Good afternoon. While we are facing more benign weather conditions in the short term, this morning, I received briefings from the Bureau of Meteorology, which set out that over the medium term out to the end of April Australia will continue to be experiencing warmer and drier conditions. I make this point that despite the fact that we are seeing some welcome and more relieving conditions in the foreseeable future over the next few days, and at this point, I have not- been advised to me the next spike day, as we've seen in previous times, that's not to say one won't present itself, but it is to stress again that our focus is very much on not only the significant recovery plans that are being put in place, and we'll be announcing more of those today after the National Security Committee in its expanded form met today with ERC, but to stress that there are still many more months of response and directly confronting these fires as they continue, whether they're smouldering in places where they've had some welcome rain or are active in still many cases around the country.
And so we also have seen in Victoria today, as those in Melbourne in particular, will have been noticing, the same sort of haze and smog that others have experienced, particularly up in Sydney, earlier in this fire season and has been experienced here in the capital. This is also a reminder, I think, to Australians of the ongoing bushfire crisis, even though weather conditions for right now and over the next few days are going to provide further opportunities for both firefighters and for response efforts to roll in to the various communities that are receiving this support. Yesterday, I was able to advise the Premier of Victoria of further supports that we're putting in place in Victoria, and they'll be duly announced between our respective ministers about the various requests that they've been making. That means that is bringing it more into line with Category C assistance, as is already in place in New South Wales. That's supporting issues such as community recovery, as well as enabling us to then better define what our Category D support is. Why is that relevant? The category D support as I said when I announced the $2 billion dollar recovery fund, category D support is provided completely and funded absolutely by the Commonwealth Government out of that recovery fund, and that recovery fund, as you know, has already supported the payments to local governments. It has already supported the mental health plan that I announced here with the Health Minister, it has already supported the wildlife recovery program that we’ve announced. And we'll be making some more announcements from that plan today.
I'm also very pleased and appreciative of the revision to the travel advice by the US administration for that being scaled back to Level 1 again, as I indicated to you two days ago, I had the opportunity to raise this at very senior levels of the administration, and I particularly thank the US administration, obviously the President, but also, Vice President Pence and also Secretary Pompeo for their kind attention and urgent attention to those issues, and we very much appreciate that being revised, and that will be, I think, a welcome encouragement to our tourist industry and not just in the bushfire affected areas, because these things affect the tourist industry more broadly and obviously the discussions I had with the US administration was to point out the broad nature and the large scale nature of our continent and the fact that obviously you can still go swimming on the reef and you could still be visiting Kakadu and you could still be visiting Uluru and over in Western Australia and down at Cradle Mountain and as I was able to say, and the south coast of New South Wales is open again as well, and so I very much thank the United States administration for moving so quickly to address the concerns I raised and other officials raised with them in recent times.
The Defence focus at present, is focussed on a number of issues. Firstly, they are working on firebreaks that are related to the Dunn's Road Fire, fodder distribution, bridge damage assessment. I also commend them on the great work they did with those who are finally able with air support to be able to make their way out of Mallacoota, some 66 vehicles were able to make their way out of Mallacoota. So that would have included people with caravans, things like this who had remained in Mallacoota, that they didn't want to leave those vehicles and they stayed there for that period of time and didn't participate in the evacuation, but 66 of those vehicles were able to make it through with Defence Force support. They were also very active in animal burial, carcase disposal, which also presents very real health issues. That has particularly been their focus on Kangaroo Island, where the stock losses from our reports have been the most dramatic, particularly in terms of the size of KI and the number of agricultural producers, primary producers, farmers on KI, and we now have more than half of KI that has been affected by these fires, and our presence there is very, very strong. The Defence Force have also been supporting the protection of important economic assets such as forestry assets, and that's why they're very significant, their work doing around the firebreak in relating to the Dunn's road fire is so important to protect those forestry assets which are going to provide livelihoods for that part of the country in the forestry industry into the future. So we welcome their great support there.
In good news, the Tour Down Under in South Australia is going ahead from the 16th to the 26th. That's a strong message, I think, to the world that Australia's tourist industry is very much open for business and the greatest experiences in the world are always on offer here in Australia and whether it's in South Australia or anywhere else and I commend the organisers and the defence force are actually assisting to ensure that event can go ahead as planned and we welcome that decision.
I also welcomed the fact that Standard and Poor's, I think it was yesterday, issued their statement which reinforced the point that I've made to you on other occasions, that it is because we've been able to put Australia in a strong financial position and that means we're able to respond to this crisis without any threat to the broader fiscal position of the government and as you know, that means we're able to respond significantly in the way as we have outlined these announcements without impairing the budget at a structural level. That is what you can do when you place financial management as a priority in the way you exercise government. When you do that, you build your financial resilience so you can respond in times of crisis as we are doing now without the need for taxes or levies or things like this, which have a broader impact on the economy and we are avoiding those outcomes.
I want to move to some announcements now, later today I should stress I'll be meeting, we've got a small business roundtable that is coming together and we'll be consulting with them on a small business package that we've been working on now for about the past week or so in consultation with that roundtable will be important today. The expanded National Security Committee today considered a first pass on those proposals and we look forward to having more to say on that as we get to the end of this week, and we want to talk through some of those issues with that small business roundtable today. The Deputy Prime Minister and the Health Minister have already held hook-ups and roundtables with stakeholders in transport and health sectors and Minister Robert will be similarly speaking with disability groups this afternoon. Tomorrow, roundtables have been organised with key environmental groups hosted by Minister Ley. Broad science community was hosted by Minister Andrews. The education sector hosted by Minister Tehan and the financial services sector hosted by the Treasurer, along with Michael Sukkar and Senator Hume that's happening tomorrow. On Thursday, the Treasurer and Assistant Minister for Charity, Senator Seselja, will meet with charities and key not for profit stakeholders. Minister McKenzie will be talking with the agricultural sector and taking them through the announcement I'll take you through in a second. Minister Birmingham is bringing together the tourism sector on Friday after attending the funeral for Sam McPaul. I'll be bringing together peak bodies to ensure our bushfire relief, response and recovery effort is strong and coordinated across the country, and that will provide an important opportunity to both brief all of those organisations and get their feedback and response.
Today, we have agreed an important package to support our farmers, to support our graziers, to support our primary producers. And that package is delivering significant support under Category D. That was provided in response also to the North Queensland floods, where you know, that devastated graziers and farmers right across those parts of north Queensland where their entire herds were decimated. Those grants of up to $75,000 dollars proved an absolute lifetime to those agricultural communities and importantly to the farmers to whom they were provided. We will be providing those $75,000 dollar grants, up to $75,000 dollars to farmers and primary producers in the affected areas to enable them to deal with the immediate needs that they have where they have been impacted by this fire event, and so where they've had that impact when that can be everything from sheds and fences, or it could be equipment. It could be the solar panels that actually power their pumping facilities on their dams or anything of this nature. These, or carcase disposal where they've been engaged in that, the need to employ veterinarians and things of that nature. This is crucial, rebuilding immediate recovery support that is absolutely critical to enable these primary producers, these farmers, these graziers to be able to get through this first hurdle, to get over this first hump so they can be able to put themselves into a position to be able to start planning for their future. It's this $75,000 dollar support we estimate, and assign some $100 million dollars out of the recovery fund to support this. This is an estimate. It is not a cap. This will be a demand driven program. If more is needed under the demand, then more will simply be paid without the need for any further decision. This will be a demand driven program. The primary producer, the farmer, the grazier does not have to have their principal place of residence affected by this in order to have access to this funding support. It includes the support that is provided already at Category C, but there are some tighter access conditions that are applied to that category C funding. For example, what we will be doing is exempting any off farm income in the same way that we have exempted off-farm income of up to 100 thousand dollars per person when it comes to the assessment of the farm household allowance. We will be exempting that off farm income up to that amount per person to ensure that those farmers whose properties have been affected are able to get access to this important assistance. And I think that will be a a real shot in the arm. Those farmers and those properties, primary producers that I've visited, I know this is what they need right now, and these payments will be made by the state governments, they'll be making those assessments. The Minister has been already in contact with the states this morning and I’ll allow her to take you through that process, but we want it to be as simple as possible because we need to get this cash into the hands of these producers so that they can get on with the jobs that they urgently need doing.
I would stress that these payments will also provide welcome economic injection into these rural communities. I mean, I know Tim's been down there in southern New South Wales and he's seen this on the ground as well and to see more money, more cash moving through these communities, fences getting done, contractors getting the opportunity for jobs, supporting the local economy. This will be very important for those small businesses in those towns as well, to see people coming into their towns doing this work and really putting some important oompf into the local economy by getting these payments out. This is what we also saw up in North Queensland in the response we did there. This will be supported by 60 rural financial counsellors in addition to those that are already on the ground at a cost of some $15 million dollars. What we don't want to see is support that is being provided for drought, redirected to support to respond to the bushfires. That's why what I'm talking about today is initial and additional and that means that we will continue to roll out the work we're doing on drought response in all of these communities. Those particularly who are not affected by bushfires should know that the drought support for you remains a very important priority of the government. But for those communities who have been hit by both, then they know that there'll be additional support that is coming through in these measures. So they're the announcements that we have today to come out of this recovery fund. The recovery continues, but the fires also continue and we're dealing with both of those conjointly and I'll ask the minister to go into further detail.
SENATOR THE HON. BRIDGET MCKENZIE, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well, thank you Prime Minister. We've all seen the images, we've heard the stories and many of you have been in these communities who have been battling bushfires in some instances in the north coast of New South Wales and southern Queensland for a long time. Some are entering that recovery phase and I know north New South Wales is part of that, but as we've seen post New Year’s Eve, the devastation, of the impact of the bushfires on agriculture, on primary producers, on our fishers, on our foresters and in our regional communities has been significant and it is continuing today. Right now, today, there are farmers and volunteer firefighters fighting fires, building containment lines right now while we have some respite in the conditions, but farmers, foresters and fishers, 19,000 enterprises across bushfire affected communities are often the first responders to these crises as well and so there is a level of exhaustion in these communities as they return home from their fighting the fires, saving their neighbours property, often as in the case of Walwa, a very tiny little community in north east Victoria, they saved the town. The local CFA brigade saved the town, only to return home to see stock losses, fences down in some cases, in some regions, their own homes burnt. One dairy farmer I know returned home to see his whole future herd, all his heifers that he'd had off on another block disappear while he was fighting someone else's fire, protecting them and so as we've all travelled to these communities and we've talked to locals, our state farming organisations, we've heard stories right across agriculture. It's not just livestock losses. It's oyster sheds on the Clyde River. It's what's going to happen to those type of enterprises once the charcoal and ash after a good rain ends up in our waterways. It's our Batlow apple farmers. It's the wine industry in the Adelaide Hills, and it's our sheep and beef producers more broadly and our dairy industry.
So each commodity group has very, very different pinch points in a recovery, but right now, across them all, the things we're hearing on the ground is access. Get me back to my property yesterday. I want to check on the stock. I want to see what damage is done. I need to get home to my home and start the rebuild phase, and so there has been, I guess, a real effort in those communities that are fire affected to get the ADF on the ground, to get the killed trees down, so that farmers can have safe access back to their properties. That's been number one. Then it's been water and fodder and you will have seen great stories of Farmers Federation in Victoria and, you know, the ADF, community groups, hay drives, fodder drives and the like, getting farmer helping farmer right across these bushfire communities. We had a great season in the south west of Victoria, that hay is going east to East Gippsland and that's a great testament to our communities and the drive of our farmers to support each other.
And third- fourthly, it's about re-fencing now. Once you get the water and follow the herds, okay, it's about re-fencing, making sure you protect them and the disposal of dead livestock and we've seen those actions happening right over the last 10 days and they will continue. It's been incredibly heartening to see the generosity. So whilst there's been stories of loss and heartache, there's also been, I think, incredible stories of hope and of strength and of community and I think we need to really draw on that. I've been very, very proud of Australians over this period of time in how we've worked together to support each other. We need to get our farmers back to business, to growing food. It's what they want to do. It's actually what they like to do. They like to grow grapes for wine. They like to breed cattle for meat, you name it. They just want to grow food. So we need to get them back to their normal way of life as soon as possible, and that's exactly what the $75,000 dollar grants are all about. It's about cleaning up the property as soon as possible, about having two days of excavation, clearing, clearing trees, as the PM says, getting that essential critical infrastructure to get the farm up and running in the immediate time. Future measures obviously, this is the initial phase. This is what we've been hearing is absolutely needed on the ground. Cash payments to hire local contractors to get the job done so we can get back to producing food. We've heard stories of dairy farmers, you know, fighting a fire only to get home, the herd safe, the heifers are gone. Next year's herds gone. But milking cows are still there and they've had to milk twice a day, every day now for the last 10 days to keep supply up and I just want to give a brief shout out to the dairy processors. I'm sorry I've beaten you off in the recent recent times, but they have hand on heart, been doing a magnificent job supporting their milk suppliers through these tough times and making sure the milk cheques still get there, despite in often cases where we can't get the tankers through, picking up of that supply.
So our announcement obviously being assessed by state governments. The eligibility criteria will be incredibly simple because our goal is actually to get cash on the ground to the farmers so they can actually get on with the rebuilding. Officials are in contact. We're working with state governments right now on guidelines and eligibility criteria and assessment criteria. We're wanting to this to be a consistent application, obviously, across all bushfire affected regions and I guess it's part of our first step in our bushfire recovery, obviously next, it'll be rebuilding and I'm meeting with farming organisations, commodity chairs, food supply chain. Often we're seeing flow on effects from not just the farm gate, but into regional communities with a lack of supply into the processing sector. Transport sector will be affected, so they'll be coming to Canberra on Thursday so that we can start that broader discussion and an ongoing discussion over the next two years about how we assist agriculture and food supply in this country to rebuild and to build a more resilient future going forward, which I'm also excited to take part in once we get this initial piece out of the way. And as the PM touched on, the angels of the drought, the rural financial counsellors, we're going to roll out another 60 into bushfire affected communities to help farmers assess what financial assistance they're actually eligible for but also, I think as we move into a rebuilding phase to really do that on farm business planning, what does my business need to look like going forward? Are there any opportunities that have come out of this current crisis that I can actually take advantage of for my farming business going forward?
I could go to actual commodity groups in terms of the different impacts, because I have had the opportunity, obviously, to head into New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia yesterday but I might leave that to questions but we're here for the long haul. Our primary producers know that. Our regional communities know that. We've made that very, very clear. And today is a first step in what's going to be a long journey. Our farmers want to get back growing food and we need them to get back growing food. So we are with them all the way.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Bridget. Questions?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just with the assistance for the farmers. We're hearing stories of farmers who are having to ask for more bullets to put down livestock.
PRIME MINISTER: Ask for more?
JOURNALIST: ask for more bullets to put down the injured livestock as a result of what we've seen over the last week, given what we've seen with the drought, how cruel is that? And on dairy farmers, is it now up to the supermarkets to start looking at increasing the prices to try and pass on some more of that to those affected farmers?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll deal with the first one, I mean, part of the role of the ADF has been, as well as the recovery agency, has been working closely with local farming communities to provide, if necessary, any assistance when it comes to stock disposal and that includes not just the destruction of stock in some circumstances, but I'm not advised of any cases where the Defence Force have been required to do that, but they've certainly been available do that if necessary but those issues have been, have been dealt with by local farmers themselves and other local community members have supported them in that task. Then the focus particularly on Kangaroo Island has been the burial of that stock. I know that when we were dealing with the terrible events in North Queensland, the destruction and disposal of stock is an awful business. It is not just the economic toll, but it's the emotional toll that this puts on farmers and often farmers will dispose of each other's stock sometimes, particularly when it comes to the destruction of stock, because it can be a pretty tough thing for farmers to do but they do do it and they've been working through that process and they've had support available from both state agencies and Commonwealth, in performing that task, but look, the flow on impacts of the disaster when it comes through the agricultural commodities and prices, whether it's for milk or anything else like that. I mean, that will be assessed in the days and weeks ahead and, but I'll ask Bridget to speak to that, but we can't hide from the fact that we've had an enormous shock to our farming community and that will obviously have flow-on effects along the supply chain. Bridget?
SENATOR THE HON. BRIDGET MCKENZIE, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Thanks, PM. State agencies, agricultural agencies are out there assessing on farm right now, not just the animal welfare of stock that are still alive, but also assisting farmers to dispose of and euthanise stock that need to. We've offered over 100 Commonwealth vets to that task and would encourage state governments to actually take advantage of that offer, because that's part of the recovery process, is really dealing with the animal welfare issues on-farm post bushfire as quickly as possible. When I was up in Batlow, just to your point, farmers actually cleaned up after the horrific fires on Friday, Saturday, cleaned up Sunday, all the livestock there because they wanted to bring their kids home and didn't want their kids to see what the bushfires had done to their family’s herd. So, yes, farmers are doing it tough. We have the support structures there to assist them. In terms of prices for food, you might have seen reporting that supermarkets are letting the Australian public know that they'll have to pay more for their red meat. Yes, you will. That they'll have to pay more for their fruit and vegetables because of the bushfires and the drought. Yes, you will. Well, then the supermarkets also need to let the Australian public know that because of the bushfires and the drought, you will have to pay more for your milk. Now, processors are doing the right thing by farmers, by actually paying milk cheques when in many cases they're not getting the product and therefore that's having an impact on their business. Well, it's up to the supermarkets to not just talk about being the fresh food people, but get on with supporting in a very real and tangible way because farmers don't grow food for free. It's a business. I know we like to get all a bit romantic about it, but the reality is it is a business. They need to make a living and that means we need to pay the cost of producing the food and through tough times such as we're experiencing now, drought and bushfire are severely impacting input costs about farmers and now our processes in the supply chain so the other end of the supply chain needs to stump up.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned that your Ministers are going to be meeting with charities later this week. How do you propose all the donations get disbursed?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, the charities will be accountable for how they disperse the donations that they've received and the purposes they set out for attracting those donations and state governments and the Commonwealth have quite an exhaustive list of all the various organisations that people can go and support and the meeting later this week, I think will be an important opportunity to try and align a bit of effort to ensure those charities are well briefed on what the immediate needs are. Can I stress again something I've said earlier, sending food, sending clothes, sending goods is not what these communities need. If anything, that actually negatively impacts the local businesses that are selling food in these communities. The local IGAs or other grocery retailers or others on the ground, those bringing in those goods for free, just undermine the capacity of those local small businesses to actually survive as well going through this difficult period. So I would encourage everyone, and Australians have been just so monumentally generous and I think that's been all done in tremendous good faith and I know the charities and not for profit organisations are similarly acting in that good faith. So I think later this week is an important opportunity to align that and to make sure the effort is getting where it needs to get as quickly as possible. The distribution mechanisms that these charities have, whether it's St Vincent de Paul or the Red Cross or the Salvos or others who I've seen out there in so many different places, they're in a very good position, I think, to understand the most immediate needs. And they're very good organisations to deal with the immediate post-impact in these communities and the relief that they provide and what is then needed post that is the recovery and the rebuilding and that's where the governments themselves, Commonwealth, federal, state and local governments are playing the lead role. Tim?
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask how many farmers you believe are in drought, in fire-affected areas in our country, how many there are? Also, you've spoken more positively today about the Budget withstanding the impact of the fires, notwithstanding the fact that you've talked about billions in assistance. How damaged is the $5 billion budget surplus in your estimate as we stand?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll deal with that issue and Bridget can talk through the number of farmers and graziers, primary producers we anticipate are affected. My answer is the same, Tim. These issues will be reconciled when the Budget is brought down in May to assess the overall impact of where expenditure has come to on these issues between now and then. We've made a big commitment. As you know, we've put in a half a billion dollars, which we expect to go out under all of these programs between now and the 30th of June of this year and you will know that is obviously an amount that's not the same as the projected surplus at this time. But the projected surplus at this time is also conditioned by the consumption in the economy and where that's expected to flow over the course of the rest of the year and those assessments will be made at that time. I've made it really clear that my focus is on delivering the recovery and the support and what is needed now and paying the price and the costs that are needed to be met here and now and over the next, at least, the next two years and the impact on that Budget will be very clear. What I've referred to, I mean, I wasn't referring to something I'd said, Tim. I was referring to something that S&P have said and S&P have said that they do not see a negative impact on the structural strength of Australia's financial position and our Budget as a result of the support we're providing to this crisis and I welcome that acknowledgement by S&P and I believe I think Moody's has said something very similar and that says that when you manage a Budget well, it means that your government can actually respond to the crisis without taxing you more, without dragging on the economy anywhere else, because you want your economy to continue to be able to grow in these circumstances because that's what supports the ongoing effort and rebuilding effort in the affected communities and when you look at the map, as we have on every occasion when we meet as a National Security Committee and we look at the scarred areas, there are vast, obviously portions of the country that have not been affected by these bushfires and it's important that those parts of our economy also continue to go forward and perform strongly to support the rest of the country, but Bridget, on the other matter.
SENATOR THE HON. BRIDGET MCKENZIE, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Thanks, PM. Well, 19000 primary producers, farmers, fishers and foresters are within the bushfire-impacted areas. Now, whilst what the PM says is correct, the localised impact will be significant, particularly if you think of timber towns - Eden, Tumut, Tumbarumba, etc. East Gippsland, a significant forestry employment region severely impacted when their primary source of product has disappeared. I was talking to a private forester in northern New South Wales who was impacted prior to Christmas and of the 25,000 hectares of plantation they had, 20,000 hectares disappeared like that overnight. So there will be significant regional impacts, Tim, depending on the different commodity. So you look at the Adelaide Hills, a third of their wine vines gone. Do we know the extent of smoke damage? No. We've got to invest in some research there to the harvest and the vintage this year but nor do we know how we're going to assess the vascular damage to the actual vines, that may take a couple of years to actually work out the loss of production over time. So depending on the commodity and the region, individual farmers will be severely impact and potentially regional economy significantly, whilst not impacting the overall budget position.
PRIME MINISTER: It is a practical thing. On Kangaroo Island at the moment, the Defence Forces are actually assisting with a garlic harvest to get it out of the ground. They need that help. I mean, that's the sort of level of practicality this federal response is extending to.
SENATOR THE HON. BRIDGET MCKENZIE, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: And I think it's the level of practicality regional Australians expect.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you spoke about speaking to the US, encouraging their citizens to still travel here. What other countries have you spoken to or do you plan to speak to the leaders or the government of any other countries to encourage them to do the same?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, it's typically been a topic that has come up in most of the discussions I've had with other leaders and that has been to just explain what the impact has been and there is a bit of a false perception overseas that the entire continent has been affected and that's obviously not true and so those calls which I've taken and they've been on behalf of those countries to extend their sympathies and support and in many cases very practical offers of support which have been taken up but it's also been a good opportunity for me to inform them of what the true nature of this is and where it is impacted, but that's why I think it's just fantastic that the cycle race is going on in South Australia. I think that's tremendous. I mean, that has been a very important event for the South Australian tourism industry for many, many years and the fact that they're just getting on with it, I think all of those things just go to the story that we're seeking to tell. Now, I can tell you that Tourism Australia and through our embassies and high commissions around the world, they are actively involved in providing briefings to those governments about the situation in Australia so there is no misinformed decisions but again, I very much appreciate the decision taken by the United States. That's one that particularly needed my intervention and I was very happy to do that. That's the job, and I thank the United States for their very prompt response to my request.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you get all the states to sign up to a Royal Commission or will you have to scale back your ambition given Western Australia's opposition and separate inquiries in Victoria and New South Wales?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me just deal with the issue of inquiries and Royal Commissions more broadly. First of all, in the discussions I've had with Premiers and as I've already relayed to you in other forums, it has always been our understanding that states would be undertaking their own reviews. I knew that in Victoria, it was something that Dan and I discussed the other day. In Victoria there is actually a statutory requirement for one to be done in response to bushfires after Black Saturday. So that's understood, and the same will happen in New South Wales and I've made that reference. So anything I've said in this area has not been to replace or otherwise be instead of any of the normal reviews that you would expect to be undertaken at a state level. So any suggestion that these two are in somehow are in conflict is just completely false and because this is the very thing I've been discussing with Premiers. The ambit and scope of what the Federal Government will look to pursue is to look at all the areas that I outlined on Sunday in the interview that I had with David Speers, as well as in the press conference that followed and that, first of all, deals with the preparation and response to these terrible fire events as they've extended across many state borders. Secondly, to look at the whole issue of resilience and thirdly, adaptation going forward in the recognition of longer, hotter, drier seasons, which is not in contest, that is an established and acknowledged fact and has been by the government for quite a long period of time and was the basis for the disaster risk framework process that we'd set in place in the 2019-20 Budget and is ongoing. So our process in order to address questions around, for example, how federal assistance, how federal involvement is triggered, particularly federal support that is triggered proactively, not at the request of state governments as has occurred in all previous disasters. What is different with this disaster and what we put in place last Saturday week was not responding to a request, but to initiate and to actually go forward, and so I think it's important that we have a very clear understanding in relation to future events that there is an established understanding of what the threshold point is and what powers and what authorities, and yesterday I was... sorry, the day before, I was talking about what a federal state of emergency or national disaster, what that would entail. What powers it would create. What payments it would trigger. What authorities would be established. Now, to understand how that should occur, you obviously have to have a good understanding about what the state effort has produced in these fires and this is why I've been at pains to stress this. The preparation and response to these fires by our state governments has been simply extraordinary. The loss of life is devastating, but for those of you who have been out there, you will know, having seen the charred remains of the landscape, that so many more lives could have been lost and the fact they haven't been goes to the preparation and response that has been put in place and supported, of course, by the Federal Government under all the standing arrangements that we've had and that point, I think, extends also to the loss of property. While the property losses well over 2,000 now have been significant, in the absence of the work and the response that has been put in place, coordinated nationally, delivered by state authorities, has been exemplary and there would have been many, many more, arguably thousands more properties and homes that would have been lost in the course of this crisis. So what needs to be understood in any review is what is the overall capacity of that state response and at what point and in what set of events would that trigger moving from the response setting of the Federal Government to a proactive setting? Now, I've noticed some of the commentary, particularly that has been made by the Labor Party, regarding the call out of our ADF. It's simply false what they are saying. What we have done has been a compulsory call out of up to 3,000 Defence Force reservists that required the signature and approval of the Governor-General of Australia. Now, the advice I've received from the Chief of the Defence Force is that has not occurred before in response to any disaster. Now, I was pretty clear about that on Sunday, and I think it's disappointing that some would seek to try and twist that into something other than what it is. Now, that's been backed up, of course, by the recovery agency and the $2 billion and all the other things I've referred to, but what has been different about our response in the last week and a half has been that the Commonwealth has been acting on its own initiative to go into these areas. It's being done in what I'd call a cooperative environment, but we haven't waited to be asked and that was the key change that was made last Saturday week from the way that previous disasters have been dealt with. Now, that point about when that is actioned and the most common thing that has been put to me is should that have been done sooner? Well, as I said, the state of disaster had only been declared a day or two before that in Victoria, which hadn't been in place before that and I think there'd be reasonable positions, I have no doubt, put by Western Australia that the Commonwealth is proactive on its own initiative involvement by Defence Forces and Commonwealth agencies is quite a significant step to take and states have all always, I think, been very affirmative about their ability to deal with these crises within their own state borders and I think that has been the history of that performance. That said, clearly, based on the community expression that I've heard, they are looking for a more proactive, direct involvement of the Federal Government that doesn't just respond to requests for assistance, as has happened in previous ADF arrangements. Of course, the ADF has been involved in previous disasters. They've done so at the request and of course, reservists were involved. Reservists were involved before we had a compulsory call out. That's the ordinary course of ADF activities, but on this occasion, we had to go to the Governor-General to get him to sign off on this deployment and this compulsory call out. That has never been done before and those who suggest this wasn't quite an unprecedented step either haven't got the faintest idea what they're talking about or I fear they're seeking to play politics at the most unfortunate of times.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there’s a senior business figure Paul Bassat who says that these fires are a Port Arthur moment in terms of action on climate change. Do you accept that parallel? Do you think it's a reasonable parallel in terms of what it means for future climate change policy?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I find it difficult to make comparisons between different horrific events and Port Arthur is one that remains a deep scar in our community's psyche even all these years later, and I'm sure those who lost lost loved ones in that horrific event would never be too pleased about it being drawn up, I suppose, but I don't like to make comparisons between these sorts of things. I think they're very different events and out of respect for those who have been affected by those events, I won't make any further comment on that. What I am saying, though, is that on this occasion, the necessity of the government taking the action that we have, the unprecedented action that we have taken, and I must say, since we have done that, it has greatly amplified, I think the capability of what the state agencies have been doing on the ground. I think it's worked really, really well and I think it has really helped what they are doing and it's been tremendous to meet those Reservists out there able to be providing assistance in their own country. This is why they join up as Reservists. This is why they like to serve and they've been so pleased to be out there and supporting their own countrymen and women as they've gone through this disaster. I've set out what I think we need to do in terms of the future and that has been very much ensuring that we continue to meet and beat the emissions reduction targets that we've set. I've said, though, I think more significantly that resilience and adaptation need an even greater focus. People have said it's not just about emissions reduction, it's about hazard reduction. That's true. Hazard reduction is climate resilience and ensuring that you're able to successfully pursue those programs is very important. So climate resilience, climate adaptation, the fact that over the next 10 years, it's a fact that we've got longer, hotter, drier summers means we have to prepare practically as we have been and need to do so more in the future. That is where can you build, that is how you manage native vegetation, that is, as I said in an editorial I published last year as these fires were raging, listening to Indigenous Australians about their traditional practices. It is all of these things. There is no single answer. It is all of the above and the reviews that we will take in due course, I think we'll get to those answers and give very practical instructions on how we can be more resilient and more adapted and better placed in the years ahead.
JOURNALIST: Is the focus on resilience and adaption perhaps an admission that the emissions reduction challenge has been lost, that we won't be able to bring down and avoid unavoidable climate change and that we have to get used to it?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I wouldn't put it like that. What I'd say is Australia's emissions reductions performance, particularly as we speak of it now, 2020, meeting and beating our target by 411 million tonnes, I think speaks to the achievements that we've made. I think the fact that we've been experiencing record investment in renewable technologies in Australia far above and beyond, particularly on a per capita basis, than I see some of the media commentators in other countries seem to have overlooked or are not aware of our performance in these areas. What we've been doing in that area is being part of the global effort and Australia has been carrying its weight. In fact, we’ve been over performing in comparison to many other similar countries, particularly in relation to 2020. And I believe the same will be true in 2030 as we continue to take opportunities, particularly with the technologies that are available to meet and beat our 2030 targets. What that is a simple statement of is that the longer, drier and warmer seasons that we're seeing are a reality and so while you take your actions as part of a global effort on emissions reduction, the practical thing that actually can most keep you safe during the next fire or the next flood or the next cyclone are the things that most benefit people here and now. As I think all of you have acknowledged, the emissions reduction activity of any one country anywhere in the world is not going to specifically stop or start one fire event but what the climate resilience and adaptation work can do within a country can very much directly ensure that Australians are better protected against what this reality is in the future. So my response on these things is always a very practical one. I said when I became Prime Minister, one of my core responsibilities was to keep Australians safe and the response that we are providing right now, whether it's the $75,000 payments we're making to support farmers and graziers get back on their feet. Whether it's the significant investment, over $70 million in supporting people's mental health to heal the scars of first responders or young kids who have been experiencing even if it's just the haze and the smoke that they've never seen before, or it's the recovery effort we've provided to the wildlife, which Josh and Sussan announced yesterday, or the many other measures which we will continue to announce. That's what we do now but we must build our resilience for the future, and that must be done on the science and the practical realities of the things we can do right here to make a difference and we'll have more to say about those matters in the next few days but right now, I have a Small Business Roundtable I have to attend to. Thank you all very much for your attention.