Radio 2CC - Cooma CPSU worker, Joel Fitzgibbon resigning

Radio 2CC - Cooma CPSU worker, Joel Fitzgibbon resigning Main Image

12 November 2020


SUBJECTS: Government’s response to Bushfire Royal Commission; Cooma CPSU worker; Joel Fitzgibbon resigning from Shadow Cabinet.

LEON DELANEY, HOST: It's been a year since. bushfires began in parts of New South Wales as the opening round of severe bushfire events that became ultimately known as Black Summer. And of course we recently heard from the Bushfire Royal Commission and their recommendations.

Today the federal government has released its response to those recommendations. The government will as expected give itself the power to declare a national state of emergency which only makes sense, but apparently the government has decided not to pursue the recommendation to establish a national aerial firefighting fleet. The federal government says instead it will continue to support the fleets that are operated by the various states and territories Joining me now a Member of Eden Monaro and Mayor of the Bega Valley during the black summer bushfires Kristy McBain Good afternoon.


DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. Are you satisfied with the federal government's response? Or do you think that perhaps it should have done one better?

MCBAIN: I was a little bit disappointed that, you know, a two week on from the release and today was the first time we've heard from the Prime Minister. I think that many bushfire impacted communities were expecting to hear something from him a lot sooner. And I think there would obviously be a lot of reservation about not having a national aerial firefighting fleet. It's one of the things that I think would have made a big difference to a lot of people continuing to hire aircraft from overseas, with their extended seasons and extended seasons, potentially creates a problem for us in the future.

DELANEY: Is there also a problem? If you're relying on the states and territories to maintain and operate their own fleets? Is there also a problem that smaller jurisdictions might not have the capacity to do that?

MCBAIN: Yeah, I think that's obviously the case. And what we saw during the last summer bushfires was multiple states and territories all in need at the same time. And you know, that capability state and territory wide, obviously isn't endless. And having something that was obviously in the federal government's realm and nationally owned, to be used by everyone would assist those shortages in states and territory. So I think it's a little short sighted not to be seeing the bigger picture.

DELANEY: What was your experience in the Bega Valley last summer? Because I'm told that there is some concern about being left behind as a regional area as compared to focusing resources on areas closer to metropolitan Australia, is that still a concern?

MCBAIN: We didn't have any aerial firefighting capabilities until well into the start of January. So when we were first hit by bush fires in the Bega Valley on the 31st of December, the Prime Minister visited us on the first of January, and he asked what he could do at that stage and I said we need aerial firefighting capabilities. And he was unaware that we've had none to date. So, you know, I think that people here would have been looking for some leadership in that aerial firefighting capability. I spoke with a resident of Cobargo on Thursday, and her words to me were that they feel abandoned at this point in time.

And this is a woman that she hasn't lost her home but had lost fences and was still trying to rebuild all of the fences to keep livestock in. She was bitterly disappointed that the Royal Commission had largely been lost in the US election. She feels completely, as I said abandoned because whilst we're talking about funding going to councils and businesses, those victims of the bushfire have received the thousand dollars each from Centrelink. So these are the people that are missing out. And we can't forget Leon those people that are in tents and caravans. We've had significant heavy rains down on the coast, as well as over on the Snowy Valleys. Some of these caravans have now been inundated with water. So it hasn't been an easy time for people. And I think we can't forget that in, you know, numerous other things that have happened in 2020. But these people are doing it really tough still.

DELANEY: Indeed the government says that it accepts the recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission. And obviously it has that disagreement with the point about the national firefighting aerial fleet. But aside from that, do you anticipate that the government will be as good as its word and deliver on those recommendations?

MCBAIN: Look, it has to deliver now, you know, there's been 240 inquiries or royal commissions into natural disasters or bushfires. You know, perhaps if we had affected faster on implementing the recommendations from those 240 other inquiries or commissions, we wouldn't have found ourselves in this position in 2020. But I think it's now incumbent upon this government to make sure that they act and they act quickly, there have been calls now for years to fix up the communications system between states and territories.

And also to make sure that every emergency service agency can speak to each other in the event of a disaster. They've been calls to get the bushfire rating, a nationwide rating. So it's the same in every state and territory. There's been previous calls to implement a single recovery and resilience agency at a federal level for some time. So, you know, these are all things that should have been already done prior to, to 2020. But it's now incumbent upon this government to act into it quickly, because we need to make sure that you know, the bushfires of 19-20 counts for something.

DELANEY: Now, I know this is not entirely related, but the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has expressed its concern that the mental and physical health effects of not only the bushfires, but also the coronavirus pandemic, will take years for people to recover from, is that the experience that you're seeing amongst people in your community?

MCBAIN: Yeah, definitely there is obviously ongoing trauma for people, we know that people's mental health has been deteriorating. And in most of these regional areas, it's very hard to access counsellors or psychologists. So it's great that we're talking about the need to look after our mental health. But we have to back that up with additional practitioners, especially in the regions that have been hit hard.

The other interesting thing is, you know, earlier this year, there was a story on the impacts of bushfire smoke on pregnant women and babies during that time. There is currently research underway by the ANU and UC into the impacts of that long term. And, you know, that study has largely been relying on donations from others to keep it going.

And that's something that we actually need to fund and understand that the ongoing impacts of hazardous bushfire smoke on pregnant women and young babies and I guess we need to make sure that if there are lessons to be learnt, we are learning them and money will have to be put into research, especially around the impacts of climate change on people's health, whether that's prolonged exposure to bushfire, whether that's, you know, the impact of living in caravans that have largely now been flooded. We need to be able to point to learning something from everything that these communities are going through.

DELANEY: I saw that you issued a press release yesterday relating to a bushfire volunteer in Cooma who has lost pay as a result of his time acting as a volunteer firefighter. How did that occur? And what can be done about it?

MCBAIN: Yeah, really, I guess a disappointing story in many respects. This is as a gentleman that works the Border Force and around 60% of his pay is an allowance, which deals with the time away from family, whether that be in other jurisdictions or at sea. And, you know, Army reservists never lose that allowance as part of their pay if they're giving their time to the Army Reserves. But the same doesn't apply for other emergency service volunteers. And now this is a bloke that works very hard over the bushfire season in his community to keep his community safe, and now faces losing 60% of his pay. It just does not seem right.

The CPSU has had discussions with Border Force and Kristina Keneally, the Shadow Home Affairs Minister has now met with Peter Dutton in regards to this as well, you know, it's terrible that you know, 60% of someone's pay can be made up of an allowance in itself. But at the very least, this needs to be fixed. So that doesn't impact our emergency service volunteers. It's just, it's a blight really on the government,

DELANEY: Especially as you say, the precedent is there that if you are providing service to the Army Reserve, for example, you don't lose that income. And yet for a turning up to protect the community as part of the volunteer firefighting contingent, then you do lose that component of your income, it's just an irregularity that shouldn't exist in the first place. Are you hopeful that that will be fixed?

MCBAIN: Yeah, look, I'm very hopeful it will be fixed. I mean, both sides would regard the service to our nation, obviously, in different capacities, but without our emergency service volunteers, giving their time to keep many of us in those regional and rural communities safe, will be a lot worse off. So I really hope this is fixed and fixed quickly. Because as I said, this, this bloke has worked tirelessly over the last summer and, you know, I'm sure it's not just him in our electorate that's affected. It's probably multiple workers that have been affected by this, but it needs to be fixed.
DELANEY: Indeed. Are you disappointed at all that you weren't given the opportunity to take Joel Fitzgibbons place in the Shadow Cabinet?

MCBAIN: Ha ha, well, that would have been a very quick promotion after four months in the job. No, look, I think Ed Husic will be fantastic in that portfolio. And he actually has these first visits in that portfolio into my region, he's coming with me to Tumbarumba and Batlow, to visit some vignerons and orchardists to discuss some of their concerns following on from the bushfires. So, I look forward to working with with Ed Husic.

DELANEY: Well, if you're not disappointed about that, are you bad disappointed about the behaviour of Joel Fitzgibbon, who's obviously posed a bit of a conundrum for the Labor Party?

MCBAIN: I don't think he has. And this is where I think the message has been lost largely, Joel's position was was around making sure that we support workers in those traditional resource industries as they go through a bit of a transition. So, you know, we need to talk about jobs at the same time as we're talking about climate change. And I think that the nuance that perhaps didn't make it out into the media,

DELANEY: Yeah, but what we did see in the media, and particularly in the Sydney Morning Herald his various Labor personalities, some named some not named, saying that Joel Fitzgibbon is self indulgent, and some saying that they're fed up with his behaviour, and they don't like his disloyalty. And there are some that have gone further, in fact, labelled him a disgrace. These are pretty harsh comments, and they're supposedly coming from inside the Labor Party.

MCBAIN: Look, I think he can look at the other side and say similar comments that have been previously made about members of that side. What I would say is this, you know, we're all there to represent the interests of our communities. Joel's there to represent the interests of the communities in the Hunter Valley. That's his job. I'm here to represent the the communities of Eden-Monaro. That's my job, and I will unashamedly put my community in Eden-Monaro first and make sure that I speak out for them on every occasion. And I think that's what we're all voted into do, you know, sometimes your colleagues from other areas might not might not understand the needs in your community, but it's up to you to fight for them.

DELANEY: So you had one of these unnamed Labor MPs because some of these quotes are beauties. The best one was that Donald Trump is showing more grace in leaving his job. I mean, you weren't in that in that crowd.

MCBAIN: Ha ha, well, I'm not sure Donald Trump has shown any grace in leaving his job because I think he's talked about leaving it yet. But look, no, I will happily be a named source on anything. And as I said, I think Joel's there to represent his community just as I'm here to represent Eden-Monaro.

DELANEY: Thanks very much for your time today.