Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Cyclone Debbie

7:55 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie earlier this year, I had the privilege of travelling with federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten, to affected communities and also with the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen. With Chris Bowen I travelled around Bowen in particular, and Chris got plenty of nice photos of Chris Bowen in Bowen! But we also went to Proserpine, Airlie Beach and Mackay and saw the vast damage that Cyclone Debbie had wreaked on those communities.

While we were in Bowen we met with representatives from the Murroona Gardens, a 90-bed aged-care facility with an additional 80 independent-living units. The residents and staff of the facility were issued with an evacuation notice on 26 March. Of the 77 residents at Murroona Gardens, 12 were collected and cared for by family members, 18 high-care bedbound residents were taken by ambulance to Mackay hospital and 47 residents were evacuated to the multipurpose emergency facility at the Bowen State School.

The multipurpose emergency facility at the Bowen State School proved not to be ideal for those evacuated residents. An unsealed portion of the roof, with six large unsheeted windows, caused a large amount of water to inundate the facility, making conditions miserable and uncomfortable for those residents. This is not the fault of the volunteers or staff at the facility. All Queenslanders know that nothing is certain in a natural disaster and that sometimes no amount of preparation can swing a scenario like that in northern Australia recently in your favour.

A disaster like this can be a great source of confusion and trauma for elderly people and those families that are responsible for caring for them, but it can be avoided in the future. I am told that Murroona Gardens applied for funding in the ACAR Aged Care Approvals Round for a new 32-bed wing, which would be elevated and built to a standard that would allow Murroona Gardens residents to shelter in place, without being evacuated. I understand that they were unsuccessful in the latest ACAR funding round. I understand that they were also unsuccessful in seeking funding from the National Stronger Regions Fund. This project would ensure the on-site safety and comfort of at-risk elderly residents going into the future. The construction phase of this disaster-proof shelter is projected to provide 24 full-time jobs during 62 weeks and a further eight full-time ongoing positions once it is completed. The project would provide jobs for the struggling region and would ensure the safety of elderly people in the area.

I support this project and Murroona Gardens in their efforts to obtain this grant, and I call on the government to come to the table. The representatives told us that the member for Dawson has, apparently, been a massive supporter of theirs in past years but has come up with nothing in terms of government help for this important project. We know that money talks on this issue, and the member for Dawson clearly does not have enough sway with this government. It is time for the member for Dawson to stand up, stick his neck out and get a real outcome for this community, and particularly get a real outcome from this Sydney-centric-focussed Turnbull government.

We understand, as Queenslanders, that natural disasters are unfortunately a regular occurrence. I was very impressed with the efforts of the local council in working with emergency services. The mayor said to us, 'Unfortunately, we have become quite used to this. Hence, our efforts to help in this regard are quite professional.' Indeed, having been to that area twice in the matter of a week we did see in that period of time how well coordinated the clean-up was between the state government, local council and disaster experts.

We also know that this is a regular occurrence in the area and that the elderly people of Bowen deserve much better long-term care and accommodation than what they have at the moment. We understand that this will happen again and that the elderly residents of Murroona Gardens deserve much better care and accommodation than what they have now. We say that this should be the best equipped and best possible infrastructure to keep the aged-care residents of Bowen safe. The community deserves nothing less. Federal Labor is prepared to support them in their efforts.