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Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Page: 2582

Cyclone Debbie

Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Firstly, I would like to say to Queenslanders that the thoughts of all Labor senators and, I am sure, the thoughts of all senators, are with the people affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. We hope everyone stays safe, and we recognise the amazing work of emergency services personnel and those assisting communities on the ground. What steps has the government taken to ensure the resources of the Commonwealth are available to respond immediately to Queenslanders impacted by Tropical Cyclone Debbie?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:00): Thank you very much indeed for that very helpful question, Senator Chisholm, and I of course associate myself and all government senators with the sentiments you have expressed.

I can tell you, as the Minister for Defence outlined yesterday, that the ADF is providing considerable support for the communities affected. The Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland have announced that Australian Army Brigadier Christopher Field will coordinate Queensland's recovery efforts. A short while ago, I spoke with Mark Crosweller, the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia, who advised me that Defence have already begun aerial surveillance of the damage in order to try to establish the extent of the damage—in particular, the extent of damage to dwellings.

I can also advise the Senate that, under the jointly funded Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, assistance has already been activated in response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie for counter-disaster operations and extraordinary costs for the eight local government areas of Burdekin, Charters Towers, Isaac, Hinchinbrook, Mackay, Palm Island, Townsville and Whitsunday.

The Commonwealth will continue to carefully monitor the impacts of the events and will continue to remain, as we have been, in close communication with the Queensland government. We stand ready to assist the recovery in disaster affected communities in any way that the Commonwealth's resources may be of assistance. People can expect further information in relation to Commonwealth assistance in coming days.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Chisholm, a supplementary question.

Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (14:02): How is the government assisting in the assessment of damage in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:02): As I said to you, the ADF has already put into the air an aerial surveillance team, which is assisting the Queensland government's rapid damage assessment team. I also want to acknowledge the assistance provided by New South Wales and the ACT in that particular part of the exercise.

I might take the opportunity to give you a report on what Mr Crosweller has just told me as to the extent of the damage. At the moment, we know that there are 68,000 homes without power in the area in and around the impact zone. The impact zone is defined as Airlie Beach, Proserpine, Bowen and adjacent areas. I can tell you, Senator Chisholm, that— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Chisholm, a final supplementary question.

Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (14:04): What disaster recovery funding will be made available to the Queensland government, local government, and those impacted to assist in the recovery effort?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:04): As I said in answer to your previous question, that will be under the NDRRA. The appropriate declarations have been made, and are being made, by my colleague the Minister for Justice, the Hon. Michael Keenan, who has responsibility for emergency management.

I am advised by Mr Crosweller that there are 6,774 buildings in the impact zone—that does not include Mackay; it is the immediate impact zone—of which we judge that 2,885 were built before 1980. That was when the current building code came into operation, which required that all buildings be built to a strength to withstand a category 4 cyclone, which this cyclone was. The assessment is ongoing but we are apprehensive that among those 2,885 buildings there will be a considerable number damaged. (Time expired)