PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Mr TUDGE (Aston) (7.03 pm)—I rise to support the motion of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the recent floods and other natural disasters throughout Australia, including my own state of Victoria.
This summer, more than any other in memory, has wrought devastation throughout our nation from floods, cyclones and bushfires. I offer my personal condolences to those who have tragically lost loved ones and those who have suffered loss of home or property.
In the first signs of the summer to come, floods hit Central Queensland in early January, severely affecting the towns of Bundaberg, Emerald, Dalby, Rockhampton and smaller settlements such as Theodore and Condamine. Hundreds of homes were inundated, dozens of businesses devastated and thousands of head of stock drowned.
Separate floods hit the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. They hit central and northern Victoria as well as northern New South Wales. We were all shocked by the inland tsunami that went through Toowoomba and the flooding in the Lockyer Valley, particularly in Grantham and Murphys Creek. In that region alone, 20 lives were lost and nine, I understand, are still missing. Cyclone Yasi was deemed one of the worst cyclones to hit the northeast coast of Queensland in the last 90 years. And after that there was more flooding in Victoria. Finally, there were the fires in Western Australia on the eastern outskirts of Perth.
I can scarcely imagine the horror many people experienced in the face of these disasters. Australians have always been cognisant of the high prevalence of natural disasters on our island continent. However, these past months they have been particularly devastating and extensive. The impact of the disasters extends to the economic and social wellbeing of all affected communities.
While my own suburban electorate of Aston did not suffer anywhere near the devastation of those towns in Queensland and western Victoria, it did not go unscathed.
The local SES had tended over 400 calls due to the heavy rains; there were houses flooded and businesses seriously damaged. SES unit deputy controller Craig Carson described it as the worst flooding he had ever seen in the area. The council had to close over 20 roads over a single weekend. As always, the local SES, police and other emergency services did an outstanding job.
Local residents in Knox and Whitehorse in my electorate were also typically generous in their desire to help out fellow Australians in need outside of their own community. Russell Smith and fellow volunteers from the Rowville CFA pulled together resources from the community, calling on donations of buckets, mops, floor cleaner and disposable gloves to help Victorian flood victims with the clean-up. Knox City Council offered specialist staff to the flood recovery in Queensland and in the Wimmera and Mallee areas of Victoria. Knox Gardens Cricket Club president, Rob Cottle, brought his club and the Knox Football Club together for a charity Twenty20 cricket match last week to raise funds for flood victims. Knox CFA volunteers from Scoresby and Ferntree Gully were sent to clean up in and around Rochester. Dozens of churches and local community groups held fundraisers or sent volunteers to help out. We have an incredibly strong sense of community in my electorate, and it is particularly demonstrated in times of crisis such as this.
As a small way of contributing to the clean-up effort, and in order to better understand the issues, I organised for several of my parliamentary colleagues and some of my local church leaders to visit some of the flood affected towns in western Victoria, in the electorate of Wannon where Dan Tehan is the federal member. Included in the group were Greg Hunt, Bruce Billson and Scott Ryan, as well as Judy Shaw and Sarah Eldridge from the Rowville Salvos and Senior Pastor Dale Stephenson from Crossway Baptist Church.
At community meetings in the small town of Skipton we heard very raw emotions. Almost every business in the main street had had five feet of water through it. Many houses were uninhabitable. People spoke of the devastation that it had caused them, although one lady in tears gave thanks, noting that ‘at least no-one had died’. She had lost her business several days earlier but represented the typical stoicism of fellow Australians, particularly those in the country.
We became aware of the fact that floods can have all sorts of consequences on people’s lives. We assisted one elderly woman whose house was not flooded but whose septic tank was. Her problem was that the septic truck could not access her driveway in order to empty the septic tank because there were trees covering it. She was an elderly lady living by herself. So we were able to help out in a small way by just clearing the driveway so that that issue could be addressed. That is not something that you would immediately think about as a consequence
of a flood. No doubt there are dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and thousands, of other smaller issues like that throughout the community.
While in Beaufort, we were able to assist in a small way with cleaning up houses and small businesses which were completely flooded. As a result of this trip, I called on Knox residents to join a Knox volunteer army to give whatever time they could spare to flood victims in western Victoria. As a consequence, I am aware of at least a few dozen people who will shortly be offering some service to help rebuild fences on agricultural properties that were affected by the floods.
I would like to pay tribute and give thanks to all those who have volunteered or who have given to the relief effort, whether they be from my electorate or elsewhere. We have seen incredible efforts and contributions made by so many, but particularly by the police, SES volunteers, health workers, CFA and defence personnel. The people of Australia have demonstrated our ingrained sense of defiance and mateship in the face of adversity. We have rolled up our sleeves and shouldered the collective burden to help others in distress.
This summer will always be remembered for the disasters that have occurred throughout our nation. The thoughts and prayers of Australians are with the loved ones of the 35 of our fellow Australians who died in the Queensland floods.
We mourn with the family members of those who have perished. Over coming weeks, months and years, many Australians will face a journey of recovery but they will not face this journey alone. Our nation has lived through these tragedies together and we will rebuild together.