Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (11:37): I rise today in the Australian parliament to speak about the floods that are impacting the eastern side of Australia at the moment. The Parkes electorate encompasses 30 per cent of the Murray-Darling Basin. The easiest way to go through this might be to actually go through the different river systems.
From the Lachlan River in the southern part of my electorate there’s a flood peak heading towards Condobolin at the moment. The water has been coming down through Forbes, the town of Condobolin and further down to Lake Cargelligo. The communities and farmers in that area are bracing for a major flood. The Bogan River, which is normally very small—not more than a depression in the ground—is now adding significantly to the water in the system. The Bogan River starts in and around the back of the town of Parkes and finds its way into the Darling River just east of Bourke. At the moment, it’s contributing large amounts. There has been significant flooding along that Bogan system, and crop losses as well.
The Macquarie River has been flooded several times. We’ve seen significant flood damage in and around Dubbo. I had a group of school students from Narromine. They’ve only just gone back to regular lessons, with kids attending school on the backs of tractors because they can’t actually get into town through the floodwater. Further downstream from Narromine, at Warren, they’ve been poised with extra pumps in place in case the levee bank breaches or overtops. At the moment, the township of Warren has been secure, but there’s significant road damage and crop damage in the Macquarie and lower Macquarie area as the water spreads out before it finds its way through the Macquarie Marshes and ultimately into the Barwon-Darling, up between Brewarrina and Walgett.
Then we keep going through to the Castlereagh. As just a bit of trivia, Castlereagh starts flowing east, it flows south, it flows west and it ends up flowing north. It also finds its way into the Barwon-Darling up around Brewarrina. At the moment there is significant flooding. In between these rivers there are creek systems that are spreading out. The full extent of crop losses is not known yet, but it will be in the billions across the area.
With the Namoi River, houses in Gunnedah have been inundated several times, the village of Carroll has been evacuated, Narrabri has seen flooding in the lower areas and Wee Waa has been isolated for weeks at a time. We are seeing significant crop losses in the Namoi Valley. That flood peak now is west of Wee Waa and it’s causing significant harm in that area as it makes its way to Walgett.
Walgett at the moment is completely isolated. I was speaking to the general manager there. Some of the Aboriginal villages on the edge of Walgett are inundated. The houses are on stilts, but there is water under those houses. They are having issues with the sewage pumps in some of those villages. Namoi Village I think is the main one. They have got them restored. But they’re watching that very closely in case they have to evacuate those communities. So Walgett is completely surrounded and there are significant crop losses in Come by Chance, Walgett and further west.
In the Gwydir there is major flooding. It is one of the record floods. I live very close to the Gwydir. It is the biggest flood I’ve seen in my life. At the moment the Moree Plains Shire are predicting 120,000 hectares of crops lost just in the Moree Plains. Thankfully, the Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Watt, is coming to Moree tomorrow. I am looking forward to letting him not only see first hand the inundation—I think a couple of hundred houses in Moree had water in them—but talk to some of the farmers about crop losses.
If you move further north towards the border, the Macintyre River is causing significant issues, and it has done for some time. All that water congregates. When you get into the west, towns like Mungindi, Weemelah and Garah are cut off. The issue is that all that water then gets into the Darling system, so we’ve seen an out-of-bank river at Bourke. The peak has just gone through Tilpa. I’ve been speaking to the folks at Kallara Station. They’ve lost thousands of acres of crop that was on the point of harvest, which is devastating for them. There are not many grain growers in the far west, but Kallara Station is a significant operation and it has had major damage.
We are seeing that water work its way down through the system. I have a word of warning. We heard the member for Mallee talking about the flood in Victoria with the Murray system. South Australia needs to be bracing for a major flood. Hopefully, the Murray water makes its way through before the water coming down the Darling gets there, but already houses have been evacuated at Menindee. There are two or three flood peaks coming down the river to Menindee that will put further stress on the system. The lakes are full and are actually overfull in many cases. I flew over them on Sunday on my way to Canberra. There’s certainly a lot of water in the far west.
The losses are significant and the inconvenience is great, but in the overall scheme of things in the far west particularly it’s probably just what they needed. That refurbishment and replenishment of the far western part of the country, with the Darling spilling out into Talyawalka and other major waterways that haven’t seen this sort of inundation for a long time, will really help refresh that area. But there is a lot of hardship attached to it.
I want to pay tribute to the mayors. There are 18 council areas in my electorate and in all cases the mayors have shown great leadership, and there are the volunteers obviously. In a couple of weeks I will have been in this job for—and I’m looking at the member for Maribyrnong—15 years. I have to say that I think this is the greatest level of cooperation between the three levels of government in a disaster that I’ve seen. I’m not hearing much complaint about the processes that have been put in place. People have been around long enough to know that they will suffer hardship in a flood. I commend the ministers at all levels, the mayors and the volunteers on the ground, who are doing such a mighty job for such a long time.
This is not over. La Nina is predicted to stick around for a bit longer, but I can tell you that the people in my electorate are looking for a bit of sunshine.