I also rise in support of the motion moved by Mr Tee. The Honourable Daniel Andrews, the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, has been calling for an inquiry for some time. I am particularly pleased that the government has now responded, as recently as 4.42 p.m. yesterday, with a media statement announcing the inquiry, its terms of reference and who will be conducting it. I am sure many other Victorians will be looking forward to participating in the inquiry.
I say from the outset that it is important that during the inquiry added weight be given to the perspective of regional councils. Most of the devastation has occurred in outlying rural council areas.
Those councils by and large have small populations, a low ratepayer base and often a population demographic with a disproportionate number of older Victorians. They also cover large geographical areas and, as a result, have significant infrastructure under their watch. They are faced with a number of challenges up-front. As recently as yesterday it was recorded yet again in Hansard that these councils have not only had the most recent floods but also experienced floods before Christmas, drought, locusts and now fires and fruit fly. I say up-front that we really need to pay attention to the context in which these disasters have occurred over not just the recent time but the years leading up to it.
It is important to have an inquiry at this juncture while we still have vivid memories of our recent experiences in those local communities and with the knowledge that has been gained during the past few months.
Those memories and vivid experiences have been captured by, obviously, individuals, but they have also been captured by community organisations, service organisations, local government and state government, and they are also being fed through to the federal government. All those people and organisations have important stories to tell that need to be fed to the inquiry.
Yesterday I mentioned some issues that have been raised by a number of people and organisations. I would now like to quickly go through those and a couple of others, because it is important to flag the types of issues that I am already hearing people wanting to talk through and discuss as part of the inquiry.
The first is the need to get flood mapping done beyond what has already occurred. Mr Barber pointed to a number of the northern rivers that desperately need some work done as quickly as possible. Coupled with that, we need to have more accurate information about flood peaking.
We also need to have a broader discussion about the timely release of finances to get certain things going in terms of not just individual families but also community enterprises that really are the hub from which a number of other things flow. When they are weak, the rest of the community is weak.
We might also need to look at the way councils are currently not allowed to use in-house labour to restore damaged infrastructure if they want to be reimbursed by government sources. As I mentioned yesterday, the rule at the moment is that they need to use contractors; they cannot use council employees. This leads to greater inefficiencies, and I would argue that it is not cost effective, but that will be for the inquiry to sort out.
The other issue that has been raised with me is that it is usually stated that repair work is to include only restoration, not improvements.
When a significant asset is damaged you really need to understand the context in which it was damaged and also work out ways in which the restoration of that asset can include improvements so that it cannot be damaged to that extent, or damaged at all, the next time. That is a particular issue that needs to be talked through in relation to the damage to the various weirs in our river system. We also need to look at the nature of emergencies and what needs to be done, but that proves difficult because rural communities are at some geographical distance from what that source of assistance might be.
Another thing that will be very useful in the inquiry is to get on the record the number of activities that were undertaken during the floods by local people who came up with practical solutions on the run that may not have necessarily complied with the strict letter of the law. It would be interesting to see whether the solutions that were worked through can be applied in the future and what the implications from their efforts may or may not be downstream. A good example of this is sandbagging, and related issues including the height and location of the sandbagging and what occurs in terms of legal liability if it does not work. A number of communities undertook those sorts of activities and they would welcome some clarification about what may or may not occur next time there is a flood.
I am particularly looking forward to the inquiry focusing on the preparation that needs to be undertaken over and above what occurred in recent times, including whether our immediate response measures as individuals, towns or emergency services were adequate and whether we have the spread of skills and personnel needed to do the massive audit that is required on the ground to find and look through all the areas that have been damaged.
That should not be just in terms of physical damage but should also include an assessment of the psychological difficulties that are building up in each of the communities, as has been highlighted to me by a number of local governments.
We also need to have a proper assessment of small businesses and agricultural businesses so that we can have some idea as to the degree of recovery that our local economies need to work towards. There will be enormous property damage, and that was spoken about at large yesterday. A lot of that is going to involve erosion, damaged fencing, and property and stock losses, and we will need to look at how we may be able to assist our agricultural sector, including farmers, in these areas.
The whole vexed and expensive nature of infrastructure, including roads, the drainage system, weirs and community infrastructure, also needs to be examined.
If we can get some of those older members of the community who can remember the different floods in their local areas over the years to contribute their knowledge, I think that will assist enormously in future flood mapping.
We look forward to this inquiry. I am pleased that Mr Tee has moved this motion. It just so happens that the government announced the inquiry yesterday, and I think everyone will be working hard to ensure that their issues and voices are heard throughout the inquiry. I commend this motion to the house.