Hunter Storm Response
My speech informing Parliament about the Government’s response to the superstorm and what might be done to improve the response for future weather events.
Today I will inform the House about the Government's response to the super storm we experienced last April. Before coming to this place I was a bus operator for some years. In that time I made contributions to manuals on critical incident management and attended an Australian Tourism Export Council [ATEC] workshop on natural disaster management by government and the community sector. I have quite a lot of interest in this area. The storm was—please excuse the pun—a perfect storm. I, like many of my new Hunter colleagues, had just received the keys to our electorate offices. In fact, I had spent only six days in my office prior to the storm. When I awoke on that morning in April seven trees had fallen in my backyard—two were across my driveway, but they narrowly missed my car—we had no power, no telephone and no running water. Another 12 or 13 trees have fallen since then. It took a couple of days for some of those trees to be removed so I could once again leave my property. Four hours before the Premier was to visit my electorate I was informed of his visit via a text message from one of my colleagues in Sydney. The question for me was how to contact him. The scorched earth policy in the handover of offices in this place does not help new members who have to deal suddenly with an emergency or a danger to our community. I tried several means of contacting the Premier. In the end I made contact with his electorate office via his generic email. I was directed to the office of the State Emergency Services [SES] at Rutherford but was advised that the Premier travelling by helicopter—I was driving through flooded and congested roads—and I would not be able to get to his media briefing in time. The Premier did not end up going to Rutherford; he went to Metford. I missed the Premier's briefing but I was able to speak to the many SES volunteers who had come from all over Australia to help us. I also urged people not to use flooded and congested roads and generally supported the Government's messages on safety. My daughter, Jessica, also helped during this time because some of my staff were unable to make it to the office. I have just finished reading the biography of Anna Bligh, the first female Premier of Queensland. It is good reading and I recommend it to the Premier. By taking a bipartisan approach in times of crisis, Anna Bligh earned the respect of the people of Queensland. The Hon. Catherine Cusack in the other place told me that when cyclone Yasi hit the Ballina electorate then Labor Premier Kristina Keneally took with her the local Nationals member at the time, Mr Don Page, to inspect the extent of the storm damage. Sadly, when the April super storm hit my colleagues on this side of the House warned me that the Government would attempt to shut Opposition members out, as it had during the Blue Mountains bushfires. Local members are part of the political process. Indeed, in times of crisis people turn to their local members— for example, the gentleman who came to my office when his mobility scooter was on its last battery and who was in need of a warm cup of tea and help in obtaining a referral to Family and Community Services or people calling from Sydney who were trying to get in contact with their love ones stranded at Gillieston Heights. Such events must be managed in a bipartisan way. Earlier today I noted that the Local Land Services [LLS], in a disaster recovery meeting, said it was having issues contacting some of the farmers. The member for Port Stephens also drew attention to the plight of an organic farmer who was giving up because he or she did not know about category C funding and other grants—he and I are using our electorate allowances to provide that information to the community. I am not placing this information on the public record as part of a blame game; I want an inquiry into this event. I note that as at 1 July the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services is to be absorbed into the Department of Justice and that some funding has been allocated in the budget for SES communications. I want to support the Government on these issues, but Opposition members must be included. At some stage it must be acknowledged that everyone in this community, whether they vote for the Liberals and Nationals, for Labor or The Greens, is part of this State. For the good of us all, the Government should be fair to everyone, particularly in times of crisis.