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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 357

Ms SAFFIN (PageGovernment Whip) (17:54): I wanted to speak to the statement, on indulgence, that the Prime Minister made yesterday in the House and that the Leader of the Opposition spoke to. I have spoken twice in this place, both last night and today in an adjournment speech and in a constituency statement, on the floods that have affected my area, but I still have something to say here. What I want to raise is about the fires and floods that have devastated some of our lands—Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales and other areas. It is as though every year, sometimes twice a year, there is some sort of natural disaster happening. The honourable member for Hinkler in his contribution, which was a very fine contribution, spoke about how over the past four or five years there have been these extreme weather events that have happened and that is what I have been talking about locally in my area, the Northern Rivers area in my seat of Page.

In October 2007 there was a huge hail storm, the likes of which we had not seen for a long time, and it seems every year since then we have had some big weather event. We do get a lot of floods in our areas. When I say we are used to floods, you can never be used to them but we are organised because we do have a lot of floods. Our SES and Rural Fire Service, the people who live in flood areas, the council workers, the agencies that hop in and help with the emergency management: they deal with the emergency issues but they also deal with the recovery and that is what we are in now. It is something that seems to be happening a lot more, and that is what people are talking about. That leads me to the issue of people talking about what more we can do in the area of flood mitigation.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 17 : 57 to 18 : 15

Ms SAFFIN: Before the suspension, I was talking about the extreme weather events we have experienced in the Northern Rivers. It has had a huge impact on our emergency services, our local councils, the people who live in flood affected areas and the local media, who are very active when we have these flood and extreme weather events. I also want to talk about the impact on farmers. There is a large agricultural industry, which includes horticulture, in my seat of Page and the Northern Rivers. These events that keep coming year after year in the way that they have do not allow farmers to get back on their feet. I want to read a letter from the Australian Macadamia Society. Their headquarters are in Lismore in the seat of Page. At least 60 per cent of the national production happens in the Northern Rivers. Their letter states:


I appreciate you will have a lot on at the moment. This is to provide you with a preliminary update on the impact of the storms and floods on macadamia growers in your electorate and to seek your help in securing appropriate assistance for growers and the industry.

The Northern Rivers has also been severely hit, particularly north and easterly facing orchards. As always the effects of weather are very variable in the region and reports vary from less than 5% crop loss to almost 50% loss. On some exposed orchards 1 in 5 trees have been blown over or suffered severe damage.

I went and looked at the damage. The big wind that came with the floods actually shook the trees and shook the nuts off. I visited Rick Paine's farm on Rouse Road. He has been a grower for years and he said that that had never happened before. It happened five or six weeks short of the picking season, so it was tragic to see the nuts on the ground. There are some left on the trees but they have to get them quickly cleaned up off the ground to deal with what is left on the trees. The letter from the Australian Macadamia Society continues:

The industry in the northern rivers accounts for some 60% of national production and is valued at $70 million at farm gate. An across the board loss of nut of around 20% would mean a loss to the industry and the region of over $10 million. This does not include the cost of repairs and replanting. These are conservatively estimated at $60/ha or a further $5 million.

Of the approximately 600 growers across the region reports indicate that around 70% have been significantly impacted. The individual loss and damage bill reach over $100,000 for some with a loss of $30,000 common.

This letter was written on 31 January, so more assessment has been done since then. The letter continues:

Macadamia growers in the northern rivers have had at least 3 very difficult years from the big storms of 2009, dry weather at nut set in 2010 and a wet harvest in 2011. Many have not covered the costs of production in that time. 2012 saw a cautious step to recovery with a reasonable yields and firm prices. 2013 was shaping up to continue that recovery and a lot of effort and expense had been put in to maximise returns. This is now all in jeopardy.

What is happening now is that there is an assessment going on at state level. A lot of the carriage of that is with DPI, the Department of Primary Industries. They will then put forward the request, which goes through to the Commonwealth. It will be a category C request under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Assistance program. I know that there are a lot of farmers anxiously waiting for that to happen.

The other issue that I wanted to talk to that I started on before and then left was the issue of flood mitigation. In the area that I live in, we have done flood mitigation. We have levies. We have raised houses. We have bought houses back. We have done all that. Now is the right time, as the member for Hinkler said in his contribution. He was talking about the same kinds of conversations that I am having in my electorate. I will be having some meetings on the weekend on that very issue. It is time. It would be good if we could look at this in a solid bipartisan way with technical expertise. We need to look at what we can do over the next 10 years in terms of more work in that area. We cannot prevent these events, but we can do a lot of work to mitigate in certain areas.

I also wanted to say that I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak for the third time in this place about the floods, particularly those in my area but also the natural disasters impacting everywhere. I express on behalf of my community sympathy and sorrow for everybody who suffered loss. People in my area have suffered loss. As we have said, we have not suffered loss of life. To those communities that have, we extend our sympathy and sorrow. Thank you.