Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6059

Mr HARTSUYKER (9:09 PM) —Two weeks ago I brought to the attention of the House the injustice of the Rudd government’s decision to deny Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley residents affected by the March 31 floods one-off Centrelink cash payments. On 31 March more than 400 millimetres of rain fell in 24 hours. In some areas 600 millimetres fell. In one three-hour period 250 millimetres fell in many areas. The Coffs Coast region and the Clarence Valley were declared a national disaster area. Since then the Rudd government has on numerous occasions rejected requests for one-off cash payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child, as were provided to flood victims in North Queensland in February and as were later provided to those affected by the flood event on the North Coast in May of this year. Since 31 March the Prime Minister’s office and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs have continued to invent new excuses on why Coffs Coast flood victims do not deserve to be treated the same as flood victims of the New South Wales Northern Rivers and Queensland. Firstly, it was because they believed the damage was primarily to public infrastructure. When such advice was shown to be misinformed, a new excuse—that there were only four local government areas affected on 31 March, as compared with 24 council areas affected in May—was put forward. This is simply hollow rhetoric to the thousands of people who were impacted by the March event.

I believe the Prime Minister has also misled the parliament on this matter. On 25 May he told the parliament that those affected by the May floods would receive assistance which included one-off cash payments. The Prime Minister then told the House that he ‘authorised this assistance for people affected by the earlier floods in New South Wales in late March’. Less than 24 hours later the Prime Minister’s office told me that the same one-off cash assistance would not be provided to Coffs Coast residents impacted by the March 31 event. The hollowmen had obviously had their say in the Prime Minister’s speech the previous day but, when it came to actually providing the support, the Prime Minister’s office reneged on the commitment. It is obviously beyond comprehension that this government would turn its back on ordinary Australians in their hour of greatest need. It is morally reprehensible that they could offer such lame, mindless excuses which ignore the cold hard reality that the March 31 flood had a devastating impact on so many people. Today, almost 11 weeks after the event, our local community is angry—in fact they are outraged by the Rudd government’s complete disregard for treating all Australians equally. The general feeling is that assistance was not provided to Coffs Coast residents because it is not a seat held by the Labor Party.

I will shortly be tabling a petition in the House of more than 6,000 signatures. The petition calls on the government to provide the same assistance to the March flood victims as was provided to those of the May event in northern New South Wales and South-East Queensland. The petition was organised through our local newspaper the Coffs Coast Advocate, and I trust that the government will acknowledge the support it has received and realise that it is not too late to help a lot of people still in genuine need. There are still many people in my electorate who have either lost everything they own or have no idea what the future holds. Many of them are elderly and many of them are from low-income households. The Coffs Coast Advocate reported last week that 89-year-old Athol Hardie, an ex-serviceman, has lost everything. He has no home and all his possessions are gone. I would like to take this opportunity to detail to the House some of the correspondence I have received from local residents and representatives from organisations which have been affected by the floods. It really puts a human face on the issues and clearly highlights the toll that the March floods had on local residents. It also shows that the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is either inept or incompetent. I will start with a letter received late last week from Judy Harrison from Bellingen Neighbourhood Centre. Recently Judy wrote to the Prime Minister and she forwarded me a copy. I quote the following lines:

I am very concerned about the decision of your government to not pay emergency one off grants to residents of the Urunga Township affected by the March 31st 2009 storm. This town has a small population with a high number of retirees.

In my role as Neighbour Aid coordinator I have first hand knowledge of the trauma suffered by the elderly victims of this storm. Of my 28 Uranga clients 17 received major damage to their residence, 8 lost all belongings and 7 are still not able to return home. One of these victims is an 87 year old Changi vet. Since March 31st this man has resided in 4 different locations and is still three months away from having his little unit liveable. He, like all my other affected clients, is finding it very gruelling, financially and emotionally, to survive.

It is very difficult for these victims to understand that if they were residing in another area of Australia affected by flood they would receive this Federal Government support yet as residents of this little town they don’t. I certainly can’t explain it to them because I do not understand it either.

Here is an extract from another letter I received from a constituent who I will not name. This is what she had to say:

I was disgusted that I had used my vote in 2007 to help elect a government that was so out of touch with the community when I read that Jenny Macklin had determined that the March 31 storm event, predominantly affected infrastructure rather than personal property.

Try and explain that to my 15 year old daughter and 17 year old son, who lost everything they have ever owned when their bedrooms were completely lost to the flood water. Please explain why my 17 year old is sleeping on the floor of his younger brothers room in his HSC year and why my 15 year old daughter is sleeping on the floor between her 6 yr old brothers bed and the babies cot when she is trying to complete year 11, if their loss was not personal. Please explain that to my 6 year old son, whom we had to hold down to prise his bike out of his hands to throw on the rubbish truck.

And this is what the Sawtell Chamber of Commerce had to say in their letter to the Prime Minister:

Perhaps you need to come and look at the aged living in mildewed walls, bare floors, warped kitchens and bathroom cupboards and doors and very little furniture, waiting for insurance companies who cannot get their act together. They have to buy meals—$1000 would have gone a long way to helping them. It is time all Australians were treated equally when their area is declared a natural disaster!

And, if any members are still in any doubt as to the impact of this major event, here is another tragic letter from a constituent, Brian Glover, who lives at Urunga. He writes:

We had been renting the house and although the flood rendered it uninhabitable, we found it impossible to find somewhere else to live. As a result, we had to live for five (5) weeks in the flood infested house. Having lost just about everything, including the refrigerator, we had to sleep on a mattress on the concrete floor. It was five horrendous weeks before we were able to secure somewhere else to live.

Then a fortnight later after moving in, on 20 May, my partner Maureen Nederlof died suddenly at home while 000 was instructing me, until the ambulance arrived, what to do when she had collapsed. She said she had no history of heart trouble. I feel that the strain on her resulting from the flood took its toll.

Her age was 68, my age 72.

This clearly shows the level of stress that the March flood has created in so many families. Although it is almost 11 weeks since the Coffs Coast and parts of the Clarence Valley experienced the deluge, there are still many people who are struggling to rebuild their lives and make ends meet. The Rudd government has clearly made a mistake in failing to treat all Australians equally. However, despite the injustices, despite the double standards and despite the anger which local residents are feeling, the government still has the opportunity to do the right thing. I have today written to the Prime Minister again asking him to review the decision not to provide one-off cash payments. If the government was being true to itself and fair to the residents of the Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley it would acknowledge its mistake and immediately provide flood victims with the required support of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child.