Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (15:25): I would like to start my contribution by expressing my deep concern and sympathy to all those communities in northern New South Wales and South-East Queensland who have suffered and who are continuing to suffer from the disastrous floods. Lives have been lost, and I express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have tragically died.
I also put out my hand of support to Senator McAllister and her family, who are among many families from the Northern Rivers who are directly impacted and who are suffering from these floods. I have at the moment a very good friend who is living with me because she was caught in the floods. She didn’t lose her house, but everything else has basically been wiped out. She lived in a very small community called Crabbes Creek, north-west of Byron Bay. When she sent me the video of the way that Crabbes Creek had erupted into an horrendous flood it was absolutely frightening. So, while I am a senator for Victoria and I haven’t yet been up to the Northern Rivers and South-East Queensland, I have seen and experienced firsthand the trauma that this has and is continuing to cause.
I do want to reflect on Senator McAllister’s words when she said that some people would say that it’s not proper for us to make these political points in relation to flood disaster relief. I would simply say, ‘Yes, Senator McAllister, it is not proper.’ That’s because, first of all, in the distribution of some $1.33 billion which Services Australia has paid out in Australian government disaster recovery payments and disaster recovery allowance to over 1.4 million people in urgent need in Queensland and New South Wales, I want to put on the record very strongly that there’s no differentiation as to where someone lives—whether they live in a National Party seat or whether they live in a Labor Party seat. Every single person who has suffered and who meets the criteria is entitled to that payment.
I really reflect on the experience that I had when I was supporting my local constituents in Wye River and Separation Creek after those communities were wiped out by bushfire in 2015. Despite the terrible trauma they suffered—116 homes were lost; miraculously, no-one died—and while I have been a continuing critic of the Victorian government, led by our Premier, Daniel Andrews, I did not see the politicisation of that natural disaster that I see now from those opposite. I say to Labor: it is so regrettable that you have stooped to such a low, to so politicise a natural disaster. I would say, ‘Please: yes, there are people who are hurting; yes, there are people who are angry but, for goodness sake, let us work together to support Australians in their hour of need.’ Senator McAllister is quoting the Labor candidate, which is clearly all about politics, at a time when all of us need to be focused on those residents who are living in these areas and thinking: ‘Where am I going to live? How am I going to earn a living? Where’s my next night’s accommodation?’ We understand how absolutely devasting this is, but Australians don’t need to be confronted with this low-level politicisation of a natural disaster like we have never seen before. I have lived through, as we all have, many natural disasters and seen them firsthand, whether it’s Ash Wednesday, Black Saturday, Black Summer or the Wye River bushfires. I just say to Labor senators opposite and to the Labor Party: please, you can do better than this.
To characterise the Prime Minister’s visit as a photo opportunity is just so revoltingly offensive. He met with many families behind closed doors. I say to Labor: please, at this time, let us work together to support those who need our help and just keep the politics out of this.