In times of disaster, Australians are at their best

Dept of Social Services

Labor handed down its first Budget in a decade last night and front of mind for Treasurer Jim Chalmers were the Australians directly impacted by the floods raging across the Eastern States.

While our Budget was about driving down debt and curbing inflation, one of the Treasurer’s main messages last night was to flood-affected Australians.

Ahead of his first Budget, the Treasurer detailed how Australians in flood-affected communities were doing it very tough.

“They are in our thoughts and in the thoughts of all Australians as they deal with these natural disasters which come with alarming regularity,” the Treasurer said.

Yesterday, residents living in towns in the Murray-Darling Basin were preparing for major floods.

In the north of Victoria and southern towns in NSW, residents along the Murray River had spent the better part of a fortnight readying for the mighty river to burst its bank.

While in north-west NSW, towns such as Moree were assessing the damage after the Mehi River flooded earlier this week.

These latest events follow devastating flooding in Tasmania and other parts of Victoria, including in my electorate of Maribyrnong in inner-city Melbourne.

Since the election, Labor has moved quickly to ensure everyone gets the support they need to get back on their feet.

As at October 24, more than $23.1 million in disaster assistance has been provided to more than 28,000 people impacted by the floods in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

More than 24,000 Victorians have collectively received $19.5 million in disaster assistance since claims opened on Sunday, October 16.

In NSW, more than 200 people have been supported by more than $125,000 in disaster assistance since Disaster Recovery Allowance claims opened on Thursday, October 13.

And more than 4000 Tasmanians have received $3.5 million in disaster assistance since claims opened on Sunday, October 16.

Six people have also tragically lost their lives in the most recent floods, as of yesterday.

I’ve lived close to the Maribyrnong River since 1992, always wondering if it would and fearing that it might flood again like it did in in 1974 and 1993.

Climate naysayers tend to downplay each natural disaster as a “one in 100 year” event. However, the 1970s and 1990s were not that long ago (although my children may disagree).

Because of changing climate, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more intense – and we need to be prepared.

The morning after floodwaters receded, I visited people across my electorate in their homes and at the local evacuation centre and some of the stories I’ve heard have been deeply upsetting.

Floods leave behind mud, devastation and chaos, with people left to return to the stench and sludge left behind.

Two weeks ago, I witnessed a woman in Maribyrnong entering her family home for the first time since the flooding. She took one look inside and burst into tears and heart-wrenching screams. It was truly heartbreaking.

While I saw heartbreak and devastation, I also saw what I love the most about this country – Australian spirit. Kindness in others’ troubles, courage in one’s own.

Aussies doing everything to help their neighbour, from shovelling muck and rearranging homes, to providing a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen.

I want to thank our brave SES, emergency service workers, and all those who continue to work so hard to keep everyone safe.

People such as CFA volunteers Jo and Heath Stubbs, from Victoria, who are heading to flood-affected areas ahead of the long weekend for the Melbourne Cup, leaving their three daughters at home.

People such as Jo and Heath are the people who make Australia is such a great country. They will stop everything, no matter how busy, to help others.

I believe that no matter what’s thrown at us, Australians will be there for one another.

With Labor in government, we intend to be part of the solution. We will not sit on our hands and try to dupe people by saying back-to-back fires and flooding are just random yet natural events; unpredictable consequences of weather.

Within hours of the floods, we quickly mobilised Services Australia staff to help people access essential disaster assistance, and staff have been sent to provide on-the-ground support in the most heavily affected local government areas.

As the Minister for Government Services, I’m proud to announce that the Labor Albanese Government will provide an additional $588 million to ensure Services Australia supports Australians during emergencies.

This includes 2000 additional staff allocated to help in disasters in the coming year.

Many of these workers will be specialised and sent across evacuation and recovery centres in communities that have been the most impacted by disasters, alongside more social workers, and the agency’s fleet of mobile servicing teams and buses.

We’re also making it easier for people to access support online, so they get support wherever and whenever needed.

In the middle of a natural disaster, Australians were there for each other. I want you to know that now your Government is too.

We know being as prepared as possible will both keep people safe and future-proof the country from danger of disasters.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 26 October 2022.

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