Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022

SECOND READING DEBATE - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

I am pleased to rise on the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022 and to follow the member for Mayo, who took time out today to explain to the chamber and put on the record the impact that natural disasters and the fires have had on her community. I thank her for doing so this morning and I thank her for her support for the measures in this bill.

These are preventative measures. Like with preventative health measures, this bill has an economic dividend. We know that when we spend money on preventative health we save millions of dollars as well as improve the health of millions of people. We have a healthier community and lower costs in our hospitals and to Medicare. When we spend upfront we save money at the back end. This bill is about doing the same thing in response to climate change.

We in this country can and do respond to natural disasters. We know we do so now at an increasing rate as disasters increasingly impact us. One could argue—and blind Freddy knows—that climate change means more natural disasters or, rather, more human induced disasters of the natural environment. When we say 'natural disasters' there's an implication that they are happening not because it's anyone's fault but because it's a natural disaster. For centuries we didn't blame anyone and, if we did blame someone, we blamed the gods. In this current environment and modern society we know that climate change is seeing increasing natural disasters. This bill is about ensuring that as a country we have a fund that allows us to do preventative things rather than just respond to these events. So I think every Australian will welcome the government putting in place these measures.

My community, after the 1973 floods, did extensive flood mitigation, which stood us in good stead last week. When the floods came through and the river rose, we didn't end up needing mass evacuations in my community, because we'd done flood mitigation decades ago. It was tested in the '83 floods, when we all gave a sigh of relief because people's homes and properties weren't inundated and we weren't cut off from other parts of Melbourne, and it was tested again last week, when the river rose higher than I've seen it for some time. It rose higher than in '83, but, because of those mitigation measures, we were all safe. This makes sense on so many levels. We knew it was coming—science told us it was coming—and we're now seeing it with our own eyes and feeling it in our own communities, particularly with the floods in Australia that we've seen across this year.

It would be wrong not to mention those communities and the impact the floods of the last 12 months have had on them, and it would be wrong not to mention the impact that the bushfires have had, across the last several years, in communities in different parts of the country. My community has been fortunate. Grassfires have threatened my community, because we're surrounded still by the Iramoo plains, and grassfires can move very quickly, as we know from history. On multiple occasions a fire has begun at Aireys Inlet or somewhere else down the coast. It can start in a forest, spread to the grass and move very quickly, and we can wake to find Gisborne is burning. It's come through the back of my community. So grassfires are a threat that my community knows well—we know how fast they can move on a bad day for bushfires. But across the country we have seen catastrophic events in recent times. This bill is about ensuring that we have mitigation processes and that we're ready for these disasters. It's about ensuring that we put funds where they're needed to ensure we have the people on the ground trained to do mitigation works when they need to be done, whether they be about fires, floods or cyclones.

I'm really proud to be part of a government that recognises climate change as the threat that it is to us in this country. I'm pleased to be in a government that is thoughtful and has acted, in five months and six days, to bring this bill into the House, to give confidence to the Australian people that we understand preventive measures, understand what's needed, and won't sit on our hands while people face disaster after disaster without an adequate response, in terms of prevention, from government. I'm really pleased to stand here and speak on the bill before us today.

In my community, both fires and floods have been historical things. As I've outlined, flood mitigation measures proved to be effective this time. But who knows whether they'll be effective into the future? So I would hope that, through a fund like this, my local government and the Victorian state government could work with the federal government to look at ways through which we can track the rainfall and what might be coming in the future, to see whether more mitigation needs to happen in my community.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about those members of the Melbourne community evacuated across Maribyrnong last week. Those families woken at five o'clock in the morning with an evacuation order would absolutely have been shocked and alarmed. One of the things about Victoria, and one of the things about Melbourne, obviously, is that, with so many new families arriving from around the world, many do not have that history of knowledge. So it would have been a shock for many families that the Maribyrnong can flood like that. I know it was a shock to me when I read not this year but in previous years that Swanson Street is part of a floodplain and that, if we get big enough rains, Swanson Street floods. That's in Melbourne's CBD.

We all remember footage of floods from history, but this bill focuses people's minds clearly on what potentially could be coming. It's putting in place measures to ensure that those things are foreseen where they can be and plans are put in place. All three levels of government can work together to minimise the impact of the disasters that we know are coming while this government commits to turning back the tide on climate change. These are really important matters. I know that every community around the country is focused on these things at the moment.

I'm waiting for my phone to give me my most recent BOM flood alert because the Werribee River is one of the watch areas and has been for over a week. I know there are people and families around the country doing the same. Last Friday, my office was evacuated. The Department of Finance rang and said, 'Turn off the electricity and evacuate the office.' We are probably 30 metres from the Werribee River. You wouldn't have contemplated that that part of Werribee could flood, so it was a shock to my staff. I was busy that day and one of my sons rang me and said, 'Mum, there's an evacuation order for our street.' So I got home to find the SES knocking on doors, like they do all the time in this country for floods. These were young SES volunteers knocking on doors. They advised me and my family to move things to higher ground, to ensure that the power was turned off and that they thought that the river would peak at 6 pm that evening. This was at 12 o'clock in the afternoon.

I lived that experience with my neighbours last week, so the comfort of this piece of legislation is extraordinary. I'll leave my comments there and thank the members of the executive of the government for bringing this bill forward. I commend the bill to the House.

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