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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14982

Ms GERICK (1:01 PM) —If the tyranny of distance applies to Australia, then that tyranny is at this moment being most sharply felt by the communities in the north-west of Australia. Presently in the north of Western Australia there are a number of areas devastated by floodwaters, effectively isolating these communities from the rest of the state. It is reported that the Fitzroy River is expected to peak at 16 metres later this week, with no indication that water levels will subside at any time soon.

You need only to read the newspaper to see that the damage has been extensive. Homes, businesses, livestock and food crops have been destroyed. The damage is not isolated to these areas alone. In the long term, we all know that the impact of this natural disaster will have far-reaching consequences beyond the areas currently affected. Past experience has shown that when the demand for fresh produce exceeds ready supply, the flow-on effect of this to the communities is felt at the cash register. Provision of fresh food items such as bananas, which Carnarvon is well known for, will simply not be available, and it is expected that supply will be severely affected for up to 18 months. It has been reported that in Kununurra alone, residents are experiencing severe shortages of essential food items such as meat, milk and vegetables. It is not known how long this disruption will continue.

How many transport workers are cut off from their families and have had their means of income severely reduced? The latest report is that at least 200 truck drivers are currently stranded because of raging floodwaters. It is reported that some drivers have been stranded for up to 16 days and have been forced to live off the produce on the backs of their trucks and from community handouts. They are being forced to live without adequate toilet facilities and are facing the real threat of mosquito-borne viruses.

We are all aware that truck drivers provide a crucial service to the isolated communities in the north-west with the provision of essential goods. You name it—food, medical supplies, housing, fuel, beer, everything. Without truckies there can be no mining, agriculture, farming, or any other kind of industry in these remote areas. The wheels of their huge trucks might not be turning but drivers are still incurring the ongoing costs of running their businesses. It is estimated that in some cases drivers are still meeting costs of up to $2,000 per week for truck repayments and insurance alone. Without any means of income, one cannot imagine how much longer their businesses will survive.

There is already confusion, concern and speculation about how the GST will affect the transport industry. This government's lack of concise information to the community about the full effects of the GST is concern enough for these battlers without the added pressure and concern brought about by this natural disaster. The Western Australian state government has indicated that assistance will be offered to the Carnarvon region for specific flood relief, and has also promised long-term action to reduce flooding. It is well known that the federal government collects 36c in every dollar from fuel excise. It is time for the government to return some of this income by way of emergency financial assistance to those truck drivers stranded by the unpredictable floodwaters.

It is without question that our truckies are the backbone of the nation. Without them, the wheels of our community would not turn. It is this government's responsibility to step in now and provide much needed assistance to the drivers and their families. In times of crisis it is surely not unreasonable for these vital members of our community to expect and depend on the assistance of their state and federal governments.