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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 113

Ms SAFFIN (PageGovernment Whip) (21:54): My seat of Page recently experienced the devastation of floods right across the five local government areas: Ballina, Lismore, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley. All were declared natural disaster areas about six days ago by the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Premier. That meant that the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, the joint Commonwealth-state assistance that is available, could flow. The floods were fast and furious, and huge winds came with them due to the impact of Cyclone Oswald. We caught the tail of the cyclone and it was fierce. Thank God, we had no loss of life, as sadly was suffered in Queensland where many communities are still traumatised from the 2011 floods. People in my seat of Page have expressed feelings of sorrow and sympathy to the families in Queensland. We in Page, in the Northern Rivers, also had the floods then.

There are many in my communities who have suffered, particularly in the Clarence Valley area. It was Grafton that made it into the national news, but there are many other smaller places that did not quite make it into the national news, although they suffered and they are still suffering. Some of those are Lower Kangaroo Creek, South Grafton, Coledale, Southgate, Brushgrove, Woodforde Island, Harwood, Palmers Island and Chatsworth Island. Last Friday, with Mayor Richie Williamson and the state member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, we went to Copmanhurst, one of the smaller places in the Clarence Valley that was really hard hit. The Governor-General also paid a visit that was welcomed by all. We went there and tried to help people as best we could. There is a recovery centre that has opened in Grafton which is working with the joint assistance to help people. There was a barbecue to say thank you to all of the people who helped. The Governor-General attended that with the SES, the police, the NSW emergency services, all the helpers and the Salvation Army. We met up with a local woman who had been in her car for a few days. She was very pregnant and had two young children and everybody, the Salvation Army in particular, helped her out. They also helped the residents in the Glenwood caravan park who also had to be moved out.

There were some smaller areas where the phones went out and where mobile phone reception does not work. Telstra really have to do better. They almost have a licence to monopolise this service and make money. They need to serve the community and make sure that it does not have to be a business case for mobile phone reception to work. We are rolling out NBN, which is wonderful, right across the country, but we still do not have mobile coverage in some areas, and that is up to Telstra to fix.

Farmers across all areas were hard hit as well. I will talk about the macadamia growers in the Northern Rivers who were severely hit. The macadamia industry in the Northern Rivers accounts for some 60 per cent of national production. That is about $70 million at the farm gate. There are about 600 growers, and about 70 per cent, that is about 420 growers, suffered loss. One of the things that happened with this flood and wind and the impact of Cyclone Oswald was that, for the first time ever, it shook the trees and shook the nuts off. The growers are about five or six weeks out of production. Those nuts that got shaken off onto the ground are useless and will have to be cleaned up. They are gone. The farmers need some help.

We are also working on category C, which is the joint assistance, and when that assessment is done the state then tell the Commonwealth what they want to happen. That is what the state members and I are working through at the moment. One of the things that people have also asked for—and I have been pushing hard building the strongest possible case with the new Attorney-General, the honourable member for Isaacs, and also with the Treasurer and the Prime Minister's office—is to activate the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, or the AGDRP, for the Clarence Valley local government area. This is something that I am working through at the moment.