PRIME MINISTER:

Well the forces of nature are very powerful. We’ve seen around us today in Picton.

But they are not as powerful as the spirit of this community. They’re not as powerful as the spirit and the generosity of the volunteers and the emergency workers. They’re not as powerful as the spirit of the people of Picton who have pulled together to clean up this mess, to respond to it.

We were walking down the street a moment ago past a dental surgery. There was a lady there who worked in the dental surgery in years past. She’s retired and she moved to Camden. When she heard about this storm damage she came back down. There she was scrubbing out the dental surgery.

You saw the work here in the IGA, inspired by the resilience and optimism of the people of this community. This is the best of Australia. These are tough times when nature flings her worst at us, but it's when Australians respond the best. It's when we see the best of us. All of the media here, all of you, outside the IGA and Rashid Khan, the owner, said to me, just make sure they don't stop the assessors from the insurance company getting on, we’ve have to get back to business. That's the spirit. That’s the spirit of small business of family owned businesses here in Picton getting back together.

Of course it's been a time of tragedy too. Two families have lost loved ones as a result of this storm. We grieve for them and send our condolences to them at this tough and tragic time. But above all this is a story of resilience. Now as you know the national disaster relief and recovery arrangements enable the state Government to provide support to low income households and businesses, half of the cost of which is borne by the Federal Government under those arrangements.

Mike and I are here and you would have heard us explaining how these arrangements work to the business owners and other residents of Picton. I'm very proud to be here with my Minister, Michael Keenan and of course with the Premier, Mike Baird.

Mike can explain more about the outstanding work that the State Government agencies are doing, the police, the emergency services, the volunteers of the SES, right across the board, pulling together with great coordination to deal with this to ensure that this community of Picton, so well led by Simon its Mayor, is able to recover resiliently and get back on its feet very quickly.

We're here to support them, admire them and thank them.

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES:

Thanks PM. Can I just reiterate the Prime Minister's comments? I was here yesterday and what I saw yesterday was a community in shock but it was a community that was determined to fight through what they had faced. I don't think any of us were anything less than inspired by what we saw. The Mayor who is here I congratulate him and the council and I congratulate the community members because they came alongside our emergency services workers, our utility workers and everyone was determined to make a difference in terms of getting people back on their feet, make sure they were safe, to provide support where we could and save property where we could. I think you saw a great testament as to why we are proud to be called Australians right here in Picton.

Similar scenes across the State as we deal as the Prime Minister said, with a ferocious mother nature. The storm has been felt from one end to the other. We are doing everything we possibly can to support. But I really want to say thank you to all the incredible volunteers that we rely on in communities here and across the State that are rolling their sleeves up to help wherever they can. I thank them.

The Prime Minister called me over the weekend and was very determined to do everything we can to help. That's why we're proud to be announcing these disaster declarations. I also acknowledge the Opposition. The Federal Opposition obviously acceded to these payments coming - important that we provide as much support as we can as we can as quickly as we can. In practical terms this will provide grants to low income households whether it be supplies or household goods or the chance to get the house back into order. Those grants will be there for them.

For small businesses, low interest loans up to $130,000 to enable them to restock, enable them get on with the business and get in a position to trade again. While they’re obviously dealing with the many challenges that they are, such as insurance claims and other challenges, it helps them. It’s also helpful for the local council in terms of grants and money to help with local infrastructure, roads and bridges. There are 37 LGAs across the State. So it shows the size and quantum of this a huge number of local government areas have been impacted but these funds and support will be available across the State.

We also announce today that Dave Owens, a former Deputy Police Commissioner, who has overseen major storms and recoveries, such as the Pasha Bulker. He has been appointed as the State Recovery Coordinator. He will ensure that every part of this State is looked after. We coordinate all the appropriate supports and resources we can to make sure that every community has a chance to get back on its feet. He is starting from today and that will help. In addition we’re enacting our emergency services legislation which ensures that all of those that are volunteers, they can go about their volunteering with a peace of mind knowing that employers need to support them. Because any volunteer that wants to support and help their community we want to support them and give them peace of mind.

I want to again thank the Mayor of this local community, the difference between what I saw yesterday and today is marked. It's clear there is some hope that has returned and it's on the back of a lot of hard work that has been done by a number of incredible people. So thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just add to that Mike thank you. I’ll just add to that we are joined also by David Elliott, the NSW Minister and of course by local Members, the Federal Member Angus Taylor Member for Hume and Jai Rowell the State Member for Wollondilly. They've been here supporting their community and of course making sure that they provide the means for the community to find out how to access this support, these loans and so forth that are available under the NDRRA from the State Government and backed 50 per cent by the Federal Government.

Can I also just say that Bill Shorten and I were in touch yesterday about the response to the disaster and of course we are absolutely united in thanking and supporting the communities that have been affected by these shocking storms. While we disagree on more than a few things at the moment in an election campaign, we are very much on the same page in supporting these communities and supporting the proposition that the Federal Government should do everything to help them get back on their feet.

JOURNALIST:

Which of the areas have been declared disaster zones and how much funding is available to people and businesses separately?

PRIME MINISTER:

As Mike just said there are 37 local Government areas that are listed, including council areas in my electorate - in fact Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick are among them. Bill was down in Randwick municipality today down at Coogee where the surf club has been badly damaged.

There are 37 LGAs covered. There is no cap to the total funding but there are limits on the particular grants given and loans. The loan as the Premier said is up to $130,000 and the interest rate is 1.38 per cent.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have an indication on how big the damage bill on this could be?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't. I think it's too early to say at this stage.

JOURNALIST:

What is your message to the insurance industry who in the past have looked at the definitions of flood and acts of God and so forth in contracts to deny people coverage. What is your message to them as they assess the claims of people affected in this area and others?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm sure the insurers will support these communities. This is very substantial storm damage. This was a storm, a cloud that dropped 200mm of rain in a very short time on Picton. That's what's happened. So this is storm damage. These waters caused by that extraordinary downpour which was concentrated on this location which is why this community was so hard hit with this storm damage.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have an update on this weather system in Tasmania?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've spoken to the Director-General of Emergency Management, the Federal Director-General and I've been staying in touch with the Tasmanian Government and indeed my Federal colleagues there, Brett Whiteley and of course Andrew Nikolic. Very shortly before this press conference the waters were still rising in Launceston. As you know there has been one death confirmed, an elderly lady in the area of Latrobe which is a Tasmanian city in Brett Whiteley's electorate upstream from Devonport. There's been a lot of damage in Devonport in the harbour a number of yachts have been sunk. That is the reason why the Spirit of Tasmania is not operating at the moment because they don't know where they are. Clearly there is not a huge amount of clear draft in that harbour for the Spirit of Tasmania. My last advice is there are three other people that are missing and I've not had further information on that, but the situation is the storm damage and the rising waters in northern Tasmania remain a very serious threat. There is no doubt about that, particularly in the catchment of Launceston, particularly on the North Esk River which flows into that Launceston basin.

JOURNALIST:

Is there anything you can say to people living in Tasmania with families who might be watching this news, about their situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they should take - everybody, wherever they are, in fact this is good advice at any time- is do not attempt, do not attempt to cross flooded water courses. Stay on high ground, follow the advice of your local emergency authorities at all times. They are the ones that are most up to date.

JOURNALIST:

You have spoken to a lot of volunteers – you’ve praised them. Are you considering changing workplace laws to give volunteers more power against unions as we’ve seen in Victoria but also for some of the SES volunteers here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this State is very well governed and the SES volunteers have no need to be concerned about challenges to their organisation or their independence from the Baird Government. I can confidently say that.

As far as volunteers - the issue in Victoria is concerned, what we have said we will do is amend the Fair Work Act. A clear way to achieve the objective of ensuring that volunteers are protected, their independence and that they are respected, is to amend the Fair Work Act to include in the list of objectionable clauses, that is to say unacceptable clauses in enterprise agreements, clauses which would undermine or disadvantage or adversely affect, I'm not drafting on the run, but you get my drift, the volunteer organisation. So we've looked at that. It's readily available.


From a practical point of view, the Victorian Government should really put a stop to this. It is very hard to believe that a government would be so beholden to a trade union that it would put at risk the service of 60,000 volunteers in the CFA.

JOURNALIST:

Who would decide who would have the adverse impact definition of that EBA? Would it be the Government or would it be the Fair Work Commission? How would you define an adverse impact on these EBA’s for volunteer organisations?

PRIME MINISTER:

You are asking me to do some drafting here. I can assure you, we've had good advice. Those matters will be dealt with by the Fair Work Commission and of course there are the usual legal processes thereafter.

We are quite satisfied that the matter can be addressed and it will be addressed if we are returned to government on 2 July. Of that I assure you.

JOURNALIST:

Isn't it a bit incongruous that you've been talking about living within our means and debt and deficit, but at the same time have spent the best part of $1.7 billion sandbagging marginal seats?

PRIME MINISTER:

All of the funding we've announced is fully paid for and accounted for in the Budget. It's all there. All that money is there.

With great respect to Mr Shorten for whom I acknowledge he's been out visiting the damage at Coogee and we're doing that with the same spirit. The same spirit of supporting Australians in these times of natural disaster, but the fact remains that as he said himself, he is just throwing one billion after another on the spend-o-meter. He has not shown how it is going to be paid for. They’ve said they will tell us before the end of the campaign – well presumably at the very last minute when hopefully no-one is listening. Really? He should spell it out.

The fact of the matter is that every Australian knows we have to live within our means. Now we have a national economic plan, every element of which will deliver stronger economic growth and more jobs. Every element of which will support businesses right across Australia including the businesses in this community, including the jobs in this community. What Mr Shorten has is a series of promises and pledges of more spending and absolutely no indication of where its going to come from, and an extraordinary attack on business. This is a man who is now condemning the proposition that small and medium businesses should have a cut in company tax. Yet as we all know only a few years ago he was saying that any student of economics would know that the best way to drive investment and jobs was from cutting company tax as indeed previous Labor Governments have done. Look he has no plan for growth. He has no plan for jobs. What he has is an election platform that is all about spending and higher taxes and regrettably this extraordinary campaign he's waging against business.

JOURNALIST:

Northern Beaches council manager Mark Ferguson is calling on the State Government to fast-track coastal management funding to allow a sea wall to be built at Collaroy. Can your Government commit to this? How quickly will they get the funding, and Mr Turnbull do you see scope for the Federal Government to provide some funding for coastal management?

PREMIER OF NSW:

We've already announced and budgeted for $83 million and that goes with our coastal management plan across the State. You need to have a plan in place in a particular region. Then it is up to local councils and communities to engage in that. So we have provided the funding. We're open to the proposals that come forward to council. We will work with council. This is a challenge. Clearly any sea walls that are built, they need to be done in a way that doesn't damage others or further damages adjoining properties. Clearly that is something we need to do it. So if you need to do it, you need to do it together and you need to do it with the best possible minds that give us the best chance of support and protection. We have the funding, we have the framework and that is open to local communities to access that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull why cant you both do the leader’s debate on Wednesday as well as a different Facebook event?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I can say is that we've reached agreement, subject to Mr Shorten participating of course, we've reached agreement with Facebook and news.com.au to hold the first online leaders' debate. These are the platforms that many people, many would say most Australians see most of their media on, most of their news. I think it's important that we are an innovative - we have an innovative election and that we use the platforms that Australians use. So this debate will enable millions of Australians to participate. They will be able to contribute. It will engage a vastly wider audience than the formats that we’ve used before. I'm excited for it and look forward to it really engaging the Australian community.

JOURNALIST:

When are you having it?


PRIME MINISTER:

The aim is to hold it early next week. Obviously this is up to Facebook and news.com.au. The aim would be for this debate, this discussion, to be streamed across any platform that sought to do so. So it will be going over Facebook over news.com.au sites, over broadcasters who wanted to take it, to get it as widely available as possible. So my aim is to have as big an audience as possible and to reach everyone, you have got to use the devices which I noticed you are all holding in your hands. That's the modern world. That's the smart phone era.

JOURNALIST:

My understanding is that tomorrow night's forum will be broadcast on Facebook and any network that wants it. So are you now ruling out attending?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look the answer is your network, your company, Sky News, announced that they were inviting me and Bill Shorten to attend a debate on a particular night. What we've said, normally you would have approached us and sought to come to some arrangement. You chose not to do that and to issue in effect a decree and what we have said is 'no'. We've had a Sky people's forum debate, we’ve had the traditional press club debate, it is traditional to have three debates in a Federal election. So let's have the third one in a way that is innovative and that every Australian can participate in, that actually allows the interactivity that the old formats that really come from the pre-smart phone, pre-social media era, that the old formats don't allow that interactivity. We are in 2016. This is the 21st century. This is the time of innovation. This is the most exciting time to be an Australian and to participate in an election debate in the media of our time. So that's what we are going to do. Thank you very much.