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30 March 2017: Interview with QRAA's Craig Turner about disaster relief - ABC Country Hour

30 March 2017

Transcript of interview with Craig Turner and ABC's Charlie McKillop about the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements which have been activated following Cyclone Debbie.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            But as farmers and agencies do their best to assess the damage done by Debbie, a clearer picture is starting to emerge. Vegetable growers in the Bowen region are among that hardest hit and reports on the cane crop are still sketchy at this stage, but there are estimates between 15 per cent and up to 25 per cent of the crop has been destroyed, particularly in the hardest-hit areas around Proserpine. There's also major damage to sheds, irrigation equipment, and cane train infrastructure, and based on those initial damage reports, joint state and federal Category B assistance under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements have now been activated. I asked the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority's Craig Turner exactly what that means for producers.

[Excerpt]

CRAIG TURNER:                    So, yes, in the regions of the Whitsundays and Mackay, loans for primary producers and small business have been activated. They're loans that will assist with the cost of repairs, replanting crops, and covering cash flow shortfalls. So, some of those producers that may have missed a production cycle, for example, these loans will assist where their income won't be coming in but costs have been maintained; these loans will assist with that, that cash flow short fall as well. They're loans of up to $250,000, they're over a seven-year period, the interest rate for those loans is 1.16 per cent. So, it's a very keen rate to ensure that people are maximising the assistance that's been made available for them to recover from the effects of this cyclone.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            Okay, that's the concessional loans part of the equation. How soon will the authority be able to ascertain if Category C will be triggered, making those $25,000 grants available?

CRAIG TURNER:                    QRAA administer programs on behalf of the other departments, so that's to say that for primary producers DAF, Department of Agriculture, have people on the ground now doing assessments of the impact of this Cyclone Debbie. So, once they've done those assessments, then they will be feeding that information up to the Reconstruction Authority and the Federal Government and determinations about additional assistance would be made from that point.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            Widespread flooding is continuing in many areas and also residents without power and telecommunications, road access, even water is running very, very short. How difficult is that making your job of ascertaining exactly what the situation is on the ground?

CRAIG TURNER:                    Ultimately, we've … we'll make an assessment as people apply for the loans that we have. In terms of ascertaining the impact, that's not our role as such. If we do get information from producers, we certainly provide that across to DAF and the Department of Small Business. We've got a regional office based in- officer based in Mackay and certainly he's been assisting people with their inquiries but it certainly has been limited. Same with our free call number, we've got officers around the state taking calls on 1800623946, and certainly there's no doubt that communications are still and issue because I would suggest that, certainly in this event, we've probably received a little less call traffic at this point in time compared to some other events.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            I imagine that that's exactly right, getting in touch with you might be very difficult at this particular time. Is the application process time critical? Or what can you say to people that might be in that situation?

CRAIG TURNER:                    So, the application proves is not time critical. In effect, these loans will be available for the next two years. So, certainly people have time to ascertain what the impact of the damage has been and they'll have time to determine based on projected cash flows what their short falls might be to really ascertain what amount of assistance they require. And then we'll be working with them as they put that together and then working through the process of being able to assist them. So, it's not time critical, certainly in the first few days after an event, producers and small business, their first port of call is to get back up and running but we will be in the regions working with them, assisting them to get these applications in.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            And what are you hearing from those DAF officers that are on the ground? When do they expect to have a clear picture of the damage done by Debbie?

CRAIG TURNER:                    I'm certainly not privy to that absolute information. I'm aware that they're out in the field doing that assessment but as to the timing of their assessment, I can't comment on that. I'm certainly aware that access to some areas is still limited.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            Craig Turner, you are the head of the regional team for the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority. You've been in this situation before and understand the anguish that farmers, particularly, are feeling, the uncertainty. What would you like to say to them at this particular time?

CRAIG TURNER:                    There are a number of people, certainly within our organisation and in other parts of government, that do understand what people are going through. We're keen to assist however we can. People need to know that they're not alone, that there is assistance, and it's not just the financial assistance that we have. Our recovery work takes months, not necessarily just weeks, but we'll be in the regions. But there's also other recovery partners that are there to assist people, not just financially but also with their own wellbeing. So, Department of Communities are already becoming more active, Lifeline and Red Cross, they're all recovery partners that we work with that are there for them as well. So, we'll be there, side-by-side working with producers to ensure that they get back on their feet with the programs that we've been given to administer, and there's other people there to assist with recovery also.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            Craig Turner from the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority, thanks for being with us on the Queensland Country Hour and hopefully we can stay in touch as those reports come forward and you do get a clearer picture of the situation on the ground.

CRAIG TURNER:                    That will be our pleasure, thank you.

CHARLIE MCKILLOP:            Thank for your time.

[End of excerpt]

Craig Turner is the coordinator- well, he is coordinating the regional response for the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority, just one of many agencies that are starting to mobilise the disaster relief effort. His message very much is you are not alone and a couple of useful phone numbers there. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, they have people on the ground doing assessments when they can get there: 132535, that's 132535. And if you do want to get in touch with the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority, QRAA: 1800623946 is the number.

Last updated
10 May 2017