Grievance Debate – Queensland Floods

I rise today to speak on behalf of the people in my electorate of Bonner and also those in greater Brisbane. I am speaking today in support of Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and his request for the Gillard government to provide assurances about what is considered to be essential public infrastructure under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

I join the lord mayor in urging the federal government to provide certainty to Brisbane City Council and the residents of Brisbane about exactly what assets will be covered by the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. Immediately following the recent flood that devastated so many communities in Brisbane, Brisbane City Council has been trying to establish whether Brisbane’s much-valued ferry terminals, river walk and sewerage plants are eligible for funding for repairs, costing tens of millions of dollars, under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. It is now almost six weeks since the peak of the flood and many communities are trying, as much as possible, to return to normal. The Brisbane City Council is well underway with its flood recovery work almost six weeks since the flood, but this federal government will still not provide the certainty that is so desperately required for the Brisbane City Council to fully move forward with the reconstruction process, a process that I am sure a lot of my colleagues on both sides of this chamber will agree is a top priority.

It is not as though the Brisbane City Council is not prepared to make the hard decisions-it certainly is. Two weeks ago the lord mayor, together with the council’s Chairman for Finance and Economic Development, Councillor Adrian Schrinner, announced the redirection of $380 million, over three years, into the flood recovery effort. That was by no means an easy process, but it was made even harder because of the lack of certainty provided by the federal government about what it will and will not fund.

Unlike this federal government, the Brisbane City Council knows that residents have already been hit hard enough and it is taking all measures possible not to pass on the cost of this reconstruction to residents through higher rates, particularly at a time when the federal government wants to impose an additional tax on all Australians, including on those in Queensland who have already donated so much of their time in volunteering their services as well as their money. Unlike this federal government, the Brisbane City Council practises responsible financial management and is not prepared to run-up budget deficits. Running the budget into deficit is not an option, but the council cannot delay the flood recovery while it waits for the federal government to confirm its financial support. Instead, it has to make some very tough decisions and defer projects in some areas and make cuts in others.

I take this opportunity to commend Lord Mayor Campbell Newman on his outstanding leadership in making these tough decisions and I applaud him and his team on their commitment to prudent financial management. I salute the determination of the lord mayor and his council to get the city’s vital infrastructure up and running again at the earliest possible time. Last week, the lord mayor revealed how Brisbane City Council would maintain a balanced budget, while covering the cost of the council’s damage bill following the impact of last month’s flood. The lord mayor said the council had put all projects and expenditure under the microscope to find ways to budget for the $440 million damage bill without putting pressure on ratepayers. Deferring projects rather than hitting ratepayers with large rate rises is certainly the right thing to do. The lord mayor has acknowledged that, as soon as confirmation is received from the state and federal governments about what will and will not be covered under the disaster relief arrangements, some of these projects can begin to be put back on the table.

The good news for Brisbane ratepayers, thanks to the prudent financial decisions made by the lord mayor and his team, is that they will not have to fund the flood bill via a flood levy or surcharge on their rates. Introducing a flood levy at a time like this would be nothing short of poor and reckless financial management. Instead, a financial plan has been put in place to get the budget in the black and get Brisbane back on track. Brisbane’s clean-up and recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint. Once again, I commend the lord mayor for balancing the council budget to cover the damage bill and for ensuring ratepayers do not suffer expense through extra rate rises and levies-all of which was achieved without any confirmation of support or funding from the state and federal governments.

Unlike the Labor state government in Queensland, Brisbane City Council have also been very prudent in their risk management policies and have taken out storm and flood insurance policies wherever possible. In fact, they pay over $1 million each year in insurance premiums. This will go some way towards rebuilding Brisbane but, as I mentioned earlier, the fact remains that there will still be a significant shortfall over the next three years. Make no mistake: every dollar of financial assistance the federal government refuses to provide is a dollar that Brisbane City Council will need to find by cutting projects in the city.

It was not that long ago that the Prime Minister was in Queensland, promising to do everything in her power to help rebuild Queensland. I ask the Prime Minister: what has changed now that you are back in Canberra? Again, I urge the federal government to provide certainty to Brisbane City Council and all other councils in Queensland that have similar concerns. I read an editorial in the Courier Mail last week that expressed the sentiment eloquently. It said:

No one is asking for a blank cheque. They just want the disaster recovery arrangements honoured in the spirit in which they were intended, an end to the tawdry politics, and enough surety so that we can rebuild our communities. That is not a lot to ask.

I know that a lot of my colleagues in this chamber will agree with me when I say no, it certainly is not a lot to ask.

Behind all this bureaucracy, endless red tape and posturing, I do not know what has happened to influential Queenslanders, like the members for Lilley and Griffith. They seem to be more concerned about Canberra than Queensland, and I join the Lord Mayor of Brisbane in calling for them to stand up for their home state and honour the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements in their entirety and to provide certainty for Brisbane and the rest of Queensland, who have already suffered so much. I call on the Prime Minister to outline Brisbane’s position as well as give all Queensland councils some certainty on what will and will not be eligible for funding as soon as possible. It is quite simple really. All they have to do is say, ‘Yes, vital infrastructure will be funded,’ and, ‘Yes, water and sewerage infrastructure will be funded’-whether it applies to Brisbane or across the state.

In conclusion, over the last six weeks we have all heard a lot about the need to give assistance and demonstrate compassion to the victims of this terrible natural disaster. Indeed, the Prime Minister has spoken many times of this herself. I say to this House: if the Prime Minister really wants to show some heart and some compassion, she can do this by giving certainty.

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