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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4247

Mr OAKESHOTT (9:07 PM) —I rise to speak about events on the mid-North Coast and North Coast of New South Wales over the past weekend—the floods, high winds and significant coastal damage that has occurred. This is the third flood and wind incident this year and it is starting to really test the resilience and the mettle of the communities of the mid-North Coast and North Coast. There are four MPs of all different political persuasions affected by this—the members for Richmond, Page and Cowper and I have all got various stories and various communities who have been significantly impacted by the events of the last 48 hours. This is the third event in a period of about three months. It is really starting to test the community in general.

I am certainly appreciative of the comments that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made this afternoon during question time regarding the thoughts and respect of both sides of the parliament for the communities of the mid-North Coast and North Coast. I am also appreciative of the assistance package put forward by the Prime Minister and the government. I certainly encourage all members who are eligible or who think they may be eligible for the assistance package—$1,000 for adults and $400 per child as a lump sum payment, with the ability to apply for that over the next six months—to ask the question through Centrelink or through the four mid-North Coast and North Coast members’ offices to make sure that payment does get through. As well, I understand there are payments with regard to property loss and stock loss. I am certain the doors of the four MPs in this region and of Centrelink are open to anyone who wants to test the question with regard to property and stock loss within the region. The damage is significant—it is a natural disaster relief region right down the coast to the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council. Unfortunately, two lives have been lost and certainly the thoughts of the whole community are with the families affected.

Private property loss is unknown at this point as we are still in the recovery stage, but it is expected to be expensive and certainly in the millions of dollars in losses of crops, stocks and basic capital on the various properties affected in the region. As well, the public property losses are significant. The road network is in trouble on the North Coast and the mid-North Coast with the amount of movement of ground due to the heavy soils and the amount of rain over the three-month period. We are still sorting out landslips from the last flood. To have this on top is creating a great deal of difficulty for a lot of people, so much so that with the number of bridges broken last weekend there is the expectation that a lot of people will be isolated for many months to come because of the fracture of the road network over the last 48 hours. This needs to be remembered by all in public policy.

The management of road networks on the mid-North Coast and North Coast of New South Wales is largely being left to local authorities, who do not have the resources. One council has just done a report that included information about a backlog of about $120 million for local road and bridge maintenance that it has been left with. All these councils are in high-growth areas. They are rate-pegged at a state level and, when disaster situations such as the flood and wind of the last 48 hours come along, any attempt by the local authorities to provide that road network is destroyed. It really is an obligation on all of us, at all levels of government, to provide for communities such as the mid-North and North Coast of New South Wales.

It is not only the road network. Travelling around last weekend, I saw damage in all sorts of places. A retaining wall outside my local surf club suffered significant collapse. The cost both to the council and to government generally to replace that retaining wall will be significant. Landslips of heavy soils caused by the rain are prevalent right throughout the region. This is not only a water issue; it is a wind problem as well. A lot of trees have come down, roots and all, because of the heavy soils and they are causing damage all over the place. Country Energy, the electricity supplier, is dealing with significant blackouts right throughout the region and is working tirelessly to resolve those issues. Sewer and water networks are overflowing and under pressure. Hopefully they will come back online soon. So the public infrastructure has been fully tested and, at times, broken. Again, this cannot be left to local authorities to resolve as we try to recover from what has happened over the last 48 hours.

I must say a few thankyous. The State Emergency Service crews have been absolutely tireless in their work throughout the region, travelling from all over the state of New South Wales in particular. I think the furthest that a crew has travelled to assist in the region was from Nowra, so certainly I give a big thankyou to the SES generally. There were 19 flood rescues in Kempsey alone. In the middle of the night, one boy was taken by the SES in a flood boat to get dialysis treatment at the local hospital. That is just an example of the good work that is done under the cover of darkness by people who are essentially volunteers in the community. So, on behalf of the broader community, I say thank you very much for that work.

The state RTA has made some statements that all damaged local roads will be repaired at their expense. I hope that is true. They have said that all registration and licensing fees will be waived for flood damaged cars. I hope that is true as well. I understand there will be some delays to the Pacific Highway works due to the simple fact that a supply of materials cannot get through at this stage. Hopefully, that work can get back on track as soon as possible.

I want to thank many other agencies as well as the SES. Country Energy employees were working hard, as were the police, the ambulance and all the services, and the Westpac rescue helicopter was seen in the area on a number of occasions. Many thanks to all of them. I have also received several emails today—and hopefully everyone in this place supports this—about thanking the local media, which, at a time like this, turn into an emergency service. That is particularly the case with local radio and the ABC. They have fulfilled a very important role throughout the region. I know it is dangerous to identify one person, but there has been a lot of feedback about some of the all-night calls done by the station manager, Cameron Marshall. He has certainly expanded his fan base within the region. In a soothing way he kept a good handle on all the various issues as they arose throughout the region. It was a radio call that was listened to by many.

Finally, I would like to thank the community at large. There are the potential dangers of people acting irrationally at times like this, but it is with ongoing pride that I can say our region acts with ongoing sense in times of crisis. In our region there is a deep resilience, which is one of the defining characteristics of the mid-North Coast, quite often despite natural disasters and despite what government does or does not deliver to our region. When you look into the eyes of community members on the mid-North Coast, when you look deep into the heart of the community generally, what you see is resilience. As a defining characteristic, I think it is one the community can be very, very proud of—and it has certainly been on show again over the last 48 hours with these floods.