Queensland: Floods

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:46): My question is to Senator Canavan, representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. The minister would be well aware that the area I live in in North Queensland, where I'm based, has been subject to very severe rain and flooding events in the past week. I ask the minister: could he update the Senate on the impact that these floods have had on the people of North Queensland? I know the minister and most of us here understand, particularly through media reports and through the visit of the Prime Minister, what's happened in Townsville, but could you perhaps indicate, Minister, as I'm interested in this as well: what is happening in the north-west part of Queensland, in the areas of the western part of the electorate of Kennedy, which have also been very severely affected by floods, with what I read to be great loss of livestock?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:47): I thank Senator Macdonald for his question and recognise the impact that this natural disaster has had on his area and community. There have been multiple disasters wrapped up in one. There's been the immediate impact of the flood and the monsoon low on Townsville, near where Senator Macdonald lives and where his office is located, which has done enormous damage to households and resulted in the tragic loss of two lives. There's been enormous damage to our agricultural sector and the loss of many, many stock. The numbers will probably never be known. Of course, in these types of events there's always damage to infrastructure, which cuts towns off, sometimes for months, and it takes a while to rebuild. We also recognise that the tough times to come in that rebuilding exercise are something we will be there for to make sure local communities can do that.

I don't have as much knowledge on this event as others in this chamber. I know Senator O'Sullivan has been to visit these areas. I appreciate Senator Reynolds's time up in North Queensland in responding so quickly to people's needs. I also of course want to pay tribute to the emergency services personnel, who did such a fantastic job on the ground. I suppose it was in some senses fortunate that Townsville had a military base right there. The Army did a sensational job, may I say, particularly in helping to get people out of harm's way when uncontrolled releases from the Ross River Dam occurred. At their peak, those releases were flowing out at 2,000 cubic metres per second, and they occurred overnight. While they were anticipated by a few hours, it wasn't a long time to prepare.

I also recognise there are other areas that have been impacted. They perhaps haven't had as much of the focus, but the sugar industry around Burdekin has had significant losses. I was contacted yesterday by a grazier from Etheridge shire, which has also had significant losses. This has been a widespread disaster and it will take efforts from state and federal governments to make sure we respond properly. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, a supplementary question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:49): I thank the minister for that answer and particularly for his acknowledgement of the wonderful work the Army and, indeed, all the emergency services and the Townsville council have done in that area. I ask the minister if he could tell the Senate what the government is doing to assist those who've been affected by the floods. I know the emergency services minister, Senator Reynolds, has been just about living in those flood areas herself and helping out with assistance, but could the minister tell the Senate what the government has been offering to date?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:50): So far, more than $40 million has been paid into people's accounts in disaster relief payments. That's just in the last six days. I do thank and pay tribute to the officials. Senator Reynolds is leading a fantastic team with Emergency Management Australia. They have honed their responses to these types of events. I have seen that firsthand in others. They have processed now almost 33,000 claims across those six days. I don't have the particular information here in front of me, but the last time I looked at it just under 90 per cent of claims had been processed in a matter of days. That disaster payment is a one-off payment of $1,000 for eligible households and $400 if they have children. My message mainly, though, is to anybody who needs assistance: please get on to us.

I want to pay tribute also to the Prime Minister. With any issue that there has been in getting funding, help and assistance to producers, to people, he has cut through the red tape and made sure that happens.

The PRESIDENT: Senator MacDonald, a final supplementary question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:51): Again I thank the minister. The minister will be aware that many farmers in the north-west who've been looking after livestock for years in a drought situation, hand-feeding them, have now in many cases lost all of their livestock, and there's been very substantial damage. I'm wondering if the minister could indicate what the government is doing to assist farmers who've had such heavy losses with their stock and their land?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:52): Again, the Prime Minister in particular has been willing to pull out all stops to make sure we get the assistance flowing to those hurting from this unprecedented event. Already the government has lifted the assistance available to all primary producers from $25,000 to $75,000. That funding, I believe, is already flowing. We also have a range of concessional loans for farmers, and the ADF is providing assistance to get fuel and fodder out to those farms that need it. But the main thing that I want to focus on is not what we have done but what we will do. We will make sure we'll be here for the long term for these communities. It will take many months, if not years, for some areas to recover from this event, and my message to them is: the government is with you to help. We will do everything we can make to make sure people get back on their feet. There is a bright future for many of these areas, particularly given the rain they have received; they will just need a lot of assistance and help to get there, and we're going to provide it to them.

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