Tropical Cyclone Marica

I rise tonight to talk briefly about the impact of Tropical Cyclone Marcia and particularly its impact on Central Queensland. Last month I moved to Rockhampton. I have never been through a cyclone before. I was not actually there during the cyclone—I was stuck in Brisbane—but my family went through it and it was a harrowing experience for all involved.

It was a cyclone that built in intensity and destruction with remarkable speed. Last week at Senate estimates, the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that they have never seen the cyclone like this develop so quickly and without warning. This one certainly did that. On the morning of Thursday a week and a half ago, it was rated to category 2 cyclone. By that evening it was upgraded to a category 4 and by the time everyone woke up in Australia the next morning it was rated a category 5. There have been very few category 5 cyclones to hit Queensland over time. I have seen different figures. Whether it is five or eight or nine, it is certainly fewer than the number of fingers and toes I have. It was a remarkable event to hit so far down south on the Queensland coast. The towns of Yeppoon and Rockhampton are not really used to dealing with cyclones of this intensity. Rockhampton is a town that is used to dealing with floods but not so much with the wind.

In my contribution tonight, I first want to pay tribute to the leaders and to the entire community who, through their efforts, their quick responses and their listening to the authorities on what they needed to do, made sure that no-one died, fortunately, in this event and no-one was even seriously injured—a remarkable outcome given the strength and force cyclone and given the lack of general preparedness for something of this intensity in that region.

I particularly want to thank Councillor Bill Ludwig, who is mayor of the Livingstone Shire Council and Councillor Margaret Strelow, who is mayor of the Rockhampton Regional Council. They enacted their disaster management plans with great speed—they had to given the speed of the cyclone. They, with very little warning, got messages out to residents to evacuate in low-lying areas. Some of that had to be done at three or four o'clock in the morning given its increased rating of category 5. They successfully made sure that everybody who had to evacuate did evacuate and got to the shelters in time.

We are very fortunate that the damage that was done in Central Queensland was limited to those things that we can rebuild or those things that we can regrow. No-one was lost, no-one had to go through the ultimate tragedy of losing a loved one or a friend. In saying that, there is a fair amount of devastation in the region. Some people have lost their homes. Something in the order of 500 or 600 homes are uninhabitable as a result of the cyclone. For those people, it is a particularly tragic time to go through. I was fortunate enough.

I thank the Prime Minister; the Minister for Human Services, Senator Marise Payne; the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan; the Deputy Prime Minister; and the Minister for Agriculture. On separate trips they came up to visit Yeppoon and Rockhampton in the last couple of weeks. They themselves walked down the streets where people have lost their homes. Mother Nature is a great thing but it is not so good when it comes through your living room. It is a tough period in your life when you have the contents of your living room laid out in the street waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck. But the people of Rockhampton and Yeppoon are stoic and have responded with great discipline and nonchalance to the event. They are getting on with rebuilding their lives and homes.

Another thing that strikes you when you visit Central Queensland now and fly into the towns and drive around them is that an enormous number of trees have been felled by the cyclone. The damage to buildings is limited to those random people who have unfortunately lost their homes. But for much of Yeppoon and Rockhampton it does not look like there has been a cyclone through. Those buildings that are built to the ratings and the building codes that have existed since the mid-1980s stood up very well. But the trees did not. There are no new codes for the growing of trees. A lot of them fell down. That caused a lot of power to go out. There were 1,900 separate incidences or breaks in the powerlines across Central Queensland as a result of the cyclone and of course for farmers it meant that they lost a lot of produce. We must always remember—me included—that when we who live in the suburbs lose trees it is a sad thing because we lose shade, but when farmers lose trees they use their income and their cash flow. And farmers have had to suffer through that. The power was cut to more than 60,000 homes. The majority of homes lost power for at least three or four days and many for a week or longer.

I do want to pay tribute to the work of Ergon Energy in the region, which brought more people to help fix the power in a shorter time than was first feared. It was first feared that a lot of people would be without power for two weeks, but, in the end, most people had their power restored within that week, which is a fantastic outcome, particularly given how hot and humid it has been in Central Queensland since the cyclone.

For the primary producers the impact is very real and ongoing. On Saturday, I visited Yeppoon and a smaller town west of Rockhampton, Jambin, with the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry; and the member for Flynn, Ken O'Dowd. We spoke to a number of farmers and primary producers in the region. The losses to the pineapple industry alone are more than $4 million. About 35 per cent of our pineapples come from that region of the world and they are going be without an income probably for six months at least and possibly longer depending on the damage to some more nascent crops where they are not quite sure what the damage has been yet. Other producers of lychees and mangoes have had their trees flattened. They will probably not get a crop until Christmas next year. Some of those trees will never come back. They will have to wait until others grow back up towards the sky and not across the ground.

With respect to the timber industry, the good news story in Yeppoon recently has been the installation of a sawmill from Tasmania to help create about 50 or 60 jobs in Yeppoon. But they have had about 18 years of their supply of products wiped out by this cyclone.

We went out further west, to Jambin. They had two natural disasters. The cyclone hit them, which was still a category 3 or 2 out in that area by the time it got out there, and they had floods as well given the amount of rain and the related dam releases that had to occur because of that rain. So for some people in Jambin they have had three floods in four years. They have received assistance from the government many times and they have had to go into more debt, but many of them are at their limit in terms of what they can do and how they can continue on.

In finishing tonight, I know the government will do what it can to help, in coordination with the new Queensland Labor government. We are working together to make sure we get assistance out to people. There is already assistance available to households who cannot replace the contents of their fridge. A lot of people are struggling to put fuel in their cars or simply get back on with their lives. Last week, the Minister for Justice announced assistance for people who could not get to work as a result of the cyclone. They can immediately access Newstart allowance for at least 13 weeks. There will probably be more assistance coming in the form of concessional loans and grants to primary producers and small businesses who have been affected.

As we speak, the Queensland government is making an application for category C assistance under the Natural Disaster and Relief Recovery Arrangements, and I am sure that the Australian government will respond carefully and positively to that application.

When disasters hit like this, we do get together as a country and that is a great thing. Politics should be parked throughout it. We have got plenty of time in the rest of the year to go on with that sort of rubbish. What we need to do now is come together as a community, realise that there will be better times going forward and realise that we are all in this together and we will help out. My final message to the people of Australia, and Queensland in particular, is that if you are considering having a holiday this Easter, come to Yeppoon. It is still beautiful and you will have a great time.

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