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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 124

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (22:13): As I stand here tonight, right across northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, we are seeing a massive flood. In my electorate of Parkes we have seen flood levels that we have not seen for 60 years. The cost to the local community has been enormous. Towns like Moree and Narrabri have seen inundation. We have seen small businesses affected. We have seen householders dealing with water going through their homes. We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to crops, farm infrastructure and council infrastructure such as roads and bridges. That is going to go on for some time. As the water from New South Wales converges with the water from southern Queensland, where it meets the Barwon River and finally the Darling River, we are going to see flooding in towns like Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett for many weeks to come.

Over the last few days, as I have flown over this flooded area and inspected the damage, what has been brought home to me is the massive force that is the Murray-Darling Basin. We are seeing that nature, not mankind, is in control of the basin. We are seeing water running with scant regard to man-made infrastructure, the way it has for hundreds of years.

What has also become obvious is the complexity of the Murray-Darling Basin system. We saw how the two floods in the Gwydir River during the last three months behaved differently. The results depend on the intensity, location and timing of rainfall events and the reaction of different streams. As we come to terms as a community and a country with managing the Murray-Darling Basin, we should realise the complexity of what we are dealing with. The Murray-Darling Basin is not a plasticine model in a laboratory where you can put water in at point A and it will come out at point B. And flooding is not just from major rivers; we are seeing flooding from streams that are virtually unknown, like Tallaba Creek, causing massive damage in villages like Rowena, where hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain have been damaged by floodwaters and the local cotton gin has a metre of water through it.

As we are rushing through this artificial time frame to come up with a Murray-Darling Basin plan, it is very important that we stop and think about what is going on. A lot of the speeches in this place over the four years that I have been here have been made looking through the prism of 10 years of drought. We have heard many speeches about the stressed river system. Indeed, after the massive drought we had, that was the case. But the Murray-Darling Basin is resilient, and, as soon as the water returned, the system came to life. We have had several seasons now of bird breeding. We have seen the replenishment of the underground water system. We have seen agricultural production come back to life. It would be a great tragedy if we reduced the ability of this community, this basin and this country to produce wealth and to feed itself because of a lack of understanding.

From consultations I have had with bureaucrats from the basin authority, it has become very clear to me that there is no understanding of the complexity and the variations that can occur. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority at this stage has not announced any hearings in this final round, in an electorate that covers 24 per cent of the Murray-Darling Basin. (Time expired)