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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4059

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (2:00 PM) —Mr Speaker, I seek to make a statement on indulgence concerning the recent flood situation in Queensland and New South Wales.

The SPEAKER —Indulgence is granted.

Mr RUDD —On behalf of all Australians our thoughts are with the people of South-East Queensland and northern New South Wales who are dealing with yet another flood disaster. I am advised that in the last 24 hours there have been 1,654 people affected by evacuations in Smithtown, Gladstone, Kinchela, Jerseyville, Woodburn, Cabbage Tree Island and Bellingen. Approximately 20,000 people remain isolated in the Northern Rivers and North Coast region at Glenleigh, Thora, Bellingen, Coraki, Maclean, Yamba, Iluka, Darkwood, Kalang, Hat Head, South West Rocks, Smithtown, Gladstone, Kinchela, and Jerseyville CBD. Crescent Head and Maria River became isolated overnight with around 5,100 people affected. It is possible these people may remain isolated for up to 14 days.

The evacuation order has been lifted for areas around Kempsey, Grafton, South Grafton, Ulmarra, Brushgrove and Maclean; however, the Pacific Highway remains closed blocking access for evacuated residents. Local businesses in the Kempsey CBD have reopened; however, there are still some problems with road access. The New South Wales SES has responded to 2,788 requests for assistance and is currently conducting resupply operations for isolated rural properties using flood boats and helicopters. In Queensland the severe weather warning for damaging surf for coastal parts of the south-east coast district and Fraser Island has now been cancelled and there are now no current flood warnings. However, there are coastal wind warnings for Caldwell to Burnett Heads and a number of rivers continue to be monitored.

On behalf of the parliament I send my condolences to the families of the two people who have died as a result of these extreme weather events. One man was struck during high winds on the Gold Coast last weekend and another man died in flooding at Raleigh, south of Coffs Harbour, on Saturday. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those during this difficult time. I would also like to acknowledge the untiring efforts of all emergency services workers in these areas. Some of them have travelled significant distances to volunteer their efforts. I know that local members have been working to assist their local constituents with their needs in this difficult time. In particular I would acknowledge the work of the member for Page, who has been providing me with updates over the past week about the impact of the flooding and those living in and around her electorate in northern New South Wales. I would also refer to the contributions of other members.

The government has been in constant contact with the Queensland and New South Wales governments to ensure that any assistance required from the Commonwealth is being provided. Over the weekend the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ludwig, toured affected areas in the Ipswich region and South-East Queensland and the Attorney-General toured flooded areas in northern New South Wales.

Last week the government commenced making payments under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements available to people affected both in South-East Queensland and northern New South Wales. In Queensland this assistance provided, in cooperation with the Queensland government across 12 local government areas affected by the flooding, emergency assistance payments of $165 per person and up to $765 per family; essential household contents grants of $1,635 per individual and up to $4,910 per couple or family; and essential repairs to housing grants of up to $10,100 per individual and up to $13,600 per family.

In New South Wales the assistance provided, in cooperation with the New South Wales government across 12 local government areas, has included personal hardship and distress grants to low-income earners whose principal place of residence has been damaged; concessional loans of up to $130,000 for eligible small businesses and primary producers affected by the disaster; concessional loans of up to $25,000 to voluntary non-profit organisations for the restoration of essential facilities; and road and rail freight subsidies of up to $15,000 to assist primary producers for the carriage of livestock and fodder.

Today the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs also activated the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment to provide further assistance to help those in northern New South Wales affected by the flood disaster. The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment will be a one-off immediate payment of $1,000 to adults and $400 to children. Claims for assistance can be made through Centrelink.

Today, in recognition of the severe damage to local communities in northern New South Wales, the government has agreed to a request from the New South Wales Premier to extend the current assistance being provided to small business and to primary producers in the flood affected areas in northern New South Wales. This assistance will include one-off grants of up to $15,000 for small businesses and primary producers that can provide proof of expenditure on flood related recovery. The New South Wales Rural Assistance Authority will administer these payments. I have also today authorised this assistance for people affected by the earlier floods in New South Wales in late March.

In announcing these payments the government recognises that this is the third season that many farmers have gone through without any substantial income as a result of extreme weather conditions. Damage to the agricultural sector has impacts on many other interdependent aspects of the community and the local members will be liaising with their communities to advise of any other additional assistance which is required. Mr Speaker, it is important to remember that this is not the first time these areas have faced severe weather months. In true Australian spirit these communities, who have already suffered and picked themselves up, are facing with tenacity and courage yet another battle today and the government stands ready to assist. As I have said on many occasions in the past, the Commonwealth stands ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary to those affected and I know all members of this place and all Australians around the country are standing by them in this time of need.