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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 309


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (16:21): I thank the House and I thank the member for Lyne for putting forward this MPI for debate today. I also thank the House for the bipartisan support that this motion has received, noting that all those in the chamber rose when called on to support this motion.

What we are dealing with in the constituency that I represent—and Roma is my hometown—is unprecedented, in that we have had three floods in three years, devastating the town of Roma and of course downstream with further impacts in St George and Dirranbandi. It has been felt across the electorate, but I think probably the most impacted town of all—and that is not just because I live there—has been my hometown of Roma. There have been three floods there in a row.

We talk about flood mitigation, levee banks and all the known records that we have. The floods in Mitchell, for instance, went well above anything that has ever been recorded in European settlement times, and it was the same in Roma. I will give you an example in Mitchell, where some 280 homes were damaged and where 80 to 90 per cent of the people were not evacuated out of the town. There was not time and there were not the resources. Everything was cut off. It happened so quickly. They were moved to higher ground, to the sports centre.

The flood depth gauge there goes to nine metres. That is well above anything in recorded history—seven, eight and 8.5 metres. Within four to five hours of the alert going out the floodwaters were a metre over that depth gauge. It goes to nine metres, and that disappeared. It gives you some idea of the ferocity and the nature and the way that this happened. It happened so rapidly. All the warnings that we might have had and the alerts that went out just did not give us time to do much more. Luckily in Mitchell there was no loss of life, but there was certainly a lot of damage to property—and I want to deal with some of the issues to do with that.

Notwithstanding the best intentions of government, state and federal, there will still be people who fall through the cracks. We have to make sure that those people are not left behind. There are people who cannot get insurance because last year or the year before their home was flooded. What insurance company is going to take them on—there are perhaps some—knowing that this was flooded last year or the year before? I spoke to a number of people in my hometown of Roma, where 360 homes were flood damaged. Just before Christmas a lady I spoke to had just had the kitchen cupboards put back in—she had done it twice and was looking forward to having Christmas at home with this new furniture. It is a very humble house but it is her piece of Australia. Last Friday, by midday, all of that was ruined again and was under water.

So I say to the House in the context of what we are debating here that these are not known circumstances in terms of the floods that we are dealing with and, notwithstanding the best intentions of government, we have to make sure that there are not people left behind. I know that there has been a fund established in Queensland by the Premier. We need to make sure that there are funds that are available, and I hope it is cash that is available, because that is the most important commodity at these times—to be able to use cash to purchase what is needed locally. Those who do not have flood insurance, notwithstanding all of the NDRRA packages, will not get anything more than $1,000 per person. They cannot get the small business assistance or the farmer assistance of $5,000 plus, up to $25,000. They are going to rely on charities and the goodwill of the people, as we have seen happen in the last two years. We have to move quickly. We really need a fund locally in some of these communities to help the charitable organisations, the Ministers Fraternal and others, and ensure that the people who fall into that category are helped.

I would also say that it was not just the towns that were affected; the outlying areas were also affected—the properties, the loss of crops and the loss of stock. In fact, I have a report from people on the Maranoa River. They said all they could see at one stage were dogs and cattle being washed downstream, helplessly trying to survive in the water. At that stage, those people were actually on the roof of the house. The water had never been anywhere near their house before—such was the nature of this natural disaster.

Shires have been declared—Balonne, Barcaldine, Barcoo, Blackall-Tambo, Longreach, Maranoa regional, Murweh, Paroo, Quilpie and Winton. All those shires in the electorate of Maranoa were affected to various degrees—from the extreme example I have just outlined to parts of the towns and parts of those shires. There are also a number of towns and communities that are not in the national media spotlight—for example, Surat, Augathella, Eulo, Tambo and Blackall. They rate a very small mention sometimes, and the focus is on where perhaps the larger populations are. I have not forgotten about them, and I know the package that has been just announced will pick up those people. But there will still be people who will fall through the cracks, and we have to make sure that we do not leave people behind.

My hometown of Roma has been hit three years in a row. There are small businesses and people who have been there all their lives wondering whether it is time to go. They are on an emotional tight wire at the moment in many of these communities. I thank you, Minister McClelland and also Minister O'Connor for visiting us—and I thank you for the lift back to Canberra. You saw the work of the Salvation Army and how they spoke with passion about what they are doing—the 1,000 meals they had served that day—and how they feel about it. You saw that very openly displayed at the recovery centre where they were cooking those meals.

I will quickly relate my experience. I was at home that night. We live on a hill, so we were fine. If it got to our hill, we would need the Ark. It was about 3.30 in the morning and I had been up half the night reading and I said, 'This is going to be bad.' I went into town at about half past six in the morning and looked around. By that stage the alert had gone out. That underpins the importance of communications, the ability of towns to alert people and the importance of connections—either fixed-wire or mobile connections—for all of these towns in these situations. At that stage the volunteers, the SES and the emergency management people were out in force and so too were the resource companies—Halliburton, Santos and Origin. Even two days ago, as you found when we were there, Minister, Origin were sending out 40 people, 'the mud army', to Mitchell to help with the clean-up and Santos were sending out 60-odd people. They have been absolutely brilliant, along with all the volunteers—state emergency services and others.

Most of the people in my home town of Roma who had started the process of protecting their premises and their homes had to get out because the flood rose faster and higher, as you saw. Tragically, we lost a life. Jane Sheahan was out helping others. She was up early in the morning when the alert went out for people to go to the SES to get sandbags. Jane put them in the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser and was bringing them back along the shortest route, straight back down to where houses needed protecting, but the water had risen and she went straight into it. The people who rescued her son said it was tragic, and they will have to live with that. We will all live with it in the community. She said: 'Please save my boy. Please save my boy.'

There is a lot I could talk about. The Warrego Highway is a problem at the Mitchell Bridge. We are going to have to bring forward very rapidly construction of the new bridge, which has already been approved. We need to make sure we have funding, I believe in this budget, for flood mitigation, including levies. I think the town of Roma have $7 million to do theirs. They have nearly completed the study on it and Mitchell is similar. And funding for the Mitchell Bridge needs to be brought forward.

Last year the trucking industry had 68 days on which they could not operate because of floods. The previous year they had 70 days on which they could not operate. They do not know how long it will be this year, because of load limits on those roads. The banks have to play their part. They are charging 15 per cent penalty rate for nonpayment of payments which are due. I thank you for your indulgence. I thank the minister and I thank the House. (Time expired)