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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1025


Mr BALDWIN (5:16 PM) —I rise today to offer my sincere condolences on behalf of the people of Paterson. I also pay my personal respects to those who have suffered indescribable loss in this summer’s national disasters. The effects of flooding in Queensland, northern Victoria, northern New South Wales, northern Western Australia and Northern Tasmania, the bushfires in Western Australia and Cyclone Yasi in Northern Queensland have been devastating. As I speak, Cyclone Carlos is impacting the north coast of Western Australia. For those of us not directly affected, it is hard to imagine the sheer devastation and fear felt by residents who experienced these events. Many Australians lost loved ones and the properties they had worked so hard to turn into homes. They lost important documents, photos and special keepsakes that could never be replaced.

My electorate of Paterson was not struck by the disaster. However, despite the fact that we do not share the same direct experience, I say to you today that we do share your loss. The nation as a whole is grieving for those lives lost, and we will help shoulder some of your burden if we can. I believe it is during times like these that the true Aussie spirit is revealed. In the days and weeks following the floods, fires and cyclones hardly an hour went by without at least one constituent calling the office to offer time, money and/or goods. In many cases it was all three. As their local member, I was humbled to see the huge turnout when I attended one of the many fundraisers held in my electorate, at Soldiers Point on the eve of Australia Day, to raise money for flood victims. The event was organised, run and supported by local people just wanting to help in any way they could. It now looks as if more than $15,000 was raised from that event, a wonderful effort from a small community. Of course, it was just one of the many support efforts in the Paterson electorate. I would like to point out another display of that Australian spirit, and from the beginning I want especially to acknowledge the support of Virgin Blue airlines.

Recently, I was contacted by Susan Boyd from Hunter Valley Grammar School. She let me know that 40 of their students from year 7 and year 10 would be giving up their annual school camp to go to Queensland to assist those who have been affected by the floods. These schoolchildren are going to Warwick to clean out debris and to rebuild fences, working with an organisation called BlazeAid. They are doing it because they want to make a substantial contribution. After all, it is the Australian way to help your mates even if you have never met them. I contacted Virgin Blue airlines and without any hesitation they donated 40 return flights free of charge between Brisbane and Newcastle so that our local children could join and play a part in the flood recovery. Five teachers will be travelling with the students. I should particularly like to thank Susan Boyd, Linda Chapman and Lydia Woods. On behalf of my community, I say thank you to Virgin Blue and particularly acknowledge chief executive John Borghetti for his generosity.

Sadly, in the Hunter region we did not go without the loss of loved ones. I would like to pay tribute today to 25-year-old Joshua Ross, who was killed by flooding in Grantham as he stayed with his mother, Brenda, in the family home. The member for Wright delivered an emotional tribute to this motion and I would also like to give my condolences. Josh was a childcare worker who moved to Grantham from Waratah in the Hunter region. He was killed after the torrent of floodwaters hit the home that he shared with his mum and a partner, refusing to leave them. We had many calls to my office after Josh’s story was published in our local newspaper, the Newcastle Herald. On behalf of all those constituents, I again offer my sincere condolences and honour the memory of Josh.

I listened as the member for Hotham, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, committed to the rebuilding effort in our towns. As thousands feel the loss of life, many thousands are also suffering the loss of their homes, businesses and livelihoods. It is an absolute priority that this government does everything that it can to ensure that the recovery effort is swift and effective. It is my job as the shadow minister for regional development to help ensure that each and every affected town across this nation gets the help that it needs and so rightly deserves, and I will do so.

Minister Crean spoke of the need for a strategic approach involving not only those areas directly affected by floodwaters but also the surrounding towns connected by shared infrastructure. He spoke of helping people to cut through the red tape; of working in full bipartisanship to ensure the best for our local communities; of ensuring payments for those people who had their homes, small businesses and farms destroyed; and of the concessional interest loans to small businesses and farmers. Minister Crean spoke about re-examining policy to ensure that flood mitigation is improved for the future. He spoke of the need for value for money.

We have heard how areas, not just in Queensland, are open for business—tourism business in particular. As the shadow minister for tourism, I welcome the $5 million from the Commonwealth, which matched the $5 million from the Queensland state government, so that a marketing campaign can be pushed showing that Queensland is open for business.

Queensland is not the only affected area. Northern Victoria, northern New South Wales, northern Western Australia and Northern Tasmania—as I said before—have all been affected. I took the opportunity on 11 February, with the member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, to visit the Grampians on the eve of the jazz festival. The Grampians were devastated by floodwaters. They have suffered significant infrastructure damage to roads, to the township and to the mountains themselves. Some of their unique rock forms have destabilised. We all visited Stawell. We met with council officials and business operators. They all wanted us to put out one message: they are open for business. They too have suffered from the floods. But they too are open for business.

One of the things that I saw when in discussions with the state minister for tourism in Victoria, Louise Asher, was that the Victorian government had also put up $1 million for a tourism fund after the floods. This was announced by Ted Baillieu, the Premier of Victoria, on 17 January. This money is for financial support for tourism. The coalition government will establish a $1 million tourism fund to support businesses in areas affected by floods that are heavily dependent on tourism. It will be administered by the Department of Business and Innovation.

So I say to the government: areas other than Queensland are severely affected. I have called on the government to match that $1 million for Victoria, as indeed they matched the $5 million of the Queensland government to promote tourism and the fact that they are open for business. But more should be done. The floods have continued from late last year on in to recent weeks in Victoria. The Murray is flooding. The houseboat season is being devastated. There is that tourism aspect. So more needs to be done. More needs to be done in northern New South Wales, which is also flood affected. More needs to be done in North Australia and Western Australia. After the effects and impacts of Cyclone Carlos, as I said, who knows what will be needed there? It is not all over yet. We need support for these communities.

The best thing that individuals, members of parliament and people in our constituencies can do to help out businesses in these communities, through the jobs that are created, is plan a holiday there. So I say to people: take the opportunity to put off that overseas holiday this year and holiday in Australia. Holidaying domestically will provide a sustainable economic basis from which businesses can rebuild. It will show that we as Australians are also committed to supporting fellow Australians. To those communities affected all over Australia, I commit today to help ensure the minister’s promises are fulfilled. I, along with my coalition colleagues, will work wherever necessary to help get the best outcomes for you.

Today I join my colleagues in calling for a fairer approach by the insurance companies when dealing with claims—not using weasel words or hidden disclaimers. Back in 1999 I represented consumer interests on the insurance inquiries and complaints board, which fielded complaints and had a resolution process for unconscionable conduct in insurance claims. Through harmonisation with the finance industry the responsibility now rests with the Financial Ombudsman Service. So I urge people who are being denied what they consider to be valid claims to utilise the Financial Ombudsman Service hotline.

The events of the past few months have been nothing short of tragic, and I pray that they are never repeated in Australia. By doing everything possible to protect people in the future, we truly recognise the sacrifices of those people who have lost their lives. Today I pay tribute to those lost, their families and their friends. I pay tribute to the many heroic acts that were performed—mostly unreported, but those people know who they are and what they did. I pay tribute to the many emergency services personnel, the Australian Defence Force personnel and the thousands of Australians who, when the call went out, rallied around their fellow Australians, standing shoulder to shoulder to help out. I pay tribute to the thousands upon thousands of Australians who have given what they could afford and more to help out. We are a strong nation because above all we have that unique Australian spirit that not floods, fire or wind can destroy. I commend this motion of condolence to the House.