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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1030

Mr RICK WILSON (O'Connor) (16:40): I rise today to update the House on the flooding that wrought havoc in my electorate of O'Connor at the weekend, where the authorities are still assessing the extent of the damage. Before I go any further, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the 68-year-old man who drowned in floodwater near Esperance. My thoughts are with those who are missing, and I hope they are reunited with their loved ones soon.

The great southern wheat belt and south-eastern wheatbelt regions, where infrastructure has been severely damaged, now face a long road to recovery. Many members in this chamber would have seen footage of roads crumbling and bridges swept away under the weight of floodwaters. Access to many towns has become extremely difficult, exacerbating the challenges of those communities. The Pallinup River and the Phillips River bridges on the South Coast Highway have also been swept away.

I want to briefly share some of the numbers from the Bureau of Meteorology, which help paint a picture of the events that played out in O'Connor. The Shire of Ravensthorpe, arguably the worst affected area, has recorded 239 millimetres of rain in the last seven days. I am going to take a moment to read some comments from Ian Fitzgerald, the chief executive of the shire, which convey the urgency of the situation:

We have been severely impacted. Access to Esperance in the east and Albany to the west has been cut, which are our supply lines for us. We have limited access to the north but that is by four-wheel-drive only. We managed to get trucks in from Perth with limited supplies today and we are working with our neighbours in Esperance to find alternative routes. We have elderly people in homes that are stuck and medication is beginning to become an issue.

In the town of Ongerup in the south-eastern wheatbelt, we saw 165 millimetres of rain through the same period. For the record, that is nearly half of the town's annual rainfall in a single week—99 millimetres alone fell on 10 February. Hopetoun recorded 166 millimetres, and the list goes on.

Shelley Pike, the chief executive of the Gnowangerup shire, told me earlier that the damage to the shire's road network is likely to be at least $6 million. This will be one of at least 15 shires in my electorate with a significant damage bill. Shire work crews, emergency service personnel, Western Power and SES volunteers have been working hard to mitigate the damage, and I commend and thank them for their efforts.

I have spoken to the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, who is monitoring the situation closely, and I thank him for his attention to this issue. The government is currently in discussions with our Western Australian counterparts about activating the standard categories of Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. We await further advice from the Western Australian government, but I want to reassure the people in my electorate that the federal government is ready to assist them when we can. We always have and we always will.