The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the cyclone damaged area of Bowen in north Queensland.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the cyclone damaged area of Bowen in north Queensland. Gary Ramage

No punches pulled in 'fearless conversation'

"A FRANK and fearless conversation" is how Federal Member for Dawson has described today's crucial teleconference between himself, Federal Minister for Justice Michael Keenan and the Whitsunday and Mackay mayors.

Mr Christensen said "no-one pulled any punches" in the discussion over the level of approved Category D Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements funding that has caused fury and frustration among the communities affected most by Cyclone Debbie.

Politicians, business operators and Whitsunday locals have been desperate for the Federal Government to revise its decision last week to give the state just $29 million, and instead commit to a $110 million package so the area and economy could be rebuilt after the havoc wreaked by the category 4 storm four months ago.

The disappointing funding decision spurred urgent pleas from locals this week for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Keenan to revisit the region and see for themselves the amount of work that still needed to be done.

Mr Christensen said both Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox and Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson "did a fantastic job in ferociously advocating for the region" during the teleconference this afternoon.

And he promised: "While there was a lot of disagreement around specific statements that were being made, a way forward was mapped out".

Mr Christensen firstly, Minister Keenan was going to write to the State Government with questions about the projects that had been rejected for funding.

He said he would also write to Mr Keenan to urge the Federal Government to review its decision to provide $20 million instead of the requested $30 million for the Resilient Infrastructure (Betterment) package component of the funding.

Mr Christensen said he wanted the decisions surrounding the Shute Harbour Marina Revitalisation Project, Airlie Beach Foreshore Revitalisation Project and Mackay Bluewater Trail reviewed and the full amounts for funding approved.

These projects, he said, were all existing assets in the region which had been damaged in the cyclone and should be improved when repairs were being completed.

Mr Christensen said he was waiting for confirmation from the State Government that repairs to the Don River in Bowen would be eligible for funding through the $15 million Environmental Recovery Package component of Category D funding.

"In relation to the Whitsunday Coast Airport Upgrade, I will be going in to bat for the $10m funding application for this project which has been submitted under the Building Better Regions Fund. From my point of view, this application must be approved," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Keenan said the meeting had been constructive and Mr Christensen was a strong advocate for his local community.

The spokesperson said Mr Keenan had reconfirmed the Federal Government would be "more than happy" to reconsider any component of the Queensland Government's request, providing the Queensland Government provided extra information demonstrating that the requested measures complied with the requirements of the NDRRA.

He said Mr Keenan had visited north Queensland after Cyclone Debbie hit and had "a number of meetings" with Mr Christensen as recovery efforts began.

 

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan (right)
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan (right) Jacob Wilson


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