Ministers grilled on disaster aid
Disaster relief and toxic waste were among issues fielded by Australian ministers at yesterday’s community cabinet meeting in Ipswich.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the establishment of a natural disaster fund was debated at the time of the Queensland floods -“in economic terms, the most costly natural disaster we had ever seen”.
At the time, the focus was on lives lost and community, not the money for rebuilding infrastructure and payments to families.
“Normally across state and federal budgets together we have enough capacity to address disaster, but improved arrangements would be made to work with the states,” she said.
A local activist asked for assistance to close and relocate “one of the largest toxic waste dumps in this country” located at Riverview less than 500m from residents’ homes and schools.
Minister for the Environment Tony Burke’s cautious response was not to overstate federal legal powers as discussion with the state would be required.
Education and the environment emerged as top priorities.
Educators were keen for the implementation of the Gonski review on school funding.
Ms Gillard said the government response would address challenges including a national way of recognising students with disabilities and the impact on federal and state budgets.
Minister for Education Peter Garrett said legislation may be delivered to parliament by the end of the year.
Challenged to break Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels “sooner rather than later”, Ms Gillard said fossil fuels would be used for a long period of time to come but energy use would change.
Pricing carbon was about a clean energy future where Australia could lead in the use of our abundant renewable energy sources – solar, wind and geothermals, she said.
Ms Gillard reserved the final question for a man on the condition he remained seated during the meeting.
He had attended several community cabinets seeking assistance for a legal matter that involved state parliament.
Some of the 23 ministers who took part in the forum posed for photos afterwards.
Local MP Shayne Neumann thanked Ms Gillard for yesterday’s delivery of a sandbagging machine to Ipswich SES, which had handmade 11,000 sandbags during the 2011 floods.
Photo: Shirley Way