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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4169

Ms SAFFIN (9:34 PM) —I would like to give the House an update on the major flooding that has had a devastating impact on the cities, towns and rural areas across my electorate of Page this week and, indeed, in the neighbouring electorates of Richmond, Cowper and Lyne and in South-East Queensland. Our trade subcommittee, which I chair, was due to hold hearings in Melbourne last Thursday and Friday but I cancelled at the first hint of what was to come as I received briefings on and read the weather forecasts for the Northern Rivers and South-East Queensland, which showed a deterioration in the weather.

Even though we did not go on to a big flood alert I knew from experience, having lived in a flood-prone area for a long time, what was about to come. I wanted to do what I could to help the New South Wales State Emergency Services, all the local volunteers, the police, the local councils, the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the fire brigades in what has been a magnificent flood coordination effort on the ground, in the air and on the water.

Tragically, the floods were fatal, claiming two lives: a 70-year-old man died in his submerged car in floodwaters south of Coffs Harbour last Friday night and another man died earlier in Queensland. I know that everyone in this House sends their deep condolences to their families.

Today’s Northern Star newspaper carries a story of how four Bexhill residents, Allen Petty, Glenn and Kerri Nelson and Ben Saunders, used a canoe to save a backpacker, Jodie, from a near drowning just north of Lismore. While the foursome underplayed their heroic actions, they deserve the highest praise.

I really want to pay tribute to another small army of heroes: the 400-odd State Emergency Services volunteers in the Northern Rivers and the mid-North Coast who worked long shifts around the clock to prepare local communities for nature’s onslaught and to execute evacuation plans. In the Clarence Valley around Grafton they doorknocked over 10,000 people, warning them and having them prepare. Everybody was brought into service to ensure that we were well and truly prepared.

We also had SES people there from all over the state, and I thank them. They have received an estimated 2,700 requests for assistance since last Tuesday and have performed more than 200 flood rescue operations, such as assisted evacuations, resupplying food and medical supplies to isolated properties and helping with stock as well. Regional SES controllers Richmond-Tweed’s Scott Hanckel in the north and Dave Mackey in the south have kept me briefed on the flood situations, as have local mayors and senior police. I also had firsthand experience.

I would also like to personally thank my colleague the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, for flying to Lismore on Saturday to announce that the Commonwealth government would be providing financial assistance to communities affected by heavy rainfall and flooding. I also thank the Prime Minister for his announcement in this place today of additional assistance, because that will really help those people who have been devastated by floods, both the individuals and particularly our producers: our rural sector and small businesses. Those cash grants of up to $15,000 for where they have to expend money getting themselves back in order through the floods will be very welcome indeed. In fact, I have had thankyou calls from farmers tonight for that.

The New South Wales Premier, Nathan Rees, and the state Minister for Emergency Services, Steve Whan, also came to the region and to Lismore to declare a natural disaster zone, pledge assistance and start working closely with the Commonwealth on a recovery plan for the region. The emergency services minister was originally there to open a fire station. The weather changed and he stayed and was there for most of the flood.

The New South Wales government have appointed former New South Wales police commissioner Ken Moroney as recovery coordinator for the North Coast floods, a welcome appointment. Mr Moroney, who was stationed as a police commander in Lismore from the early seventies until the early eighties and experienced the major flood of 1974, this morning held meetings with key personnel in Lismore and this afternoon flew to Grafton to make assessments.

I would also like to thank the ABC, who did a magnificent job yet again in a time of disaster. They stayed on air 24/7 and made sure that the whole community had reports that were up to date, timely and accurate. We gave the message over and over to everybody to have their ears tuned to the ABC. (Time expired)