PRIME MINISTER: Hello everyone. Well, a lot of very familiar faces around the room today. Can I first of all thank you all for coming together, Australia is coming together, has been coming together now for some time to respond to what has been an unprecedented series of natural disasters with bushfires affecting so many different states and it has been rolling on for some time, it continues to roll on and there are many months still ahead of us.
These are very challenging times. So I want to thank all of you, particularly those who it’s not your first time in this room in the course of this week. We have been bringing Australia together in various forms all over the course of this week, whether it’s been the scientific community, the environment community, the transport sector, the charitable sector, agriculture, small business, tourism all getting round, whether it’s been this table or other tables around the country to focus all of our efforts on what is the best way that we can meet the needs that are right in front of us, the needs that are going to be there, in a month- a few months’ time and the needs that are going to be there years from now, and I want to thank everybody for the tremendous goodwill in which they’ve been working together each and every one of you across your organisations, but also with the Commonwealth and the state governments and we have state government representatives here today and it has been a very close working partnership with our states, the states have been in the frontline of this response. In particular, the firefighting response and the most immediate response to those fires. I want to applaud the work that is being done by our state Premiers and our state agencies.
I’ve just come, with Jenny and Michael from the funeral of Sam McPaul, out there in Holbrook and that is a potent reminder of the sheer devastation of when these fires touch the lives of Australians. 28 Australians have been killed. Over 2,800 homes have been lost but I must say, as I know Gladys has said also, and I know Dan has reflected that were it not for the amazing work of our volunteers on the fire front, more homes would have been lost and even worse, more lives would have been lost and that has just been an extraordinary effort, as they prepared for what came, as they responded to what came, and now here we are together, working together on how we build for the future, and the recovery because people know there is that recovery, they do know that their communities will be rebuilt and their lives will be rebuilt and we are here to help them achieve that goal.
Now today, we are joined by all of the major national people organisations across so many different areas and it is my proposal today that we will hear particularly from those coordinating the delivery on the Commonwealth response as well as our state agencies and the intention then is to go around the table and to get all of your feedback on how you’re seeing things from where you are, but let me just make a couple of points. So far, already we’ve seen the largest response from the Federal Government in terms of a disaster like this that we’ve seen and that was particularly in the context of the Defence Force deployment, which was started back in September. We had just over 50 people deployed to now well over 6,000 people deployed, including up to 3,000 reservists in the compulsory call out. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency and Andrew Colvin who leads it is here with me today, has been stood up over the last week and a half and has committed funds of $2 billion dollars over the next two years. I can tell you already, $300 million of that $500 million that was committed for this financial year has already been committed, and on further announcements about the decisions we’ve been taking around the Cabinet table over the course of these last few days which will add further to that.
The immediate response from the Commonwealth has focused very much on what is needed in the direct aftermath and the response that’s been needed on the ground, the clean-up, the work you have done with the charities, the important and very vital work that is being done in mental health. It isn’t just the scarred bushland that we’ve seen around the country, but there are some very deep scars, emotional scars, trauma scars that have gone in to these communities, which we’ve seen firsthand, the wildlife support, tourism packages which are very urgent and in the tourism area we know the impact is not only going to be impacting in those directly affected bushfire areas, but we already know it is impacting more broadly afield than that and that’s an issue we need to address, the small business, and of course, agriculture Fiona, science, education, the environment. This has been the immediate response. The next stage is really going to be looking at those local economic recovery plans and how we work with those and we deal with this recovery from the ground up as Minister Littleproud has said so often.
The payments have been getting out the door, over $50 million in payments, $52.6 million, 44 thousand, 150 claims dealt with, disaster assistance payments that is looked after by the Commonwealth and I’m pleased to know in the last 24 hours, one that went out the door, 310 firefighters on the simplified payment arrangements we put in place earlier this week. The rebuilding of the infrastructure, which the Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth is overseeing, that will work closely with the rebuild that will be led by the states. Those local recovery plans, but then, of course, the longer term preparations and resilience for the future.
2 million Australians live in some 60 local government areas that have received Category C declarations which relate to this set of fires. That is a broad coverage. Now of course not all of those more than 2 million Australians have been directly impacted and there are parts of those local government areas which wouldn’t have been directly impacted by fire but that gives you a sense of how many of our local jurisdictions are being impacted by this and how many people we’re working with.
So I want to thank you all very much. We have come together to get on with it and to ensure that we can deliver the support that is needed now. The support that is needed in 2 months from now, the support that’s needed 2 years from now and we look forward very much to continuing to work with all of you and we really appreciate the way you’ve been engaging both with the state governments and in particular, but also in the Commonwealth, as we’ve sought to coordinate our support.