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Caught in a political flood

While floodwaters devastated south-eastern Queensland and much of the NSW eastern seaboard, including the Central Coast, Barnaby Joyce, who was acting Prime Minister whilst Scott Morrison was taking a Covid holiday, has been caught in a political flood.

Whilst south-eastern Queensland and Eastern NSW, from the border to to Sydney, was in the gripe of catastrophic floods, Barnaby Joyce, in the seat as acting Prime Minister, chose to pork-barrell the disaster, ignoring pleas from Labor-held seats.

8 March 2022

ALAN HAYES

 

EVEN whilst people’s lives were lost, property was destroyed and the flooding along the east coast worsened, Barnaby Joyce’s pork barrelling and rorting was front and centre. And during this time of crisis, while people pleaded for help, under Barnaby’s rule, the federal government was failing to deliver for them. Instead, the Morrison-Joyce Government chose to look after one of its mates. The Coalition spent $520,000 of taxpayer’s money to install fibre-to-the-premises NBN to a single business in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate, despite the government having previously argued against taxpayer funded fibre upgrades.

 

Fruit and vegetable grower Costa Group, which recently reported a 2021 yearly net profit after tax of $64 million, is listed in documents provided to Senate estimates as the sole beneficiary of a planned upgrade from satellite NBN services to a full fibre to premises service.

 

When Joyce announced a range of funding under the program in April last year, while sitting on the backbench and not responsible for decisions such as this, he said of the Costa project that “more residents and businesses in New England will enjoy the benefits and opportunities that improved digital connectivity brings.”

 

However, according to documents provided to Senate estimates by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the upgrade covers just the Costa facility, with no other premises included.

 

In Joyce’s register of interests, he discloses his partner, Vikki Campion, has shares in Costa Group, although the register does not indicate how many shares she holds.

 

And as the flood waters continued to rise Barnaby Joyce’s pork-barrelling was front and centre. Services Australia (Centrelink) General Manager Hank Jongen went public and said flood-affected Aussies could access emergency disaster payments. He said that “Services Australia staff were located in emergency and recovery centres at all of the affected flooded areas” – now that statement was just a large slice or ‘porkie pie’.

 

The Grapevine can reveal that not everyone was able to seek assistance from Services Australia staff in the flood-affected areas Despite Hank Jongen’s assurances, ‘Joyce-rule’ mysteriously decided not to bother sending anyone, not a single Federal Government official, to certain Labor held electorates that had been absolutely smashed by the floods to help people process their payments.

 

Yet while acting Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce said its “ridiculous” for people to try and politicise the fact that there's no Services Australia people being sent to all flood-affected areas, the Federal Government was missing in action – failing to assist all people impacted by the flooding.

 

The Morrison-Joyce Government’s said in answer to their indifference “people can go online and lodge their claims there”.

 

If the pollies and the bureaucrats actually bothered to get out of Canberra and had a look around they might understand that there is no power, an iPhone can’t be charged, a computer can’t be used and the majority of people have lost everything, including technology, in the floods.

 

It is completely unrealistic and out of touch to think that people can just go through the usual online system to access help. What was needed and is still needed is Services Australia boots on the ground to help people process the flood-relief payments.

 

The Federal Government should have been providing support to people based on need - not on how they vote - but under the Slomo Escargot regime, the coalition is doing its best to sandbag its own seats. Sandbagging is what you do before a disaster, not after a disaster has occurred, allocating resources to suit a political agenda.

 

When questioned about sandbagging how did the Coalition's ministers respond – a typical pavlovian response: they blame State Government’s. So, while the floodwaters keep rising, and people are begging for assistance from Services Australia, Minister for Government Services Linda Reynolds says she can only put Services Australia staff ‘boots on the ground’ in State Government-chosen evacuation centres.

 

WRONG! State governments do choose evacuation centres. They are chosen by local governments.

 

Linda Reynolds is ‘cut from the same cloth’ as Slomo Escargot, blaming someone else for her lack of responsibility. She is forgetting that she is the Federal Minister for Government Services. It is entirely Linda Reynolds’ decision, a Federal Government decision, where Services Australia staff get sent to help people recovering from the floods.

 

All Linda Reynolds has to do right now is pick up the phone and ask her Services Australia representatives to send teams into flood affected communities, wherever they are. They don't have to be in evacuation centres, they can be in community centres, they can be on the side of the road, anywhere where they can actually help people. So, Linda Reynolds is only trying to blame the State Government for her own mistakes. And she's continuing to ignore people in Labor held seats who desperately need help right now.

 

And while Barnaby Jones was pork-barrelling his way through the flood crisis, and Linda Reynolds was blaming the States for her mistakes, Slomo Escargot hasn’t spent a single cent of the Emergency Response Fund (ERF), which would not have prevented the flood disaster but would have gone a long way in mitigating the damage from occurring.

 

And as the 'blame game' continues, Emergency Management Minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie has cried foul saying that the Commonwealth has put $150 million on the table for the states in the past three years. It’s a table with very wobbly and crooked legs, because only $50 million has actually been allocated, not spent, to projects that can’t get past the planning stage. McKenzie’s fervour to blame someone else is cold-comfort to victims of not just a flood but a catastrophe of an unprecedented scale.

 

It is critically important that Scott Morrison now shows leadership for all those who have been affected by the current disaster, and not to go missing in the middle of a crisis as he has so often done. Communities across the flood-affected areas need leadership from their government, not excuses because it's easier to accuse someone else for their failure in time of need.

 

People’s lives have been washed away and dreams destroyed because Scott Morrison has refused to invest in disaster prevention, yet he still expects the nation to vote his government’s failures back into office at the upcoming election.

 

What Australia doesn’t need is a government that has no belief! What Australia doesn’t need is a government that believes climate change is a ‘furphy’!

Flooding: Budgewoi caravan park (photograph courtesy Steve Merrett, Stevografix)

Flooding - Jilliby in the Dooralong Valley.

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