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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1023

Ms SAFFIN (5:04 PM) —I rise to speak to this motion of condolence. I would like to begin by saying how sorry we were in my area, in the seat of Page, about the tragic loss of life that happened not only in Queensland but in other places. It was a terrible loss of life. I spent the Christmas and New Year holiday period occupied with floods in my area—not an unfamiliar occurrence in our neck of the woods. And so did many of our wonderful local volunteers from the SES, the RFS, the Red Cross—the helping agencies—and also employees of councils, police, health, community services, Centrelink and Country Energy. There are too many to name. A lot of those people were out working and putting in the extra hours gratis to respond to the needs of the community. The mayors of Ballina, Lismore, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley councils and I were all on deck, along with the three state members in my seat of Page—the members for Ballina, Lismore and Clarence. We all had our sleeves rolled up and we were out with the community pulling together and working together as everybody does in times of crises.

There were a number of floods in my area—they were minor, moderate and major—but there was no loss of life. We said at the time that we dare not whinge—because we had experienced losses but not loss of life as witnessed by our neighbours over the border in Queensland. Our hearts went out to them. When tragedies like this happen they are incomprehensible. People ask why, but there is no answer to that question. People in our area did practical things too. In Casino there was a fundraiser to help a local family devastated by the Queensland floods. They raised over $11,000, with more to come, and over 100 people attended. It was a benefit night on a Saturday night at the Charcoal Inn in South Casino. It was to support the family of Pauline Magner, who was killed when a wall of water hit the town of Grantham, east of Toowoomba, on 10 January. Having grown up in Ipswich, I am familiar with the areas of Toowoomba, Grantham and a whole range of other areas around Queensland. As I watched the water, I thought of being out in those areas of Queensland, in places like Cracow, decades ago as a young girl. A lot of people have never heard of those places. It was absolutely huge; it was hard to believe.

We also had people from Country Energy in our area helping to restore energy to North Queensland after Cyclone Yasi. There were people from our area helping in whatever way they could. Up the road from me, in Eltham, they had a fundraiser to help the people in Queensland. This is while we still had floods in our area—and there were losses, particularly for our farmers. It reaffirms the human spirit to see people doing that in all areas. I have received emails, letters and phone calls from people, including one from a man in Brushgrove. The flood went through his house. He wrote me a lovely email saying that he supported the flood levy and would pay it if he could. He said send the bill and he would put the cheque in the mail. He said he would happily pay the flood levy even though he had water going through his house. Also, the chamber of commerce in our local area were out helping. They had grants and they were giving them to local businesses.

Over the holiday period we had the Prime Minister and other ministers visit Queensland and Victoria. They were responding to the needs of people affected by the floods in those states and the bushfires in Western Australia. The Prime Minister and ministers were busy visiting communities to give solace and support, and to make sure that happened. I would like to thank them for coming to my area. People in the community appreciated getting the attention.

It began with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Mr Albanese, visiting the five mayors from across the seat of Page—plus their general managers, representatives and others—to talk about our infrastructure needs after the floods. Then we had more floods after that visit. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, came to the Clarence Valley where we had a major flood and she thanked all the volunteer, SES and RFS workers who were there. She then met with the community. We walked around and talked to locals in the shopping centre. They were just so pleased that she came, and so was I.

One of the unusual parts of the visit—and there are always lighter moments in a visit, no matter what has happened—was that President Obama had arranged to ring Prime Minister Gillard to offer his condolences for the floods. It happened on a secure line in the Grafton airport. He extended his best wishes to the people right across Australia and to the people in Queensland, obviously, and also to the people in Grafton. I thought they were probably looking at the map and asking, ‘Where is Grafton?’ They had been given two phone numbers to ring and one had been at the local SES headquarters and they had rung there first but we were not there. The headquarters were quite excited that they got a phone call from the White House. That was one of the lighter moments. The gravity of it was that he was a friend offering support to Australia in whatever way we needed—not only through sympathetic words but also through practical support.

Simon Crean, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, had a look at where the floods had damaged the area. There were also 10 local councils represented at that meeting; it was much broader than my seat. They were talking about the long-term rebuilding of infrastructure. I was talking about the notion of ‘build better, build once’, particularly with some of the roads and the bridges. Like some other members, I have a lot of bridges in my area. I think there were over 438 in Kyogle Shire alone at one stage. That is a lot of bridges to deal with. Some of those wash out and we have to deal with those issues. That was a really useful visit.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, who is responsible for emergency management in Australia at the federal level, visited and met with farmers. They were able to put to him some of the issues that concerned them. One of the big issues that we faced is that it was not just the floods—we have had wet feet for so long that it creates difficulties with planting, harvesting and all of those things. Cane farmers, soya bean farmers and some representatives from the beef industry met with the Attorney and thanked him for the schemes that are jointly operated on state and federal levels and that have been around for a while. They talked about some of the administration. One of the things I have often asked for is some flexibility around what we call the 51 per cent rule. Some of those issues were put to the Attorney, asking him to raise them with his state counterparts in the appropriate forum. I am following up on some of those issues.

Our fishing industry also copped it and John Harrison from the Professional Fishermen’s Association was quick off the mark to make sure that we understood what was going on in that area. We have the famous Yamba prawns, and the industry was starting to pick itself up again but then this happened.

These were just some of the issues that were raised. We also had our dairy industry affected. I have Norco in my area and I have met with them and made representations, but I welcome the Senate inquiry into milk prices because it will let us have a look at discounting by Coles and Woolworths. As consumers we love it—it means cheap milk—but it is not necessarily good for our dairy farmers, which is another issue that we have to be mindful of.

I have had talks with people in our local tourism industry and they have prepared reports. Though people suffered losses because of the floods, the number of visits to our area actually went up, so things have played out in a patchy way.

That is a snapshot of some of the things that happened across our area. I have taken the opportunity of speaking on this condolence motion to put on the public record both the snapshot and some of our needs. In commending the motion to the House, I would again say how much sympathy and empathy there is right across the community in the Page electorate for the families of people who lost their lives in the floods.