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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1385

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (19:22): I think there have been some sensible contributions to this report with respect to what is happening with our climate and with natural disasters that have occurred in my home state of Queensland. This is the third consecutive year when we have seen significant flooding. I suggest that the third consecutive year would highlight some issue around the climate. I am only a young fella, born in the fifties—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator FURNER: In the late fifties, of course! I can reflect on the '74 floods in Brisbane, when I was a teenager. I went out and helped a number of people in the streets of lower Kedron. That has received flood mitigation, and I thank the Labor council government in those days for flood-mitigating those particular areas. It is a shame the current Liberal council in Brisbane has not done the same task with respect to flood mitigation that previous Labor city council governments achieved. Nevertheless, I am sure they will get around to it one day.

I was involved in helping people rescue their possessions from those homes. I remember one particular street—Thistle Street in Lutwyche—not far from where Kedron Brook flows through, where it is all mitigated and there are no homes along that brook. When you think of a 'brook' you think of a steady stream of water travelling through a particular part of the environment. No doubt the '74 floods were like what I saw recently when I went doorknocking after the 2010-11 flooding in a number of my duty seats, where those brooks, those streams and those creeks turned into raging torrents. On that particular day back in '74, my then-wife and my second-eldest brother, cleaned out the house—a 'Queenslander', which, as I am sure you would know, Madam Acting Deputy President, is built on stilts—while this brook was swelling to the extent of a raging torrent, virtually becoming a river. Slowly but surely, over what seemed minutes but was hours, it kept eroding the banks of the brook and the earth—and then, pillar by pillar, that old Queenslander started tilting towards the raging river. The last item we got out of the house was a piano. And then, sadly, we watched as the house that this family had lived in for many, many years in Brisbane slid into the raging torrent and was washed down, never to be seen again, broken into splinters.

That was the type of thing that was seen and experienced as a result of flooding over the last several years. It was my privilege as a Queensland senator to go out and doorknock in some of my electorates; places like upper Narangba. There was flooding in those regions and communities—and, to some extent, you could probably argue it was the poor planning by those local authorities. They built those estates, pushed up earth and directed the streets and the land arrangements around what were the best places to put houses for the residents that moved into those areas. It seemed odd: in some cases of flooding that I witnessed, as a result of the changes in that particular environment, water was moving uphill in the suburbs of Narangba.

You start wondering over time. I have lived in Brisbane all of my life. I went to some locations where previously there were pine forests—now they are housing developments in the suburbs of Narangba. I saw people—middle-aged and families—dragging their carpets and their furnishings out the front door, with their stereos, plasma TVs and those sorts of things being thrown to the front of their homes. Some of these people, unfortunately, were not covered by insurance; but we probably do not have the time this evening to get around to the issues associated with that.

People were devastated, because they had never been affected by flooding to that extent in their lives before. The widespread flooding that occurred, certainly in 2010-11, was nothing like what I experienced when I was involved in the flooding in '74—although the flooding was greater in height in '74 than in 2010-11.

The good thing about this ANAO report is it identifies the outcomes and the procedures that are put in place as a result of auditing to ensure that the money and the transparency of where it goes is done correctly. The Prime Minister said on 27 January that the preliminary estimates indicate that Australian governments will need to contribute about $5.6 billion to rebuild our flood-affected regions. You would know yourself, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, as a Queensland senator and from getting out to the regions that you visit, that the wide effect of that flooding was quite significant. From memory, I think 95 per cent of the state was declared a natural disaster area—95 per cent! Think about the size of Queensland; it is a huge state. It is not like some of those smaller states down south—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator FURNER: I'm not having a chop at the Victorians and Tasmanians in the chamber! But it is a significant state, the most decentralised in our country, and 95 per cent of it was declared a natural disaster area.

One of the good things Labor did—and it is something I can remember those opposite voted against—was to introduce a flood levy to ensure that people in our state were taken care of and supported in their greatest time of need—that is, when they were affected by such an extreme volume of water and the flooding that affected their homes and their environment.

One opportunity that occurred for me was up in Murphys Creek. Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, you would appreciate that that is one area that was decimated by the flooding that came from the town of Toowoomba. Many lives were lost in Murphys Creek. I was fortunate enough to go there and open the Building the Education Revolution hall. It was amazing to hear from the residents. They spoke about boulders the size of cars being thrown around by this raging torrent that came down from the tablelands at Toowoomba. They were being thrown around like matchsticks and crashing into the trees.

This report identifies and recognises that we do have an issue when it comes to climate change. I am no tree-hugging greenie but I recognise we have a problem not only in this country but in the world when it comes to the environment. It is great to realise the we, the government, are doing something about it.

It is odd that I found that Senator Macdonald, in his first speech, raised the subject of the environment. They have a policy they believe in—the Direct Action Plan—which we know will cost more and will not deliver what it is supposed to deliver. In Senator Macdonald's first speech he indicated he had a passion or a belief in the environment. I struggle to understand the extent of it. It is fine to stand there making your first speech and say that you have a belief that there is something that needs to be managed in the environment. But that is the limit he went to.

In the short time left, I must recognise and to some degree commend the Republican leader in the United States of America and also the leader of the UK Tory government for commending the Australian government for introducing climate change policy. We are leading the world when it comes to these sorts of reforms to ensure that we protect and look after the generations of children to follow, like my granddaughter Xavia. No doubt one day she will have children and she will want to make sure that the environment is protected for her children and her children to follow. That is one difference that sets us apart from those on the other side. (Time expired)