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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2002

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:43): Tonight I want to talk about floods, and in particular two floods that have had a devastating impact on sections of the New South Wales mid-north coast community, and a bureaucratic process that has little regard for the immediacy of the support required after a natural disaster. I am sure this is a comment that we have heard before and, in the country we live in, unfortunately, until we get it right, we will hear it again.

The Hastings-Macleay flood of 23 and 24 February impacted particularly hard on the communities of Port Macquarie's North Shore and Crescent Head. Twenty-five oyster producers on the Hastings River have sustained unprecedented damage to their infrastructure, stock and future earning capacity as a result of the floods, the worst in 50 years. The sheer volume of rain which fell in the upper Hastings—415 millimetres at Mount Seaview over just a couple of hours on 23 February—resulted in a wall of water coming down through the Hastings Valley that left farmers with very little time to move livestock from lower paddocks or to remove oyster modules from the river, where king tides, at the same time as this heavy rain, were forcing waves to go quite a fair way up the river.

For our local oyster industry in particular the impact has been devastating. Such was the force of the water, the entire modules—up to 14 trays high—were ripped from their moorings. Not a single oyster producer on the Hastings River, the largest oyster-producing estuary in New South Wales, was unaffected by the storm. Hastings Pontoon Oysters and Crown Oysters, the largest oyster-producing enterprise, lost 70 per cent of their farm. Seven of their eight double pontoons were either smashed or torn from their moorings despite the pontoons being secured with 25mm thick ropes, with each rope capable of holding 7.3 tonnes. Robert and Cisca van Breenen, who own the company, told me that locals who have lived and worked on the Hastings River for 40 years have never seen the river in such a state due to the speed with which the wall of water hit the lower estuary. The van Breenen business has now gone to being no business—no income and no way of rebuilding without going into unmanageable debt. The damage bill, at their estimate, is about half a million dollars. A conservative early estimate of damage to the river's oyster infrastructure is $1.2 million but the potential loss could rise beyond $2 million. This figure does not take into account the recovery factor—that is, the salvage operations, the loss of business operations, a suspended harvest, the rebuilding of frames and replacing of baskets. New South Wales's primary oyster nursery has sustained heavy losses which will impact on wholesale supply throughout the entire state.

Homeowners at North Shore and at Crescent Head were also among the worst affected and are still trying to clean up the mess from their properties. More than 1,200 residents were stranded for almost a week in Crescent Head. Limited supplies were airlifted into Crescent Head on the Monday afternoon and teachers were airlifted out to keep schools open in Kempsey. Many residents could not go to work, were unable to return home and had to seek accommodation in other locations. At North Shore in Port Macquarie, residents were isolated from services, supplies and employment for over a week while the Settlement Point ferry was unable to operate. Floodwaters entered about 170 houses, more than 30 cars were towed away from properties, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of damaged household goods are still waiting to be collected.

And just when we thought it was over, another flood hit—this time two rivers down, on the Manning on 2 and 3 March. Greater Taree was included in the Natural Disaster Declaration on 4 March. As a result of the Manning floods, residents on Caparra Road about 41km to the west of Taree were included on the SES's isolation list after two bridges along Caparra Road, Granny Fahey Bridge and the Goldsmith Bridge, were swept away in the flood, isolating about 90 residents between the two bridges. Reference numbers were issued to affected residents so that they could order supplies, which are being delivered by the SES. Council engineering teams are assessing access options, including temporary bridge structures, but the very best scenario is that this could take weeks, if not months.

My community certainly appreciates the swift action by the both the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments to make hardship assistance available under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements within 48 hours of both floods. However, in the days and the weeks that have followed both floods, I have become increasingly concerned about the process of gathering information to access other Commonwealth categories of relief, such as Categories C and D, and other Commonwealth assistance programs. I would ask the Commonwealth, and this chamber, to assist local authorities and to assist the state government in doing whatever the paperwork is that is necessary to make sure the individual residents and the businesses are treated as an absolute priority in what has been a devastating six weeks. (Time expired)