I also rise to support the motion before the house. I begin by thanking the many people who have worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for many weeks now, not only during the most recent floods but also during the floods that preceded the ones we are recovering from at this time. As mentioned by other speakers, our rural communities have gone through enormous difficulties because of the droughts, bushfires, floods, locusts, floods, fires and floods again. The predictions are for even more rain to follow.
This time we have been placed in a situation where rural communities have demonstrated again how they manage to come through very difficult times with enormous resilience.
We have been able to protect many of our towns and much of our property. The damage in terms of the rural food sector is enormous, and it will take a long time for that sector to recover, not just in terms of crops but also in terms of livestock, where we are seeing cases of disease. The damage to businesses in smaller communities has also been marked. In some cases the reopening of businesses will take some time, and in other cases unfortunately businesses will not be able to reopen at all. Those examples of damage are obvious, but there are a number of communities where individuals are really starting to show signs of mental anguish as a result of the extremes being faced by the citizens of this country.
As mentioned by previous speakers, particularly Ms Pulford, the electorate of Western Victoria Region has also had a number of flood situations. Those have occurred in the towns of Clunes, Creswick, Bacchus Marsh, Beaufort, Delacombe, Dimboola, Skipton, Jeparit, Horsham, Stawell and Maryborough.
We also had the evacuation of parts of Halls Gap on Friday because of landslips, and we have also had landslips along the Great Ocean Road. The Princes Highway has also been cut in many places, in particular the two-week closure around Panmure and Kyneton.
Whether members live in western Victoria or not they would be familiar with those sorts of towns. There are hundreds of much smaller communities with names that are not familiar which have also gone through enormous hardship in the last few weeks, particularly small towns very close to the Grampians where there has been no real warning or time to prepare for floods. They have been inundated and have not had the capacity to deal with the immediacy of the problem at hand. Local councils, whether they be Horsham, Hindmarsh, Moyne or Corangamite, have put in an outstanding effort. I also thank the employees of those shires for their dedication beyond the call of duty. Yes, they get paid, but nevertheless they have been working on 24-hour rosters to make sure that everything possible is being done in those communities.
When talking about extremes what comes to mind for me are two photographs I have. They were taken by an artist who lives in Dimboola; her name is Jenny Parkes. One photograph is of the bed of the Wimmera River about 18 months ago.
It depicts the last remnants of water in a patch behind the township. It shows cracks in the earth. It is in a frame, and you see it as you enter my office; I have it there as a constant reminder for those who live in the electorate of Western Victoria Region, who often get a fair bit of rainfall, about what drought means to those communities that have been suffering with drought over many years.
The other photograph is one that I have at home, and it depicts one of the great-great-grandchildren of the Haby clan in Dimboola. He is around six years old, and in the photograph he is stretched out on his stomach on the sandy bed of the Wimmera River, just playing there. Again it is a reminder of the extremes we experience in our communities.
I was in Dimboola last Thursday to witness the damage that was wrought by the Wimmera River flood, in particular the damage to the weir, the debris in the river, which is quite dangerous, and the roads that have been damaged. The people of Dimboola have demonstrated time and again that due to their local knowledge, know-how, drive, sheer hard work, and their ability to work closely with the agencies, they have essentially been able to save their town. The sandbagging that occurred and the location of that sandbagging was instrumental in ensuring that there was minimal damage to Dimboola. Four houses were inundated past their floorboards. There were roads washed away and as I said, there are issues with debris and the weir, and also with the Jeparit weir. It is a testament to those in the township and district that they came forward and worked so hard.
We know that one thing works in Horsham, and that is that its flood map is a testament to the people who pulled it together, including the catchment management authority, because it ran the test in terms of a 1-in-50-year flood incident which was upgraded to a 1-in-100-year flood incident. In lots of ways people should be very proud.
Horsham had a fair bit of time to prepare and a fair bit of media attention — everyone saw photographs and film footage of parts of the main street of Horsham, the Capital Horsham motel and the aquatic centre. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of officers of Horsham Rural City Council, including Cr Mandi Stewart, Angela Murphy, Tony Bawden and David Eltringham, the general manager for technical services, whose knowledge is invaluable to that community when it comes to emergency situations. I also thank David Tepper for hopping in the car and showing us a whole range of different sites outside Horsham that warrant a lot of attention in the future.
I also want to mention Skipton. With Ms Pulford and Joe Helper, the member for Ripon in the other place, I had the opportunity to meet with Matt Makin, the mayor of Corangamite Shire Council, and with the CEO. We met on the banks of the river, or creek, and that in itself spoke a thousand words to us. Half of the footbridge that was once in place was strewn on one side of the bank, and on the other side was the remainder. A number of community assets were affected by the floods, including the rail trail, the museum, the community hall, Stewart Park, Jubilee Park and a number of memorials. Eleven businesses and 13 homes were affected by the floods.
It is those sorts of smaller communities to which we need to pay some attention; they cannot operate if their only supermarket is not open, their only takeaway shop is not open or their only hotel is not open. We are very fortunate to have an art gallery in a town the size of Skipton.
I am concerned about the potential for that gallery not to reopen, and I am sure that all of us representing western Victoria will work tirelessly to get those sorts of businesses up and running as quickly as possible.
I draw the attention of the house to an article in the Warrnambool Standard of 26 January by the mayor of the Corangamite shire, Matt Makin, entitled ‘Floods bring clarity to our values’. The article is a very human story about what it is like to be working in communities in that local government area, what people are doing, what they are saying and their motivations. He then went on to describe coming home late after being at a community meeting and sitting at the end of the bed where his three-and-a-half-year-old son was dozing off to sleep; he wrote about feeling settled that his family had at least a home, a bed and dry carpet under their feet as the children dozed off. That in itself brings out the human nature of what we are subjected to when we are under enormous pressure, and also what we can endure and bring to our sense of humanity.
I thank not only local people but all those who have worked very hard over the last few weeks and, in many parts of Western Victoria Region, over the last few months. I know a number of issues have arisen, and I will address them later during this week.
There is an urgent need to get flood mapping done beyond what is already there. There is a need for more timely recovery avenues. There also needs to be more informed information about flood peaking.
There needs to be a re-examination of the use of local government labour and how local government employees at the moment are only paid for overtime and not the time in between. Also, the quotation process needs to be examined in terms of streamlining.
I thank other people who do not live in western Victoria but who came to the aid of the people there. They got in their cars and came up to places like Skipton, including members of the North Melbourne Football Club, who by their presence and activities added to the boost in morale for those in the township.
It is also important that we keep an eye on the mental health of those people who have gone through a number of incidents in the last few months. We also need to ensure that we keep encouraging our younger people to put their hands up to volunteer. A number of people in the Red Cross around Horsham were doing 20-hour shifts. We need to get younger people involved.
We need to build on their interests when they come into a recovery centre, rather than have them just turning up in an ad hoc manner. We want them to truly be leaders and advocates for their local communities in future emergency situations.