Prime minister Scott Morrison has declared a national emergency, announced a further two disaster payments for people in the worst flood-affected areas of NSW and apologised that “no amount of support is going to measure up”.
Speaking in Lismore, the prime minister faced questions about why government support wasn’t available sooner in the crisis now acknowledged as the worst flood in the Richmond Valley, Lismore and Clearance Valley’s living memory.
Morrison said Australian Defence Force helicopters were responding as early as possible on Monday but thanked everyone, including community first responders, for being “able to be first on the scene” amid scenes of private citizens rescuing people from roofs.
“The suggestion that it is only the governments that are involved in an emergency response. I don’t think the community agrees with that, by the way, and they certainly showed that by what they did bravely,” he told reporters.
“I think always there will be a community response in disasters such as this because the community is already there.”
Morrison said he understood local frustration and disappointment during the floods, saying it was “very common” in natural disasters for communities to express “anger and the sense of abandonment”.
“No amount of support is going to measure up to what people need in a desperate situation,” he said, later saying he felt apologetic for this. “Every resource can be applied. But I can guarantee you, whatever is supplied, will still not measure up because of the sheer desperation of the situation.”
He continued by reflecting on visits during the aftermath of earlier disasters where he delivered similar messages: “On every one of those occasions, I’ve said the same thing; that we will stick in and we will get this.”
The federal government has processed around 330,000 Disaster Payments – worth $1000 for adults and $400 for each child under 16 – in the past week. The Mandarin reported on Wednesday that 500 public servants had been seconded to Services Australia to other agencies to assist with processing the payments.
People in NSW’s Richmond Valley, Lismore and Clearance Valley will now receive a further two payments in acknowledgement of the severity of the floods in those local government areas, the prime minister announced.
Morrison also committed to federal money supporting flood mitigation works in the Northern Rivers.
“Enough of the talk. People know what needs to be done for a long time that needs to be driven by the local decisions here by the council,” Morrison said.
“The emergency response fund of the commonwealth will be used to support doing those works. And I’m not talking 10s of millions. I’m talking more than that. And those costings will be settled between the commonwealth and the state government and the local governments.”