that when you provide a response, it’s a response that answers to their needs. Of course, this is not the first time a package has been announced. This is actually the third tranche of support provided by both the Commonwealth and the Western Australian government. Just in relation to the extent of the damage that was affected by Cyclone Seroja; sixteen local government areas and 133,000 square kilometers. That’s how big our state is, because it was only a part of our state that was affected by Cyclone Seroja. And so many of those communities, they are still facing a long road ahead. And so in relation to the $104 million package that will be made available to support the next stage of the recovery, and the rebuild.

The package includes financial support for the cleanup and restoration of damaged community, recreational, cultural, and heritage assets, in particular, and this part can never be underestimated. funding for community welfare and outreach program. You’ve got to look after people, their mental health needs, and sometimes they just need to know there’s someone there who will listen to them. But of course, grant programs to help residents who are still facing the cleanup as a result of the cyclone primary producers, but also as the former Minister of the Commonwealth Government, for small business to help those small businesses out there who are still facing cleanup and repair.

I’d also like to just thank Melissa Price, the Federal Member for Durak for the work that she has done in ensuring that the Commonwealth Government was kept up to date on what’s been occurring on the ground in those 16 local government areas that were affected by cycle and storage. But also for yet again, cooperatively working with Minister Reese Whitby and the Western Australian Government and so that when we stand here today, we’re a united team, the Commonwealth, the Western Australian government coming together a $104 million package to support those people, those businesses affected by the devastating impacts of Cyclone Seroja.

And on that note, I’ll now ask my Western Australian colleague, Minister Reese Whitby to provide some comments on the Western Australian Government’s behalf. Thank you.

MINISTER WHITBY: Thank you, Senator and really appreciate the support of the federal government. Now we have the DFES Commissioner here, Darren Klemm, we also have this State Recovery Controller, Mel Pexton for this Seroja disaster. So they’re available to answer some detailed questions if they’re required. But also we know there’s some very rough, inclement weather hitting through this way this afternoon. So if you want to get in some of the details about that, they’ll be available. Certainly, the Commissioner will be available for that.

Now, this is a huge and unprecedented package. So to support the people of the Midwest, this is massive. This is unprecedented. We’ve never had in the history of Western Australia, a disaster recovery plan, as big as this, as extensive as this. And it needs to be because Seroja, as the Senator pointed out, was a devastating event, and fairly unique in Western Australian history. We don’t get cyclones this far down the coast, we don’t get cyclones in the Midwest. And when they hit an area with the savagery of Seroja, they cause enormous damage. This wasn’t just Kilbarri, it wasn’t just Northampton, it actually reached right into the Midwest into farming communities into many different communities as different as Kalbarri is to Perenjori or Morawa or even down in Dalwallinu.

So this is the third tranche of support, you had the immediate emergency cleanup and recovery stages. You had the support that was announced in May, under the joint recovery arrangements, which talked about getting more cleanup done and getting community contact people into the community to find out what their needs were more long term. And the tranche we’re announcing today, $104.5 million is unprecedented.

It involves a range of support, and we’ve taken the time to get it right. There has been the emergency support and other support available in the meantime. And while that’s been available, we’ve been working hard and contacting the communities directly. The 16 impacted local councils, shire presidents or CEOs. The people on many community organizations and individuals. We’ve literally had DFES officers and people from other communities go to farm to farm, from house to house from property to property, checking on people seeing if they’re okay, seeing what their needs are seeing how they’ve been impacted. And now with all that information collated, and with the direction of those local communities, because this is community led, we know what is required and what needs to be delivered.

So this is a big, big program of support, it’s going to last a long time, it could be up to two years. The simple fact is new houses don’t pop up overnight. There is challenges as we all know about in getting skilled people into the area. And those are challenges which this package will partly address. Part of the package involves the in principle agreement between the state and federal government to get workers accommodation in the area. So we need accommodation for workers who need to be housed while they’re rebuilding other people’s properties. So it is unprecedented.

I’d like to thank the federal government again, I’d like to thank all of those local communities and local governments in the area who have had an involvement in this, this is a joint effort. All tiers of government have been involved in this because when Western Australians are in need, and when they face a crisis like this, we get together, we get united, and we make it work. And that’s what you’re seeing, announced today. Now I can take some questions or if you’d like some questions directed to the Senator, she’s certainly available.

REPORTER: Just on that issue of difficulty in getting tradespeople to the area. Is there anything else that can be done? Or do you think that the accommodation is enough?

MINISTER WHITBY: Well, we’re looking, we’re looking at what else can be done, but the state government is holding a skills summit tomorrow. So we’re actually Australia, Western Australia is facing a shortage of skilled workers. So it’s certainly a universal issue. And of course, the problems we need to surmount in the Midwest are just that level above.

So tomorrow we’ll have a skills summit sort of examine the ways we can get people into the workforce, whether people are available, if there are other ways we can fast track the support we need. Incentives has been raised as another issue. How are we getting workers into the area.

Accommodation is good, and maybe incentives on top of that can be examined as well. But I will make the mention that I was in Kalbarri back in May when we announced the second transhipped state and federal support. There were many trades people on the ground there with homes being repaired with caravans and mobile miners back in Kalbarri. So it hasn’t been that there has been no tradies in the area. They have many companies have made their own arrangements; many insurers have signed off. And there’s work that has been progressing in the towns and communities. But I do know there are issues and I do know there are people still waiting for proper insurance assessment and they’re still waiting for tradies to be available. So it is an issue. Now that this package has been announced today. We’re concentrating on that next step of how we get those tradies into the area.

REPORTER: How long should people in Kalbarri be expected to wait to get their house rebuilt?

MINISTER WHITBY: Well as I said, new homes don’t pop up overnight, if you’re getting a new home built in Perth, there’s delays as well. So it will take time. And it’s not just Kalbarri, there’s probably a bigger impact in Northampton and there’s impacts right across the Midwest. So, we will do everything we can to try and get those tradespeople in place. Part of it is accommodation and part of it is maybe other incentives. Part of it may be what our skills summit comes up with tomorrow.

REPORTER: Are you worried that some of those people will be lost to those communities’ forever?

MINISTER WHITBY: And well, this is what we’ve been very careful to guard against because the people living in these communities, love these communities and have a lot of livestock and horses there. So they want to stay. And what we found is that we were offering accommodation in Geraldton and other places but they prefer to stay in their own little town. So even though in the case of Northampton, it wasn’t that much of a drive away. So this is why under the second tranche of support, we’ve been able to supply caravans to people.

It wasn’t the solution that I thought would be coming. I thought we needed transportable homes, but people said they wanted caravans because you could put them on their own properties, hook them up. And that would be a very fast option. And that’s the option that they chose. So they could have gone to communities or they could have gone to housing in Geraldton, but they wanted a caravan so that they could stay in their community.

REPORTER: Can you just talk a bit more about the community welfare and outreach funding? What sorts of things are you expecting will be on offer?’

MINISTER WHITBY: Well, there’s a lot of people feeling anxious. Mental health is a problem. I’ve spoken to many people, just the fact that they’re waiting for this assistance, they’re waiting for their insurer to come along. There’s been a whole lot of assistance, a whole lot of financial assistance has already been that outreach with people like Red Cross and Salvation Army, and in fact, the Department of Communities so that they’re getting that support. But this is about funding much more support. It’s about being available, and people are doing it tough. And I know and when we as governments have reacted as quickly as we possibly can, and we will have a lot of support already. But if you’re sitting there day after day waiting for an insurance assessment to come along or to get some confirmation about what the future holds for you. It can be very distressing, and it can impact your mental health. So we understand

Are there any other questions for Senator Cash from the federal point of view?

MINISTER CASH: I might just add and just build on what Minister Whitby was saying, in particular in relation to getting tradies up to do the work. And I commend the Western Australian Government for having this skills summit. You asked about incentives. And certainly, when I was former Skills Minister working with Minister Ellery in her in her role as Skills Minister in Western Australia, I mean, certainly the boosting apprenticeship commencements incentive, which is available until March 2021. Now 50% wage subsidy from the Commonwealth Government, and then any additional subsidy that the Western Australian Government will provide too for a 12 month period. And I would say to anybody out there, if you need to take on an apprentice at this time to assist you in any of the work you’re doing. This is the biggest incentive that has ever been offered by a Commonwealth Government working with the you know, our state counterparts or certainly, if anybody was interested in that call your local apprenticeship provider, because you’ve got until March 2021. And you can take on as many as you like, as long as they are additional, and you’ll get the 50% wage subsidy.

REPORTER: Can I ask about a different topic as well?


REPORTER: Mark McGowan was urging the Commonwealth to ramp up its vaccination program for aged care workers here, we’ve got the lowest in the country, I think just 22% are fully vaccinated. Does the Commonwealth need to step up?

MINISTER CASH: What I’d say in relation to vaccination rates is that Australians are stepping up. And that’s very pleasing both from the Commonwealth perspective, but also for any state or territory leader. It took us 45 days as a country to reach the first million doses. It took us six days to get from 10 million to 11 million, and the numbers are in for the last 24 hours. A record almost 200,000 doses were administered.

So I think Australians are well and truly understanding that vaccination and being vaccinated is the key to getting into stage two and that’s something that the national cabinet has discussed and will again discuss tomorrow when it meets, but certainly I think Australians are well and truly stepping up and based by those statistics, they show us that they are. And in relation to the vaccination or aged care staff. That was something that the National Cabinet agreed to, that it would be mandatory for those working in aged care to be vaccinated. It was also determined by National Cabinet that it would be done through health borders that are implemented by state and territory governments. So certainly the position of National Cabinet led by the Prime Minister, is that yes, it is mandatory for aged care providers to ensure that their staff are vaccinated. But they had to I think it was the middle of September for those first doses to be administered. But again, in relation to vaccination rates, generally, I’m very pleased that Australians are stepping up and understanding the need to be vaccinated. And it’s reflected, in particular in the record numbers in the last 24 hours.

REPORTER: So are you concerned by that 22% figure, and just when you mentioned about the state borders, does the state government need to do more about the aged care workers being vaccinated?

MINISTER CASH: I think National Cabinet have made a decision; the decision of national cabinet was that the vaccination of aged care workers would be mandatory. They also made a decision that it would be the state and territory governments that would implement the requisite health orders. And certainly, there’s more work to do. Nobody’s denying that, nobody’s denying that. But we still have a body of time in which for, the date that I wish that was going to occur, to occur. So again, this is all about working together. This is not about saying someone’s doing something and something’s not. Reece and I discussed that beforehand. This is about stepping up. As Australians are saying, I understand that being vaccinated is a step towards getting to stage two of the four stage lockdown. And that’s what we want to see all Australians do.

REPORTER: We’ve seen the Prime Minister swinging strongly behind short and sharp lock downs today, which is changing his position. It’s obviously the approach taken in WA for some time. Has it taken the federal government too long to arrive at that support?

MINISTER CASH: No, not at all. Each state and territory do things the way they see appropriate for their state or territory. And on any account and I conveyed this to the Prime Minister this morning, Western Australians are overwhelmingly happy with the way Premier McGowan has approached lockdown in Western Australia. And it has evolved, it has certainly evolved over time and the last lockdown was short, it was sharp, it was immediate. And it was effective and Western Australians appreciated it.

Nobody would like to be in the situation New South Wales is currently in. But as the federal government, my role as a federal member of parliament, who sits in the cabinet is to work with my state counterparts, whoever they may be, and my territory counterparts in the best interests of the people of that state and territory. And certainly as a senator for Western Australia, my role is to work with the Western Australian government to get the best outcome for Western Australians.

REPORTER: Were you disappointed with the approach taken in New South Wales in this case, especially I guess (inaudible)

MINISTER CASH: Look, I’m not a commentator, and I wouldn’t want to be a commentator on what different states and territories do.

I am part of a Federal Government that acknowledges there is work to do in New South Wales, obviously, and certainly, the figures that came out last night showed that there is going to be ongoing work required from all time. But at this point in time, our role as the federal government is to work with the New South Wales government led by Gladys Berejiklian to ensure that the people of New South Wales in those affected areas and you are right as a former Minister for Small Business, small businesses, who are in lockdown and they are in lockdown for a long time yet another four weeks at least they get the support that they need.

REPORTER: Minister Whitby, can I ask you more questions. Thank you.

Just on Crown. If the gaming and wagering commission, make recommendation to you that you cancel or suspend Crowns casino license, is that a step that you would take ahead of the Royal Commission’s conclusion? If the allegations are serious enough.

MINISTER WHITBY: I’m not going to second guess what might or might not happen at the Royal Commission. I think it’s really important for me to actually step back and let the Royal Commissioners do their work, they don’t need a commentary from me. They’ll take their evidence each day, and then they’ll carefully consider any possible recommendations.

REPORTER: Have you been shocked by what was found during the Victorian Royal Commission?

MINISTER WHITBY: Look, I was shocked and disturbed with what came out of New South Wales and Victoria, which is why we now have a Royal Commission in Western Australia. But it is important that we allow Royal commissioners here to get on with the job without any commentary from the Victorian Royal Commission.

REPORTER: Victorian Royal Commission heard that Crown underpaid casino tax, is that something that the state government isn’t done over here?

MINISTER WHITBY: We will we will look at what comes out of the commission what evidence comes forward about that or any other matter at an appropriate time. If I can just also make the point. We are in for some rough weather, flood warnings have been issued. There are first responders down the Wagin who are searching for missing motorists. I want to say as Minister, I want to sincerely thank the efforts of all our first responders including police, including volunteer State Emergency Services officers, they’re doing a very tough job, a grim job, and we hope there’s a positive outcome. There’s still no news. As Perth faces very stormy conditions tonight and beyond. I just want to encourage everyone to drive carefully take care of flood warnings or rather, I’ll say that again, I’d like everyone in Perth and across the southwest to take care, obey flood warnings. If there are areas that you have roads that are inundated, please be very careful. And just be very careful out there. Thank you. Thank you, everyone.