Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Northern Rivers: Floods

5:44 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to talk about the extraordinary courage of the people of the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. One year ago they were hit by the most unimaginable challenge, in the form of a major flooding that devastated large areas of their community and caused up to 10 deaths. Last week in Lismore they came together to acknowledge what they had been through and what they still had to face. I was privileged to be invited there in my role as the Special Envoy for Disaster Recovery. Others in this place were present too: The Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Watt, and the former Minister for Emergency Management, Senator McKenzie. Emergency management and disaster recovery must always be a bipartisan endeavour, and so it was last Tuesday.

It was a solemn day of affirmation and hope. Commemorations were held for lives lost and the communities devastated in last year's floods. The commemoration of Lismore's tinny army was particularly moving. There were the boaties who risked their safety to rescue many of Lismore's residents from flood waters. Amongst them were the Fijian migrant workers who gave their all in the disaster, cementing an enduring place in the community's history.

During my visits to the Northern Rivers since the 2022 catastrophe, I have been struck by the strength of the communities and the optimism of those who lost their homes, possessions and livelihoods. I thank all those who have shared their experience and welcomed me into their lives.

Last week I visited Cas and Julie at their home in Fingal Head, near the Queensland border. Despite dealing with what they described as a dog's breakfast after their home and business were substantially destroyed by the floods, Cas and Julie overcoming challenge after challenge. Like many Australians affected by such events, they have faced a bureaucratic minefield trying to get timely assistance from insurance companies. Cas and Julie have often been at their wit's end dealing with their insurance claims and navigating multiple levels of government assistance and regulation. The Albanese government is working to unravel as many of these challenges as possible, in conjunction with our state counterparts. The recently announced review of Australia’s disaster funding arrangements will be part of addressing this issue. Cas told me: 'I worked my butt off to get a home, and I am not going to give up now.' But they know they are not alone. Cas said: 'Everyone is doing it tough—but the community is tougher.'

I met with the Tweed Residential Park Homeowners Association and park residents in Chinderah. Sandy Gilbert, an advocate for these residents, said: 'They feel they are the forgotten ones.' Sandy’s community are campaigning to ensure residential park residents are treated equally to other property owners. This includes being allowed to build back in a way that avoids a repeat of the catastrophe they endured. I heard from representatives from Richmond Valley, Kyogle and Tweed Shire councils about the challenges they are facing and their plans for the future. These plans include making resilience the cornerstone of any future infrastructure decisions. I was pleased to discuss with them that the Albanese government’s new Disaster Ready Fund has exactly that at its heart. While we can't stop all natural hazards, we can prepare for and prevent the worst. In this regard, I was pleased to hear about the Living Lab’s work in Lismore to support both the immediate recovery and the longer term rebuilding of the region.

The Albanese Government is committed to strengthening Australia’s disaster preparedness, response and recovery. That is why we created the National Emergency Management Agency and have rolled out the Disaster Ready Fund. I am pleased that the first tranche of projects funded under our $150 million Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative has been given the green light. Last month, $50 million worth of projects was announced and the remaining $100 million will be fully allocated within six months. All seven local government areas in the Northern Rivers region will benefit.

We will continue to work with the Northern Rivers communities and all communities across the country to build resilience against natural hazards so that they need not become humanitarian disasters.

Senate adjourned at 17:49


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