Scot MacDonald
Adjournment Debate on North Coast Floods
9th May 2017


Mr SCOT MacDONALD ( 18:30 ): The day after Anzac Day, I inspected flood damage in the Tweed. I had seen media reports, and friends and family I spoke to tried to convey the extent of the damage, but only by witnessing the aftermath can one come near to appreciating the trauma experienced by the community as a result of this event. Between 500 millilitres and 740 millimetres of rain was recorded in the 24 hours up to 2.00 a.m. on 31 March. No natural or built system in its pathway can withstand those forces. We know about the two young children and their mother who were lost in the raging Tweed River, and the three other lives lost. The Tweed community quickly rallied around everyone who suffered, and most particularly the King and Kabeolo families.

Australia frequently confronts natural disasters. However, as I found after the Hunter floods two years ago, it is what happens after the television cameras and national media have moved on that really matters. The emergency services agencies on the North Coast did a magnificent job. The State Emergency Service responded to 758 jobs in Lismore, 532 in Murwillumbah, 240 in Tweed, and 205 in Mullumbimby. This includes 495 flood rescues. The service undoubtedly prevented the loss of many lives and injuries. Premier Berejiklian, Deputy Premier Barilaro, Minister Grant and Prime Minister Turnbull did us proud thanking those selfless and courageous people.

However, the long hard road of recovery is what will count in rebuilding the affected homes, businesses and Northern Rivers community. That is why I acknowledge the sustained hard work of local members of Parliament: the member for Tweed, Geoff Provest, and the member for Lismore, Thomas George. They are getting on with the job of ensuring that the right support flows from State and Federal governments. Individuals are being comforted and helped to the best of our abilities, and businesses are being guided to the most appropriate programs. As I found during my visit, the member for Tweed and the member for Lismore are facilitating meetings between Tweed Shire Council and Government Ministers to address planning and disaster preparedness issues. They are showing the leadership that is not particularly glamorous. There are not many headlines, but it is what matters in the weeks, months and years of recovery ahead. They are being ably backed up by the Parliamentary Secretary for the North Coast, the Hon. Ben Franklin.

I thank Councillor James Owen for guiding me through some of the impacted sites in and around Murwillumbah. Councillor Owen and council staff showed me the path of the flood surge and the damaged homes, businesses and public infrastructure. In the early stages, Tweed Shire Council estimated the cost of damage to civil infrastructure at $100 million. Primary production will be hit with a bill close to $31 million. The Insurance Council states that claims totalled approximately $660 million across Queensland and New South Wales as of 11 April.

Councillor Owen took me to the business of Councillor Pryce Allsop and his wife, Carole, on the east side of Murwillumbah. The Allsop's business sells and installs gas appliances. Councillor Allsop barely escaped with his life because the premises were adjacent to the flood flow. Pryce described a late-night kayak rescue as the surge threatened his neighbour's house. The Allsops have lost thousands of dollars of stock and their building will need extensive work. Next door the Bedser's Mitsubishi truck franchise was severely hit, with dozens of new and second-hand trucks written off. I was also shown the council's Murwillumbah depot, where more than 90 per cent of the equipment was ruined.

These stories are but a fraction of the impact of the floods. Some of the damage is difficult to calculate, such as the pupils of Condong Public School being bussed to another school for a term while their school is restored to its pre-flood state. This will surely impact on the school community for some time. We found in the Hunter two years ago that the critical time is about five weeks after the disaster. By that time the adrenaline has worn off, people have overcome their shock, and agencies have moved on from response to recovery. It is at this time that the community's mental health comes under pressure. It is at this time that the realisation settles in that there will be a long road to normalisation, and individuals and organisations begin to focus on their long-term future.

They ask whether they will return to business as before, and whether they will be backed by their friends, family, governments, insurance company, clients, suppliers and banks. This is the time when all need to rally around the North Coast. As my family can attest, they are tough, resilient people, but everyone needs help after an event like this. They need to know we will be there for them for the long haul. Governments cannot fix every problem. We cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can be open and generous. Premier Gladys Berejiklian gave that undertaking when she visited on 3 April.