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Tuesday, 16 February 1971

Senator FITZGERALD (New South Wales) - I rise without apology to honourable senators to draw the attention of the Senate to the plight of people who live in the flooded areas of north-western New South Wales.

Senator Branson - There is not to be an election up there, is there?

Senator FITZGERALD - I visited this area last week. With apologies to Sir Thomas Bracken 1 wish to say: 'I would to God that men could see more clearly or speak less harshly where they cannot see'. I think this applies very vividly to some of those people who tonight would like to interject and create an atmosphere; who cry and squeal about being kept up at this late hour. There are people in these flooded areas who are not sleeping tonight.

I visited the Narrabri area and was able to bring a realistic picture to the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) who,I am aware, controls the purse strings of this nation. As a result, I forwarded to him the following telegram on 8th February 1971, which was last Monday:

Tremendousflood devastation in north-west New South Wales towns of Wee Waa and Narrabri alone estimate their losses by Mayor Alderman Heath and other reliable authorities in excess of $40m. No doubt your parliamentary colleagues and members for the district have advised you of the position. I personally feel that a further announcement by you as PrimeMinister should be made giving greater financial assistance to all who have suffered in this disastrous flood. Only for the magnificent voluntary work performed in the area losses would have been much greater.

The telegram was forwarded by me from 9 Bridge Street, Narrabri. I sent a copy of the telegram to the Premier of New South Wales together with a letter to the effect that the telegram had been forwarded to the Prime Minister and I fell that it was important that the Premier know its contents. I want to say in passing that prior to ray sending that telegram the Prime Minister had made a statement to the effect that the Commonwealth had already agreed to provide $50,000 to the New South Wales Government on a $ l-for-$l basis to relieve the personal hardship and distress of the New South Wales flood victims. A Press statement about the Prime Minister's offer was issued on 8th February - the day my telegram was forwarded to him. On 9th February the Prime Minister made a further statement, which is too lengthy for me to read. However, in it he advised the Premier of New South Wales that certain things would be done. In winding up his statement he said:

Preliminary estimates suggested that an amount in excess of$10m could be involved. This would, of course, be additional to the substantial expenditure on restoring flood damage that would be financed through private insurance.

I felt that it may have been argued that the figure which had been mentioned to me was excessive, so I checked it last night with the Mayor of Narrabri, who advised me that the Minister for Agriculture and the honourable member for Barwon, whose electorate includes the towns of Narrabri and Wee Waa, had asked him where he got the figure of S40m. The Mayor went on to say bow he had assessed this amount. The Minister for Agriculture said: 1 do not think you are far off the mark.' That is the situation that exists at the moment.

I have raised this matter at this late hour because I know of the callous and indifferent atittude shown to people in need in these flood areas. The saying 'To hell with von, Jack. I am all right' is applicable not only in this Parliament but also in areas not far distant from Narrabri itself. I know of a young man employed by an insurance company in Tamworth who was sacked because he was held up one night and decided to slay and help his parents. He returned to work after some time had elapsed and when he gave his reason for being held up he was told that he knew the Hoods were coming and that if he thought his family was more in need of assistance than his employer then he had better leave. This is the situation that exists at the moment and I am bringing this matter up because I believe it is very important.

I ask that urgent assistance be given to thos.: who are in need of unemployment relief and. of course, I am asking for the most sympathetic attitude to be taken in this field by departmental officers. Jobs are not available in the area. The cotton has been completely destroyed and the men who were working in that field are in need of assistance. I repeat that while the hour is late there are many men, women and children who are not sleeping soundly tonight in these flood towns. Over the last fortnight the floods have swept through these townships in many areas of the north west of New South Wales, and after the people have cleaned up their homes the floods have returned. In the Sydney 'Sun' tonight there is an article headed 'Towns Still Fighting Floods'. The article states:

Major floodingis continuing today in the north-western areas of New South Wales. The towns of Walgett, Wee Waa. Pilliga, Burren Junction and Collarenebri are isolated and some telephone lines are cut

This is the situation at the moment and 1 appeal most sincerely to the Government to give immediate and substantial help. As regards the future let us have our engineers - the men who constructed our dams in the Snowy Mountains scheme - investigate this problem and try to advise us of a solution. There must be a solution to this problem. Too frequently do these flood tragedies take place, costing far too much in human lives and in the destruction of property. We must do everything possible now and pledge ourselves to make certain that these floods will not occur again. I ask the Government to do everything possible to help these people who are desperately in need.

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