Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit flood-affected areas of NSW on Wednesday after defending his trip overseas to repair Australia’s relationship with France and to pledge more support for war-torn Ukraine.
Communities across NSW remain cut off from their homes, while others have started the painful process of clearing up the debris — for the fourth time in 18 months.
Rain has started to ease in Sydney but the flooding crisis is set to linger for days.
A second blast of torrential rain is forecast to smash the Mid North Coast on Wednesday.
So far, more than 100 evacuation orders have been issued, with about 55,000 NSW residents impacted.
During a short stopover in Perth on Tuesday, on his way back from Europe, Mr Albanese said at least 242 residents were registered at nine evacuation centres across the State, 20,000 homes were without power and another 1000 had no communication.
He confirmed his full focus was now on the flooding disaster in NSW, and that he would join NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on the ground for a “first-hand” look on Wednesday morning.
“He told me that he was very pleased with the urgent action that had been taken by the Federal Government, and we continue to make that support available,” Mr Albanese said.
“I say to people, stay safe, keep vigilant, keep following the advice, which is being given by emergency personnel.”
Mr Perrottet declared the floods as a natural disaster — prompting the Commonwealth to release a range of “immediate” payments and loans for individuals and small businesses across 23 local government areas.
Families in flood-affected areas will also be given financial relief from childcare fees and paid leave.
The Federal Government has accepted a request to provide an extra 50 defence personnel to assist with disaster efforts.
Of the 250, 100 are on the ground with a further 100 on standby, while 50 will be used to help with the clean-up.
Two helicopters have also been provided to assist in flood rescues.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned the floods would lead to further pressures on supply chains and food prices across the country.
“Our expectations is that these floods will make the costs of some essential fruit and vegetables even more expensive at a time when the price for those essentials are already skyrocketing,” he said.
“We’re talking about some really important food-producing parts of Australia.”
The Prime Minister returned to Sydney late on Tuesday after a 10-day trip of Europe for the NATO summit in Madrid, to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to mend the rift between the two nations, and to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
It raised questions about his absence during domestic challenges, including the floods, cost-of-living and economic crisis.
“If people want to argue that I’m not working hard, they can argue their case,” he said.
“It was important that Australia be represented (at NATO). It was important that we deal with the relationship with France and Europe, and I believe that my visit to Ukraine was important.“We cannot separate international events from the impact on Australia and Australians.”
Mr Albanese also signalled the importance of the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji next week, and that he still planned to travel to Suva to urge regional leaders to stand together and to hold the line against further Chinese security agreements.
“The Pacific Islands Forum is an important event. Australia cannot remain isolated from our national interests,” the Prime Minister said.
“We saw what happened earlier this year when Australia dropped the ball with engagement in the Pacific.”