Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Western Australia: Cyclone Olwyn

7:01 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to reflect on tropical cyclone Olwyn, which struck in Western Australia's Pilbara and Gascoyne regions last Friday, and has inflicted major damage on many local communities within the federal electorate of Durack. There are many localities that have felt the force of tropical cyclone Olwyn's fury, including Exmouth, Denham, Shark Bay and Coral Bay. But perhaps the most significantly affected area has been the community in and around the town of Carnarvon, where the local horticulture industry has been devastated by the cyclone. It seems doubly cruel because, after numerous seasonal setbacks over recent years, local crop growers finally seemed assured of a good season. Cyclone Olwyn has now dashed those hopes, entirely destroying the region's banana plantations, flattening grape and other fruit and vegetable crops, and placing further economic strain on a region that has already experienced its share of hardships in that respect.

I was pleased that the federal and WA governments have worked closely together this week to provide the appropriate forms of assistance to those who have and continue to suffer the full force of the cyclone's impact. This includes assistance provided through the jointly funded Commonwealth state Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. This program provides help in the form of food supplies, clothing and accommodation to families in need of these essential items, as well as for repairs to homes and replacement of household contents. The program also provides further assistance in the form of interest rate subsidies for producers and small businesses affected by the cyclone, and freight subsidies for producers to help meet the cost of transporting livestock and equipment to non-affected areas. It also provides financial assistance to local government authorities as they go about the difficult work of repairing damaged public infrastructure and general clean-up operations.

It is a task that will be significant, with the damage to crops and to local infrastructure estimated to be north of $100 million. At this point, it is appropriate that I acknowledge the President of the Shire Carnarvon, Karl Brandenburg, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with on previous occasions and who has been absolutely steadfast this week in highlighting the cyclone's impact on his community and in advocating for the need for support. In many ways, his no-nonsense approach and clear focus this week personifies the whole community's determination to recover from its effects, as Carnarvon has done on so many occasions in the past. Mr Brandenburg can be confident of the full support he has from both myself and the federal member for Durack, Melissa Price.

Understandably, there has been a significant level of media coverage of the cyclone's after effects this week. I know my colleague Melissa Price was in Carnarvon at the weekend to see firsthand the damage and offer her own and the government's support to the local community. There have also been ministers from the WA state government on the ground to lend their support, and I know the state Treasurer, Dr Mike Nahan, with whom I met earlier today, is planning to visit tomorrow.

The physical clean-up is one thing, and will be difficult enough in itself. But as we know from experience with other natural disasters, it is the economic and the psychological scars that can often take longer to heal. As I mentioned earlier, many growers were looking forward to a bumper season. That is now off the cards. And quite apart from the obvious economic effects of that, there is a more personal sense of loss. Local growers have experienced bushfires, floods, drought, a locust plague and now a cyclone over just a few years. The sense of 'Will it ever end?' is strong amongst many in the local community.

In that respect, I am pleased that the federal government's Disaster Recovery Allowance program has been made available to those affected by the cyclone and counselling services provided as part of that which will be incredibly important over the coming weeks. Having spoken to many Liberals in the Carnarvon community, I know that this was high on their list of community needs. Yet, in reading some of the media coverage and the personal stories that have been shared by local residents over the past few days, what has struck me most is their resilience. No-one is saying: 'It's all too hard. I'm packing up. I'm leaving.' There is a determination amongst growers and amongst people living across the region not to let circumstances defeat them. This determination is something that I am sure all senators will join me in expressing their admiration for. I am also sure senators will join me in assuring the people in Carnarvon and surrounding districts across the Pilbara and the Gascoyne who have felt the impact of cyclone Olwyn that they have our full support.