Tuesday, 25 August 2020
Lyne Electorate: Bushfires
Last November, my electorate became the epicentre of a ferocious series of bushfires across the whole region. As I've previously reported to this House, over 250,000 hectares was destroyed. That included over 100 homes, hundreds of buildings, a school and many businesses. It was a frightening and devastating time for so many people in the Lyne electorate and in the mid-coast local government area. For more than a month, there was this grey-orange haze that blanketed the whole mid-coast precinct. There was, unfortunately and sadly, one death inside a burning house at Johns River, in the middle of my electorate. A total of 379 buildings and outbuildings were destroyed and another 175 were damaged. Bobin Public School was significantly damaged. The Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Service building was destroyed and so were three wooden bridges.
In the Port Macquarie-Hastings area, which is the other part of my electorate to the north of the mid-coast council, there were 37 homes destroyed or damaged in the Hastings Valley. There were also 68 outbuildings destroyed. Over 500 rural landholders were affected, had their fences burnt or destroyed, and there was a timber mill that was totally wiped out—all by a fire that came from the national park to which they were prevented from creating a fire break.
The fires could have actually been much worse. When you hear how bad it was, it could have been much worse. The place was overwhelmed with Rural Fire Service volunteers, people from New Zealand, people from Canada and the Australian Defence Force. We had a visit, just in the days while there was still quite massive fire activity, from the Prime Minister which was really great for community spirit, to know that he was interested and caring for us and put all the defence tankers and refuellers and the other hardware and people support behind it.
I've been working with my state and local government colleagues to make sure that we get the best recovery out of this. But COVID has come along and kneecapped so many businesses, because we've had a tourism industry on the Mid North Coast and after the bushfire all the imagery of it kept a lot of those tourism travellers away. But there's been massive regrowth of the forest. You can see gum trees sprouting mini branches and leaves all over the place.
I'd like to highlight about eight projects that we have aspirations to get going to increase the tourism activity; to increase business activity; to create markets; and to expand primary production processing in dairy—which is dotted around the mid coast and the Hastings and even down to the bottom in the Hunter River. But at the north end we have many large dairy farms that have an existing dairy processing facility that could do so much more, but, like a lot of things, we are trying to re-tool and re-industrialise our economy. That is a really good opportunity there. A proposal has been to expand that dairy factory and also create a regional produce market.
Up above Hastings on the Comboyne Plateau, the Comboyne services club, like most services clubs in these towns, was a refuge during the fires and an emergency evacuation site. It's a community hub and centre, and they are hoping to expand. There'd be 40 direct jobs during the construction of what they have planned. In the Manning Valley, there's a significant project which will have huge ramifications, and that's the $8½ million expansion of the Taree indoor sports stadium for a multisport arena, called the Iron Arena. It would be able to cater for futsal, basketball, indoor events and indoor cricket. It will be the largest multi-indoor facility on the North Coast of New South Wales.
We are hoping to create a new education and innovation hub as part of the already announced—very far in advance and about to do civil works on—Figtrees on the Manning project, a development which is a totally planned precinct rejuvenating the old dairy factory on the banks of the Manning River with an aged-care facility in one area, seniors living in another and a brewery is planned to go into the old factory. All that has been catalysed by the investment in the civil infrastructure that we're already funding.
We could get more involved in projects like that, which would expand the economy which would keep more people in town. We have got the Taree university centre, which has been announced, and it's one of the regional university centres that this coalition government is expanding around the country.
There are other interesting projects too that I would like to put on the record. The Manning Great Lakes has a huge, active, cycling club. They have plans to do some civil works to create a mountain-bike park. For those of you that have never mountain-biked, it is a massive growth industry. In another part of my electorate—a beautiful place called Dungog—they have set up a flow park on the Dungog Common, which is a graded and contoured mountain-bike track through the trees. There's a collection of possibly 24 kilometres that could be crisscrossed on this 650 hectare common. Since it's been opened, it is a mecca. Some weekends there are 600 visitors to this town to ride up through the common and race down. It's absolutely electrifying. I've done it. I got to know it so well, I thought I'd see how good my somersaults over the handle bars are! But I will be back; that won't stop me. It is a real thrill seeker opportunity.
The Taree Tip Riders want to do that too because it gets the kids away from the Xbox. They're not hanging out at the supermarkets or at McDonald's; they're out there riding bikes, having fun. Things like multisport arenas lift all boats on the tide. Sport is a great generator of local and regional tourism. The Manning Valley has suffered like a lot of the manufacturing hubs of Australia in regional Australia, where a lot of manufacturing has been outsourced over the last decade or dozen years. A train building facility that used to make train bogies was taken to India. We had milk processing factories which we're trying to rejuvenate. We had safe making. We had metals, joineries, all sorts of industries. If we can get cheap electricity going again, these industries will relocate back to Australia.
But focusing on the rejuvenation post the worst bushfire season on the mid-coast and with the Port Macquarie, Hastings history, we really do need to put some stimulus projects on the table and deliver them because, coming out of COVID, we want to get everyone working. We've had growth in that area in NDIS employment but we would like to have more value-adding exports like processing milk and cheeses. We have a massive abattoir which we would like to see expand. We have population growth. COVID has put the mid-coast on the radar. We have a freeway to our doorstep. We have a railway and we have an airport. It was one of the first areas to get fully NBN-ed, so it can be a digital hub. There are so many possibilities for this region.
In Foster, which is also on the coast, just south of Taree, we have plans to upgrade the waterfront precinct with a boardwalk and cycleway. All of these aren't my hair-brained ideas. I harvested all the projects of the whole region, put them into a vision 2030 plan and I will be promoting it up and down the corridors, particularly as we announce a bushfire recovery plan. I commend all these projects to the House and to ministers.
The time for the grievance debate is expired. In accordance with standing order 192B, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 1 9:28