PRIVATE MEMBER'S STATEMENT - Maitland Electorate Flooding

Ms JENNY AITCHISON (Maitland) (23:19): The Hunter River at the Belmore Bridge in Maitland is currently below the minor flood level of 5.9 metres. River levels in Maitland were expected to exceed that level this afternoon. The river level may reach around 7.2 metres early Wednesday morning, and further rises are possible. I thank the SES and the many volunteers who work and struggle to save so many people, houses, livestock and property in our community. I also thank Maitland City Council, which has been providing many updates about the many roads in my community that have been closed as a result of the weather events. I thank the RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW, the local police, Local Land Services—which is doing a lot of work with local farmers in my electorate—paramedics and all of the other emergency services and volunteers.

I thank the Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean, who has taken the time with his staffers today to brief me extensively on how the Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Scheme works and how it is coping with the current flood event. I want my community to know that we have been asking about the floodgates. Most of the floodgates on the Hunter River are actually automatic. Once the floods have started and they have been activated, they will work to keep the water in the river rather than on the flood plain. I have had a lot of people calling my office and contacting me on social media over the past couple of days about that.

The other good news I heard today is that the Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Scheme now has a permanent office within the SES office in Maitland. That is vitally important. Maitland is the home of the SES; it was established in Maitland after the 1955 floods. Maitland is also the fastest growing regional city outside of Sydney in the State, so floods impact us very quickly. We are used to them but we do have a new population that is often not aware of the impacts. We are asking for regular situation reports from the Hunter Valley Mitigation Scheme people and also from the SES.

I thank the Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, the Hon. Paul Toole, who told me today that he will meet with me tomorrow for a briefing about Testers Hollow, a State road in my electorate. It was promised to be raised after the floods in 2015 and we are hoping that there is not too much of a delay now that it is mid project but not completed. I thank the Deputy Premier for his comments this evening when he gave me a briefing. I also thank other members in this place. One of the issues my community learnt about in 2015 was that the lack of briefing across parties was very damaging during floods. I really hope the Government will keep good with those promised briefings.

I urge the community to be very careful about what they are posting on social media. It is easy during periods of intense emergencies for people to get concerned because of rumours they might hear. Just today I had someone asking me if one of the streets in Maitland had been closed and it had not, and that information was readily available on the council website. In 2015 a lack of information meant that people were very concerned about flooding in the CBD. While we should have been aware of the situation at that time, it should not have been a cause for alarm or concern at that level.

I urge people to refrain from driving or walking through floodwater. I had a look at some of the roads that were flooding over the weekend. They are very dangerous and we should all know in Maitland that it does not matter how safe it looks, we do not know what has happened to the road surface during a flood event. Road closures and isolation due to flooding is going to affect families, workers and schools. We are hopeful the floods will not create an island at Gillieston Heights again. I urge people to monitor emergency warnings and severe weather updates on local ABC radio, the SES Facebook pages and the Bureau of Meteorology website, as well as my Facebook page.

I urge everyone to please be safe, take care and adhere to all directions from the SES and other emergency workers.