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Matter of Public Importance: Natural Disaster Relief: speech



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Matter of Public Importance: Natural Disaster Relief

February 8, 2012 I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance today. Since the commencement of this year, we have once again seen Mother Nature challenge communities across the eastern states, with northern New South Wales and southern Queensland bearing the brunt of mountains of rain and, as a result, flooding. Whilst a lot of media attention has been focused on the devastating floods in north-west New South Wales and south-west Queensland, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the mid-North Coast and far North Coast have also experienced significant floods in recent weeks. I understand that Taree and Port Macquarie are currently experiencing heavy rainfall as this debate is going on. All five local government areas in the electorate of Cowper have been affected: Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Nambucca and Kempsey shires have all experienced flooding to various degrees. Since the beginning of the year, the Bureau of Meteorology has recorded the following rainfall in my electorate since 1 January: Bellbrook, 570 millimetres; Coffs Harbour, 389; Dorrigo, almost a metre, at 988 millimetres; Kempsey, 370; Nambucca Heads, 415; and Grafton, 356 millimetres. Across the region, there has been substantial damage to roads, bridges and farms, and many families have been isolated and some houses flooded. In the Bellingen shire, we have seen the Waterfall Way between Bellingen and Dorrigo close as a result of landslips. More than 500 residents were isolated along Darkwood Road with food drops necessary to provide families with basic necessities. In Nambucca, we have seen the shire council lodge an initial claim for $500,000 just so that the clean-up can continue and transport routes can be reopened. Some of the bridges which have been damaged or closed in the Nambucca Valley include Thumb Creek bridge, Burrapine bridge and Laverty's bridge, which are all on the Taylors Arm Road. But there are many others, including Factory bridge on Greenhills Road, Grays Crossing bridge and Boat Harbour bridge. In the Coffs Harbour City Council area, residents in low-lying areas of the Orara Valley, including Karangi, Nana Glen and Glenreagh, were affected. I have been contacted by a number of people from the Orara Valley who are seeking additional government assistance, and residents at Corindi experienced flooding on their properties after what they called a 'mini tsunami'. As 68-year-old Brian Taylor told the local paper, the Coffs Coast Advocate, 'This was certainly the biggest one I’ve seen here and I’ve lived in the area all my life.' Sadly, in the Clarence Valley Council area we saw a Coutts Crossing man, Robert Fox, tragically drown after his car broke down in a gully. It is reported that he was swept under a roadside culvert. Although the circumstances of this tragedy are still being investigated, it is believed the flooding was a contributing factor. In Kempsey the State Emergency Service had the communities of Gladstone, Smithtown, Kinchela and Belmore on stand-by for flooding after more than 350 millimetres of rain. Natural disaster declarations have been made by the New South Wales government in all five local government areas in the Cowper electorate. This has meant assistance is available through the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, or NDRRA. These arrangements provide a range of assistance, including grants to councils to repair infrastructure and restore services; personal hardship and distress assistance; concessional interest rate loans for small businesses and primary producers; transport freight subsidies for primary producers; restoration or replacement of essential public assets; and loans and grants to churches, voluntary non-profit organisations and sporting clubs. Whilst this assistance is welcome, there are certainly residents in my electorate who would benefit from Australian government disaster recovery payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child. There are also many primary producers in the Cowper electorate who have suffered substantial damage to their properties and would benefit from the grants to primary producers of up to $15,000 which have been extended in previous floods and have been offered to those currently affected in north-west New South Wales. As I said previously, my office has been contacted by a number of people seeking additional assistance. Many of these people are from the Orara Valley, west of Coffs Harbour, but certainly those impacted are not limited to this area. I would like to draw to the House’s attention to one of the emails I have received so that members understand how these recent floods have impacted on some people in the Cowper electorate. This is how one constituent described what he had experienced: I am contacting you on behalf of myself and other families who reside in the Karangi district who were adversely affected by the recent flood disaster. The seven families in this immediate area were isolated for 10 days and were not able to attend work, complete other activities etc and the children were unable to attend school. The isolation began on Monday 23rd January and we were only able to safely cross the Orara River on Friday morning 3rd February 2012. On Saturday 4th February I visited another area further up stream and I was informed that approximately 15 other families were also adversely affected by the flood event. The families that reside along Watkins Rd in Karangi were isolated for 4 days. It is also my belief that there were families that reside in the north Coramba / Bucca area that were isolated for an extended period of time. We find it rather difficult to believe the 30 or so families adversely affected by the Coffs Harbour January 2012 flood crisis are not being provided access to the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment. I think you will agree that the families of this area meet the criteria for the Disaster Recovery Payment and therefore should be allowed access to this service. In recent days I have been making enquiries with Centrelink. I was astounded to discover that the Coffs Harbour flood that affected so many people was not categorised as being a level 'C' disaster event. The families in this immediate area are affected by flooding many times a year, however it is not normal to be isolated for a 10 day period. In 2009/10 the Coffs Harbour region was declared a level 'C' disaster area and people who were adversely affected were provided disaster payments from Federal funds. The people of this area were provided Federal Diaster payments in 2009/10 due to being isolated for approximately 4 days and suffering property damage. The recent 2012 flood was as extreme as the flood of 2009/10 however particular families have been dramatically disadvantaged to date as they have not been provided financial assistance via the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Program. The people of this area's affected need the State and Federal Government to provide an exception regarding our ability to access the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment. That is how one of my constituents explained the impact of these recent floods. So, while most urban areas in my electorate escaped substantial damage, the reality is that many residents in rural areas have been affected. I should note that many primary producers have suffered extensive damage to fences and roads on their property. Since being contacted by these constituents, I have taken the opportunity to write to the Minister for Emergency Management, communicating how these constituents have been affected. I have asked the minister to consider extending the Australian government disaster recovery payments to those affected by the floods on the mid-North Coast and the far North Coast. I have also raised the issue of the $15,000 payments which have been offered to primary producers and small businesses in the north-west of New South Wales but have yet to be extended to coastal areas. I would like to take the opportunity, on this matter of public importance, to register my personal thanks and the gratitude of all Australians to the SES volunteers and emergency service personnel who have provided such terrific support during these flood events. As a nation, we cannot place a price on the true value of the services provided by our emergency services workers. In conclusion, I believe it is incumbent on all levels of government to ensure that flood relief payments are not delayed unnecessarily and that individuals and communities are supported as they recover from these flood events.

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