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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1806

Mrs GASH (9:01 PM) —Much has been said about the Queensland floods, but I have not had a chance to get on the speaking list, so I would like to make use of the grievance debate tonight. It has been incredibly heart-warming to witness the outpouring of support that has been coming in through my office for the victims of the Queensland floods. In Gilmore, we put out a call for anyone willing to offer their support to assist in the clean-up process. The response to this call has been simply overwhelming and it is still continuing today. Every day, tradesmen, professionals, lawyers, labourers and housewives are coming into my office ready to take their shovel and broom to Queensland and help out during their holidays. Since speaking on this, many people have gone to the flood areas and are doing just that.

I spoke to Pastor Peter Pilt of the Nowra City Church. He and a number of his congregation made the trip to Brisbane and the flood region earlier to add to the army of volunteers from across Australia lending their helping hands. His church forms part of Global Care, a Christian missions aid and development organisation that is committed to providing emotional, spiritual and physical support, along with effective aid relief, in areas of need. Even after having seen the devastation on TV, I found what Pastor Pilt was describing on the phone almost impossible to comprehend. He asked if I would like to go with him to lend moral support to the locals who had been on the front line for some time. On the Monday of the week before parliament resumed, I flew to Brisbane. From Brisbane I travelled on to Grantham, Goodna and Ipswich on the Global Care coach. What I saw shocked me to the core. The television footage we have been seeing does not even begin to scratch the surface in appreciating the utter devastation which confronts those living in the flood affected areas. The impact can perhaps be best personified in the vacant stare of the inhabitants who have literally lost everything.

A road block greeted my arrival at Grantham with only dedicated workers being allowed through as they were still searching for many of the missing. Many homes were uninhabitable and, quite frankly, the locals literally had nothing to come back to, even if they were allowed. There were over 100 defence personnel working there, along with SES volunteers, federal police, truckies and, of course, the team from Global Care. Amid all this confusion and devastation, the local council still found time to send two inspectors to make sure the barbeques and water coolers that the volunteers were using complied with council rules. It beggars belief that such a mindset can occur at such a time of grief.

When the flood torrent hit Grantham, it was like a wave that washed away everything before it. Houses were swept off their supports, so strong was the surge. It came in so fast that residents only had a 10-minute warning. The river bed now looks like a volcanic crater and the town has been effectively razed. Trucks were taking away tonne after tonne of asbestos tainted silt. Any surviving houses have to be stripped of their plaster walls because mould will grow in the pores, creating a significant health hazard whilst it remains. Arguably, it may well be cheaper to bulldoze any house left standing and start from scratch.

The federal police told us they were desperately short of new underwear and pillows. Nowra City Church and other affiliates of Global Care are accepting donations of these and other goods, as well as cash. Many people are still staying at caravan parks or with friends. The feedback from my colleague the member for Wright certainly illustrated the agony of the devastation. I congratulate him on his leadership.

In Goodna a 100-site caravan park was totally washed away. I saw the site, and any remaining caravans were piled on top of each other by the surge of water. Relief funding is slow to arrive but it is too far removed for serious contemplation. Each and every resident just wants to go home, but for some there is no home.

In Ipswich and Goodna, the situation was slightly different. There they were spared the flood wave. Instead the towns were totally inundated by rising water. When the water receded, it was clear that nothing was spared. Bridges, roadways, building structures—a myriad of community facilities will all have to be replaced. In Goodna I came across the owner of a local service station sitting amongst the wreckage of what was once a lucrative business. No more. He also had lost three houses and had nothing but the clothes on his back. I stopped to talk to him. He asked me why would the Taxation Office call him and other businesses that had lost their businesses asking for paperwork for the past few years. He told the tax officers, ‘I have nothing.’ He just sat there and stared at nothing in particular. I asked about power and I was told there wasn’t any because the power company was asking that details be sent by email or fax. How? I just could not believe the stupidity of some of these agencies.

I came away with the impression of how little the rest of us know about the true impact of this disaster. Until I actually stood there and saw with my own eyes, smelt the smells, felt the heat, I really had no idea of the reality. Many inhabitants are clearly still in shock. They have no money with which to buy food, and anyway food was very scarce. One couple I came across were shuffling in the mud with a probe in what appeared to be some sort of aimless ritual. They were actually looking for photographs. Having lost every material possession, memories are all that they have to cling to. It is very sad.

Television insulated me from the absolute emotional impact of what many Queenslanders have suffered and are suffering. But what amazed me is the utter generosity and solidarity as characterised by this army of volunteers. For me, it was a day of contrasts but I am glad I went. The sheer hopelessness of the sight that greeted me was balanced by the energy and spirit of a community working together in the recovery process. I think what will be needed for quite some time to come is emotional support. The victims are in a varying degree of shock, some mild, some extreme, but they all will need moral support from the rest of us. Rebuilding will be a gigantic task but it will be done. I have the utmost faith in our people and our nation.

To those volunteers from Gilmore, and especially those from the Nowra City Church, I thank you. Already donations of underwear and pillows are being delivered to our office. To Bec Davies, who in real life runs the family business of HisWay Earthmoving in Nowra, you are simply the best. There is the task of arranging teams of volunteers for food distribution, cleaning of houses, removal of rubbish and a myriad of other necessary jobs, and you are just the right person to do it. To Nowra City Church, how proud I am of you for giving without fanfare or any expectation other than Christian charity. I know there are many, many Australians who are doing what they can. It is especially at times like this that I can say to the Australian people how proud and honoured I am to represent you.

Just recently in the paper the pastor of Nowra City Church, Peter Pilt, has hit out at the Queensland government handling of the flood recovery effort, claiming that none of the $120 million donated to the Premier’s relief fund has reached the people on the ground. Mr Pilt has spent much of the past month in most of the worst hit areas of Grantham and in his role as national director of global care coordinating volunteers and feeding emergency service personnel assisting in the clean-up. He said that, firstly, it is shameful that residents who have lost absolutely everything had received an insulting amount of $1,000 from Centrelink to start rebuilding their lives when $120 million donated by hardworking Australians and businesses sits in the Premier’s relief fund. Our politicians are talking endlessly about how much money we raised but it is all froth and bubble because none of it is getting to where it is needed, he said. While many Grantham residents were still not allowed to return home as the region continued to be processed by crime scene detectives, Mr Pilt said that the $1,000 distributed to homeless residents via Centrelink was pitiful.