PRIME MINISTER: Mr Speaker, On Indulgence.
Australia is being tested once again. The East Coast, predominantly New South Wales but I stress also in South-East Queensland, has faced an extraordinary deluge over recent days.
In many places, rains are expected for at least the next 24 to 48 hours, but I fear worse.
In South-East Queensland, there has been intense rainfall with more than 300 SES requests for assistance over the 24 hours to this morning, with crews working through the night.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for western and southern Queensland from this afternoon, which could extend to the Southeast Coast tomorrow morning.
A number of flood warnings remain in place for parts of the state also.
Some parts of NSW are experiencing the worst flooding in over 50 years and worse.
From Penrith to north of Port Macquarie, evacuation orders are in place for 28 areas, with a further 16 areas issued with an evacuation warning.
In the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley, there has been record rainfall.
On Saturday, 500GL of water was released from Warragamba Dam.
That is, to put it in perspective, that is the equivalent of releasing the capacity of an entire Sydney Harbour in 24 hours.
This water flowed into the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers, causing the Hawkesbury to rise to levels not seen since 1961.
Major flood warnings are now current for the Colo River, Hastings River, Hawkesbury River, Macleay River, and the Wollombi Brook.
In Northern NSW, there are 35 communities isolated.
Those communities include Taree, Bellingen, Wingham, Harrington and Laurieton.
Across NSW, 1,400 SES first responders have conducted over 700 flood rescues and responded to over 7,500 requests for assistance.
This is very difficult and dangerous work.
I wish to acknowledge and pay tribute and say thank you on behalf of all of us here in this place, Mr Speaker, for the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers and the emergency services in responding to these terrible events.
And there is serious risk still ahead.
Heavy rainfall is likely to continue up much of the eastern half of New South Wales and into southern Queensland today and tomorrow.
Heavy falls will also develop over northern and central inland parts of New South Wales tomorrow, bringing the risk of flash and significant river flooding to several additional catchments.
A different low-pressure system is also expected to form off the southern New South Wales coast, bringing rainfall there also.
Thankfully, the current forecast has conditions easing state-wide from early Wednesday but we will watch and see.
Mr Speaker, I want to assure residents in all storm and flood affected areas that all parts of government are working closely together.
Premier Berejiklian and I, in particular, have been in regular contact over the weekend and indeed again today.
Yesterday, the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia activated COMDISPLAN in anticipation of NSW requesting Australian Government non-financial assistance.
We are expecting a formal request from NSW for ADF support today is our expectation. We understand this is likely to be for recovery support and clean-up operations, including personnel, vehicles and machinery. The Premier and I were discussing that over the weekend.
We’ve also been just advised now in discussions on the potential for heavy-lift aerial support but this is also still to be scoped. This has been advised to Defence and we will be following this up throughout the course of this day. But at this point, no formal requests have been made.
The ADF is readying itself for this task that still lays ahead, particularly in the recovery phase. It is working closely with NSW Emergency Services to co-ordinate potential areas for assistance.
The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance has been activated to support those who have been affected, suffered significant losses or serious injury, whose income has been affected.
The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment provides non-means tested, I stress that, non-means tested payments of $1000 for eligible adults and $400 for eligible children.
In affected communities, Services Australia are deploying to provide on-the-ground assistance.
As well, the Services Australia Disaster Assistance phone lines are open from 8:00am until 8:00pm. The number is 180 22 66 and further details are available at the www.disasterassist.gov.au website.
Mr Speaker, payments for disaster recovery assistance were initiated yesterday by Services Australia – 34 local government areas are now eligible for the payments.
But I suspect there will be more and we stand ready to do more, to provide whatever additional support is needed, in partnership with the New South Wales and Queensland Governments as necessary.
This is an ongoing situation that is evolving and is extremely dangerous.
We are meeting regularly to be updated on the events and to direct our response. We are grateful at this point that no lives have been lost so far, but weakened foundations for buildings, for roads, and trees, they all create risk, as do downed power lines and rising water levels.
So we ask all Australians in these affected areas to please use caution.
Check in on your neighbours and those who you know that are alone.
Please heed the advice of authorities. Where there are orders to evacuate, please follow them.
As is appropriate at this time, many Members are supporting their communities and are not here in this place.
I know the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Emergency Management, the Minister for Government Services and other ministers are also reaching out and working closely with members, mayors, other agencies, and communities ensuring they receive every support.
This will be a very difficult week for hundreds of thousands of Australians, if not more, as we face the immediacy of the floods, and there will be many difficult months ahead as the clean-up and recovery from this natural disaster gets underway.
We have very competent agencies in our state governments. They are very good at dealing with these types of emergencies. They are doing a tremendous job right now and the Australian Government is standing together with them in ensuring that they can be delivering in these most urgent of times.
But above all, we rely as we have now for a long time, on Australians themselves. They have shown as we can together that we can get through these things when we work together.
And that is what we’ll do in the hours, days, weeks and months ahead, responding to this disaster like those before it and then rebuilding and recovering afterwards.