Sky News Afternoon Agenda - 11/03/2022

11 March 2022

SUBJECTS: Political panel with Liberal Senator Eric Abetz; Passing of Senator Kimberley Kitching; flood response; emergency management. 

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Time now to discuss the day's top stories. Joining me are our political panel. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and Labor MP Alicia Payne. Good afternoon to you both, appreciate your time this afternoon. Can I just start with the sudden death of Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching. Alicia, it's just absolutely tragic news.

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Absolutely devastating and a huge shock to all of us. Kimberley's obviously so young, only 52. And had so much more to give and more to do and we'll all really miss her very much. And I, the last time I talked with her was actually when she'd just come back from Europe where she received an international award for human rights for her work on the Magnitsky Act. Which, of course, enables countries to take sanctions against individuals who have abused human rights. And back then it wasn't such a, sort of a household name, but it has become really important in Australia's response to Russia and the war in Ukraine. And that was a huge achievement. And just one of one of the things that she achieved as as a Senator and obviously, she was also our assistant shadow on the NDIS, something that I really focus on and she was really a fierce advocate for getting that right. And today, just, my heart really goes out to her family, her husband, parents and brother and those closest to her. It's just really a shock and devastating and we will miss her very much.

DE GIORGIO: It certainly is a shock and you're right everything you mentioned there. She was such a tireless advocate on so many fronts, for so many different issues. Eric Abetz, a tough day, I guess no matter which side of politics you're on.

ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: I've lost a colleague and a friend in Senator Kitching. As it happened, I was reading a draft report that she had penned for the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee which she chairs and I, I'm the deputy chair of it. I was reading it when the very, very devastating news came through. So I was Senator Kitching's deputy chair and she was my deputy chair in the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. She was my deputy chair in the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group. She was a Wolverine and a member of the inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, of which I'm a member as well, calling out the human rights abuses that are occurring in China. So I had a lot to do with Senator Kitching. She was personable, had a great sense of humour, but was also capable of doing immense research and being absolutely well briefed on the issues on which she wanted to speak or cross examine witnesses at our committees. So a loss of the Labor Party, a loss of the Senate, and to me personally, a loss of a friend.
DE GIORGIO: Absolutely, certainly a shock to the whole community. And thank you to both of you for sharing your stories of Senator Kimberley Kitching. I want to move on now to the rest of the day's news. Let's talk about the flood crisis that we've witnessed across New South Wales over the last week or so. I want to start with the emergency funding announced by the Prime Minister. There's several LGA's and flood affected communities that have missed out on funding despite being impacted. Eric Abetz, is that fair?

ABETZ: All these things will be worked out in due course. The bureaucrats in Canberra will make the determination as to which local government areas should be involved. I've had similar circumstances in Tasmania. The bushfire affected municipalities and lines on maps in times of, occasions such as this, sometimes don't reflect the proper and true picture. And I'm sure the government will pick up on these things to ensure that everybody is treated fairly and equitably in these circumstances. And let's first of all recognise the devastation, human loss, property loss, business loss, just a tragedy and our first responders and our defence force doing a fantastic job in the most difficult of circumstances. And so, these technical bureaucratic glitches, if that is what they are, I'm sure we'll be able to be fixed. But our focus at the moment needs to be on that which is on the screen now. And that is the devastation of the flood.

DE GIORGIO: Alicia, Labor has been critical of the response, particularly by government authorities. We've seen this week a declaration of a national emergency by the Prime Minister. Does labour welcome that since that's what Labour has been calling for?

PAYNE: Well, yes, but it's another example of too little too late with this government. And I think it's extraordinary that Eric, they're making a really strong effort to make it sound like everything's under control and actually putting the blame on bureaucrats in Canberra. I mean, really. They are the government and there is no reason why it took 10 days to declare the state of emergency. We saw with the bushfires that people felt that they had been abandoned by their federal government. And so they were given these powers to declare this and it took so long to use. It had to wait till the Prime Minister was able to be there to do the photo opportunity. And then he goes there, and he doesn't even talk to people and listen to them. There were people wanting to speak with him. So for Eric to put the blame on technical issues and bureaucratic issues. No, this government is not stepping up and helping the thousands of people who have lost everything or have no where, are not sure where they're going to stay tonight. You know, we've seen people being rescued by just other citizens who happen to have a boat or even a kayak. And they're wondering, where is their government? And I just think we need to see so much faster action from this government and a genuine care to address these issues facing Australians.

DE GIORGIO: Eric Abetz, did help arrive a little bit too late in these communities. We have seen heard stories all week of citizens carrying out their own rescues. Did the government miss the boat on this one?

ABETZ: Look, can I say this is what Australians do. We help each other in times of crisis. And whilst it would have been great to have the Defence Force at every possible house and location, the simple fact is, we don't have the numbers to be able to do that. Five thousands of our defence force have been deployed to assist our fellow Australians, which is a mammoth effort, given the size of our defence force. The helicopters have been deployed, etc. But the fact that Australians are helping each other ought be celebrated. Would it be more favourable to have a defence personnel at every single house and situation? Of course it would. But there has to be an understanding that practically, that is not possible. And so rather than throwing rocks at government, let's talk about the resilience and celebrate the fact that where Defence Force personnel have not been able to get to, fellow Australians have been helping each other in the true Australian spirit. That is what we ought to be talking about, rather than seeking to get cheap political points out of the crisis such as this. I'm sure that every single person from the Prime Minister who might I add, is only just come out of COVID, and so keep that in mind that he was in isolation and could not go out earlier, was in COVID. Everybody is doing their very best out of things, personnel, bureaucrats in Canberra. And will it be that some people won't have been provided with all the support they may have hoped for? Regrettably, that is the case. But the very best is being done by the very best of personnel. And they are our fellow Australians.
DE GIORGIO: Alicia, what sort of support today's communities need now? I mean, a lot of them have lost everything, particularly if you're going to places like Lismore. What sort of support is required on the ground?
PAYNE: Well, we've got an accommodation crisis at the moment, where people not knowing where they're going to be, people who lost their homes, so that's a key one. We've got issues with people were having access to foods and medicine. And we have an issue with people trying to access the payments, because obviously, not everyone has access to their computer. People might have lost that or their smartphone and so we're needing to see more of Services Australia access to that, being provided. Obviously, we celebrate those citizens pulling together to help each other, but the government needs to be doing more and I just think they should have learned from the bushfires and COVID and ...
ABETZ: How many more people would you have put out? How many more of the defence force would you put out? How would you help the person that unfortunately lost the mobile phone in the flood? You can't give them immediately a new mobile phone, a number and all the rest. All that takes time and so, please accept that in a massive crisis such as this a huge flood, that has shocked everybody. We need to understand that people are doing their very best. And look, I have every confidence that the Australian people and those in this devastating situation are cognizant of the fact that everybody is doing their best in these exceptionally difficult circumstances.
PAYNE: Well, Eric, I do take issue again with the claim that this is political point scoring. It's not, it's about holding a government to account when Australians again find themselves in a crisis and find themselves on their own. The very first thing we would have done would have been to use the emergency fund, the almost $4 billion that was there to be prepared for floods, to build drainage systems, to build levees and culverts, to build evacuation centres. All these things that would be being used right now or have prevented some of this disaster and not a cent that has been spent. It's been used like a term deposit by this government.
DE GIORGIO: Alicia, is it a case of, that this tragedy was just completely unprecedented? That nobody could have predicted the scale of this floods compared to say, the 2017 flooding event in the Northern Rivers?
PAYNE: Well, we had that fund there to be prepared. And we know that with climate change, these sorts of major weather events and natural disasters are becoming more common and we should have been ready. The fund had been set up and it was not used as it should have been. And we even saw that some of these areas that we know are flood prone, were not even classified as such. So you know, I think the government was not prepared for this and it's simply not good enough.
DE GIORGIO: Unfortunately, we do have to leave it there. Another fascinating discussion. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, Labour MP Alicia Payne. A very big week we've all had. Appreciate your time. Thank you for joining me this afternoon.