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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14498


Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (17:32): I was born and raised in Townsville. I have been through Cyclone Althea, the flood of the late seventies and 'The Night of Noah' flood of 1998. But nothing in my life memory can compare with the disaster and the devastation of the flood that we experienced on 3 February 2019. Townsville experienced the worst flood in its recorded history. We had a year's rainfall in nine days, with 1,134 millimetres recorded up to 9 am on Monday, 4 February 2019, reaching over 1.65 metres. The Ross River Dam reached a record-breaking 244 per cent. More than 22,000 homes and 110 roads in Townsville were affected by this extreme weather event. Every day after the flood, my team and I visited families in affected areas, helping them clean up their homes. We delivered burritos and water donated by GYG and Morco Fresh Foods. We have been helping Townsville residents with their federal government disaster recovery claims.

I support the Treasury Laws Amendment (North Queensland Flood Recovery) Bill 2019 because it provides vital funding for our disaster-ridden community. But I will also take this time to condemn the LNP government for its difficult and shameful criteria associated with the special disaster assistance recovery funding. The claims process has created more stress for people who are already stressed. The LNP claims process is a hoop-jumping exercise that includes incredibly harsh restrictions on claims. Cherrie Vitalli, whose house was inundated by flood—she lives in the red flood zone—was denied the vital relief funding three times. Elaine in Railway Estate was denied vital assistance because she lives in a Queenslander home, and the LNP made harsh restrictions where the water had to go over the floorboards of the main part of the home. Under her home, the bottom floor was not covered. The LNP government left the local Department of Human Services staff very vulnerable. They were not allowed to assist their fellow Townsville residents with their claims because residents could only call a Melbourne number between nine and five. Townsville had to fight through the flood and then had to fight the LNP government for its fair share.

Townsville residents shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens by this government, not to mention the fact that the LNP government is treating Townsville small businesses disgracefully. I fought the LNP government to include local small business in their disaster relief funds. Many local small businesses are struggling to get assistance from the LNP government to get back on their feet and, importantly, keep their staff employed. We dragged the LNP kicking and screaming to the table to provide relief for Townsville businesses and finally, more than a month after the flood, the government eventually came to the table. But, once again, the LNP government set strict and harsh criteria for small-business relief grants. These harsh restrictions have made it almost impossible for any small business to be granted the relief funding that they deserve and desperately need. Just as I have been visiting flood affected families, I have also visited flood affected Townsville small businesses and I can safely say small businesses are angry with this out-of-touch LNP government.

I visited local business owner Warren Figg who owns Auto Centre Townsville. His business was inundated. He has a car yard. The car yard and the office were inundated. He was concerned about keeping his business going so that his employees would not lose their jobs and he could get on with selling his vehicles. As Warren said, this funding should be easy to access to reduce the stress on small-business owners. The reality is that these funds would flow straight back into a struggling community. Surely it is not too much to expect that the LNP government would assist small-business owners after this devastation. Warren, like so many others, needs this vital funding. Warren applied for the small business relief funding almost immediately and, after six weeks, he was still waiting for a response. The grant provides up to $50,000 for small businesses impacted by the flood, but, as Warren has described, he and other Townsville small businesses have had to jump through a lot of hoops just to apply for the grant. Warren advised that, after he applied for the grant and he had not heard anything for a couple of weeks, he made a phone call. He was told an assessor had not even picked up his application to look at it and they could not give him a time when this would happen. This is simply not good enough. The LNP's criteria and mountains of paperwork seem to be designed to keep small businesses excluded rather than included. Townsville businesses need to have a simple, clear, less bureaucratic process. Simply get rid of the red tape.

Now is the time to help small businesses in Townsville. Now is the time for the government to take action to help these businesses get back on their feet. Warren has described the whole rigmarole that he has been put through by the LNP government as getting 'hung out to dry'. Warren has so far spent close to $50,000 to just get the business started again, but some businesses do not have this cashflow to get their businesses going. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and LNP members, let me tell you: you are not helping small businesses get back on their feet. You are putting the owners' livelihoods at stake and putting the one in every four jobs that is created by a small business in Townsville at risk. Townsville's jobs are directly under threat because of LNP's out-of-touch and harsh criteria for small-business relief grants.

More than 391 businesses have been affected directly by the floods in Townsville, with an average loss of $98,000. Combined state and federal funding totals $27.2 million for relief grants for small businesses. In Townsville, $724,112 has been delivered for 100 businesses. That is less than three per cent of the money delivered to our community. The LNP need to wake up. Small businesses in Townsville are hurting and hurting badly. The strict criteria are killing small businesses in Townsville and costing local jobs that we cannot afford to lose, given our unemployment rate is almost double that of the national average. Unemployment has already almost doubled, as I said, and it will continue to get worse if we do not get help to the small businesses that have been affected by this devastating flood. The LNP need to review their harsh and rigid restrictions. I demand action now on this issue. Townsville deserves our fair share and I will fight tooth and nail for my community to get our fair share.