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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1556

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (13:29): I thank Deputy Speaker Livermore, the member for Capricornia for assisting me in the chair today. First of all, Dorothea Mackellar that endures today reminds us of the summer of natural disasters that we just had.

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror -

The wide brown land for me!

We have seen it all this last summer, I have seen it for the last three summers, such has been the weather events that have occurred in my electorate, and of course in many parts of Australia. But we have to add to that the fires that have been so devastating in so many areas as well. Whether fires and floods, those early alerts that go out are vitally important in saving lives. It also highlights that we have deficits in relation to the communication networks in Australia that we must address. I would hope that as a result of this summer of natural disasters we can look at this collectively across the political divide because we are talking saving lives and property. It was through those communication networks, particularly mobile communications, that people were alerted to get out of the way of a fire or to a flood that was coming their way in very short order. A photograph that ran in newspapers that will endure for me was one of that family in Tasmania who were hiding under a little jetty that was out over the water trying to get away from the fire. That photograph said a great deal to me and to all of us that having an alert and being able to get away at short notice has saved lives in many cases.

Fires in parts of the far west of my electorate have been burning for weeks and weeks, burning out pastoral land. It is probably a fact of nature that that happens every so often. The councils have been in touch with me very concerned about their council workers, who are mainly who we have out there as well as some SES workers. They are way out behind the fires with very limited communications. We have to look at how we can build better and more comprehensive networks, including back-haul. The town of Jundah south of Longreach had a tornado that pulled the town apart. All their communications networks went down and they were isolated completely, power went out. The single channel radio networks, microwave networks and battery backups that last eight or 10 hours went out. To me that says that we have to extend optic fibre cable in many of the areas to complete that back-haul, which is far more reliable in times of emergency and is not affected by structures that stand above the ground that can be destroyed by tornadoes and severe weather events.

I want to pay tribute to the councils as well: Wayne Kratzmann at South Burnett Regional Council, Peter Blundell at Southern Downs, Ray Brown at the Western Downs and others in my constituency in the west who have played an important role in bringing together the community and being a conduit to where emergency services might be working. Their council areas and their council workers, the SES workers, the Emergency Management Queensland and the volunteers who so often step forward are just remarkable. Some days I think that if we did not have volunteers this country would not run. I pay tribute to all those people. I know that the mayor in Goondiwindi, Graeme Scheu, has only in the last 10 to 12 days been able to get out and assess the damage. Some of the applications for category C and, in some cases, category D natural disaster relief and assistance have only just been assessed. I have some photographs here which I shown to some of my colleagues which show the sorts of things that underpin these applications. I was showing them to the Attorney-General. They include one with cattle stranded in a sea of water—there was no hope for those cattle—and ones showing railways and houses totally surrounded but also quite isolated, the other point I make. These councillors and mayors have been unable to get out there until only very recently.

I also thank the government in Queensland, the Premier's department and the Department of Primary Industries, local government and the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General in the Commonwealth. They acted as quickly as they could to assess these applications for whatever categories these communities fitted into. Whether it is $1,000 per family plus $400 for each child or whatever, it is all important. We are a lucky country and we are a wealthy country—no matter what we think—in comparison to many others. And we have to make sure that in times of disasters—as we have seen in the last summer—we are out there to help and make sure that people are able to be given a hand up, because that is what so often keeps their morale up and helps them cope with the emergency, the devastation and the loss that surrounds them.

When you see photographs of what happened in North Bundaberg, you realise just how fierce Mother Nature can be. We know how kind she can be, but we also know how fierce Mother Nature can be. When you see the loss of property and the lives that could easily have been lost, it underpins what I said earlier about the need for communication, particularly an extension of mobile phones and backhaul communications networks. That is what saves lives. You cannot always save property but we must make sure that we save lives.

In conclusion can I just say that the councils and emergency services people, wherever they were, they were always there for their own communities and always there to help their fellow Australians. I thank them; I thank the departmental people who work silently and never seek recognition; I thank the department people down here; and I thank the Prime Minister's office and the Attorney-General's office too because they acted quickly when that information arrived. That has been very important. I also thank my colleagues for helping me to get some words on the record, recognising this summer of natural disasters, and putting on paper some of the things that I think we must look at urgently as a federal parliament to make sure that, in the future when these things happen—as they will inevitably happen—we are prepared as best we can be.