Wednesday, 22 February 2023


Environment and Planning Committee



Environment and Planning Committee


David DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) (10:06): I move:

That this house requires the Environment and Planning Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by 30 June 2024, on the state’s preparedness for and response to Victoria’s major flooding event of October 2022 (the flood event), including but not limited to the:

(1) causes of and contributors to the flood event;

(2) adequacy and effectiveness of early warning systems;

(3) resourcing of the State Emergency Service, the adequacy of its response to the flood event and the adequacy of its resourcing to deal with increasing floods and natural disasters in the future;

(4) implementation and effectiveness of the 2016 Victorian Floodplain Management Strategy in relation to the flood event;

(5) location, funding, maintenance and effectiveness of engineered structures, such as flood walls, rural levees and culverts, as a flood mitigation strategy;

(6) flood event as a whole, including but not limited to the catchments and flood plains of the:

(a) Avoca River;

(b) Barwon River;

(c) Broken River;

(d) Campaspe River;

(e) Goulburn River;

(f) Loddon River;

(g) Maribyrnong River;

(h) Murray River;

(7) the 2007 decision of the Minister for Planning to approve the construction of a flood wall around Flemington Racecourse and whether the growing impacts of climate change were considered;

(8) the implications for future planning decisions including:

(a) how the Victorian planning framework can ensure climate mitigation is a consideration in future planning decisions;

(b) how corporate interests may influence decision-making at the expense of communities and climate change preparedness; and

(9) any other related matters.

This is a very important inquiry. This inquiry will examine the preparation for and our preparedness for these flood events. It is clearly a critical matter that we have a proper flood mitigation strategy in our state, and that applies obviously catchment by catchment. It means proper planning needs to be in place. It means proper mitigation techniques need to be in place, and it means proper warning systems need to be in place. You cannot expect communities to be confronted with a major flood event without proper warning, and indeed you should not expect communities to be confronted with a flood event that has been caused in part or in whole by planning decisions that have been made foolishly, in a cavalier manner or in some other delinquent or unsatisfactory manner ahead of time.

Often I think councils look at things in a piecemeal way, and I am not pointing the finger at them in particular on this. I make the point I am not pointing the finger at them in particular on this because I do not think councils are always in the position to have all of the information they need. But they are confronted in fact by planning applications item by item as they come forward, and often it is the totality of changes around flood plains.

The case of the Maribyrnong is a concerning case. Clearly across the catchment, planning decisions have been made. There has been greater urban infill and greater run-off, and that applies to the whole of that catchment. At the same time, specific decisions were made in the middle 2000s to put in place flood wall mitigation for certain structures around Flemington.

I make it my point here that I am a strong supporter of racing in this state, and I strongly support the role that Flemington in particular plays. But that is not the point of this. The point of this is to understand the decision-making behind the government’s steps to build that wall and to provide the support for building it – that is Justin Madden’s time, Labor’s time. I make the point very clearly that this is an older set of decisions that were made. Mr Mulholland is nodding – I know he is very concerned about a lot of these flood mitigation matters in his electorate, as are Ms Lovell and others, who are very concerned about the issues within their specific electorates.

This inquiry will have sufficient scope to examine what it needs to see and do and recommend in this area. I will leave it to a number of my other colleagues to talk in particular about some of the rural flooding, because they are more expert on that than I am, and in that sense they will make a contribution. But I note that a number of rivers are listed in this. That is not an exhaustive list, and the terms of reference are sufficient to look at flood events that have occurred elsewhere.

In my own electorate I have spent some time looking at the issues around the Elster Creek. It is very low lying land that comes in at Elwood and flows through all the way down to Bentleigh and surrounds. These are low-lying areas that are prone to flooding. We have seen recent floods even on recently built infrastructure, like level crossings, where the government has clearly not got the mitigation steps in place and has not thought through the implications when it has commenced new level crossing removals. I am not, again, pointing the finger specifically on this. I am just saying that we need a better process to actually make sure that when the planning happens the outcome is not a series of floods as a consequence when this is not thought through in the way it should be. This applies right across the whole state. It applies in the metropolitan area. It applies in the rural areas as well.

This state government’s planning issues have got rather more significant, and I noticed the Minister for Water’s reluctance in this chamber to answer in full and completely about the involvement of Mr Nick Wimbush as a critical individual in some of these matters. He was put in charge of the flood review to be conducted by Melbourne Water. This Melbourne Water review is like getting your kids to mark their own homework. Mostly they give themselves good marks, they give a lot of ticks and As, and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works is doing a review into its own decisions. It has appointed the people that appointed Mr Wimbush, who had a clear conflict of interest. He clearly had been involved with planning matters in that same catchment in the period in question. I mean, honestly, what were they thinking? The FOIs have gone to the department, and we will find out what the minister knew and when she knew it. She has not been forthcoming on that, but we will get to the bottom of that, and this committee will have the capacity to do some of that too.

But the truth is the department has botched this badly. They made a series of mistakes in the early period and now they have decided to set up a committee to look at themselves and try and smooth it over, to fudge it through, to just stroke it all through, and in the same period the inquiry will have the capacity to be more robust in examining these matters. It will be in a position to actually get to the bottom of what is going on. It should have the Minister for Water attend. It should have the Minister for Planning attend. It should have the relevant departmental officials and it should have the Melbourne Water officials who were part of much of the decision-making around these issues.

Clearly there is a statewide and an international issue with climate change, and that is sufficiently represented in the terms of reference. That is a different matter than urban infill and urban flood mitigation where bad planning decisions are made. Whether there is climate change or not and the seriousness of it, you can still get into trouble with flood issues in urban areas where you actually fill the area densely with concrete and bitumen and you have massive run-off. One of the issues that I think this inquiry should look at is the issue surrounding unrestrained urban density with poor flood mitigation associated, and that is clearly an issue in metropolitan Melbourne.

I notice the terms of reference here also point directly to the implications of planning decisions, including how the Victorian planning framework can ensure climate mitigation is a consideration in future planning decisions and how corporate interests may influence decision-making at the expense of communities and climate change preparedness. We have a live example in front of the community and the chamber today, with IBAC releasing Operation Clara, a special report. This special report is about many of the planning decisions –

Sonja Terpstra: On a point of order, President. I have the terms of reference for this motion in front of me and it relates to floods. I am not sure how an IBAC report relates to floods. I think Mr Davis should make sure he is relevant to the motion.

The PRESIDENT: Mr Davis, you do not need to go further on the point of order. Being the first speaker, you have some latitude, but I ask that if you can try to keep to the motion that would be great.

David DAVIS: Point 8(b) in the terms of reference relates directly to corporate interests and decision-making at the expense of communities. Operation Clara is today. It is Mr Theo Theophanous. It is the decisions around planning. It is very clear and I direct people to some of these pages.

In examinations … witnesses confirmed that Mr Theophanous did not provide written assurance from the VPA, and that as a result, Mr Theophanous was not formally appointed as an AEC lobbyist.

But he continued to engage in activities that any reasonable person would regard as lobbying. He met with the Treasurer, who was partially responsible for the Australian Education City, the AEC, in East Werribee. This is a planning issue, and it is a planning issue about how this is to be done. Mr Theophanous is a member of the VPA. He is on the board of the VPA no less. He is actually on the board, and minutes of the VPA, the Victorian Planning Authority, of 28 February 2018 –

Jaclyn Symes: On a point of order, President, Mr Davis is in contravention of the standing orders. He is trying very, very hard not to be by mentioning the word ‘planning’ as much as possible to tenuously link it to the motion, but I think reading out excerpts from an unrelated report in relation to this motion is clearly out of order.

David DAVIS: On the point of order, President, it is clearly related to point 8(b) and it is clearly related to planning. This deals with the planning –

Jaclyn Symes interjected.

David DAVIS: No, no. He is on the Victorian Planning Authority board. He is attending planning authority meetings about this AEC. This is about –

The PRESIDENT: Mr Davis, you are debating the point of order. I call Mr Davis back to the motion and remind members that people will get their chance and they will be able to respond to what Mr Davis has said.

David DAVIS: I am just going to read from the report very briefly here:

Mr Theophanous attended a VPA Risk and Audit Committee meeting where it was noted that the CEO of the VPA would provide an update to the board on what actions the VPA should take if the government decided not to proceed with the East Werribee sale proposal. Minutes of the 28 February 2018 meeting indicate that Mr Theophanous was in attendance and did not declare a conflict –

of interest –

The update was provided to the board at its meeting on 14 March 2018, which was also attended by Mr Theophanous (who again, did not declare a conflict of interest).

My point is that Mr Wimbush is one of the people that the government appointed to conduct an inquiry on some of these flood issues. He has now stepped aside because there was a clear conflict of interest. This government has low standards when it comes to conflicts of interest, and the issues with Mr Theophanous are clearly corrupt, within the meaning of the word as you would see it in the dictionary. Clearly he has some personal interest here, and he is advocating for the Australian Education City and using his position on a planning authority board to do so. I mean, this is actually crooked to an extreme level. I cannot believe that this is allowed to occur. I will just make a point in the house here, and I make the point to defend one of my Labor colleagues here. His daughter, who is a member of the other place, is specifically excluded by Operation Clara, and I make that point clearly.

But that is not the point I am making here. There are corrupt standards in this government, the planning processes are botched and crooked in many cases, and this is a matter that this inquiry will need to look at. How was the flood mitigation looked at? How were decisions made by people closely associated with the government to build walls? What about the flood preparation in other parts of the state? The planning process is critical to this. If the planning process is corrupt, shot through and crooked to the core, that is a problem, and that will lead to less satisfactory outcomes. I have to say of this Operation Clara that people will be chilled when they read that. They will say, ‘Our planning system is at real risk.’ There is a corrupt sort of behaviour at the heart of this. The Treasurer is mentioned in this. I mean, this is a very, very bad report. But my point is that these conflict of interest issues are at the core of some of these decisions on the Maribyrnong River catchment.

I mean, Mr Wimbush was involved with aged care matters. He appears to have been giving advice on that and then later came along and looked at these issues in the same catchment, and he is going to act as the neutral broker for the independent inquiry. Well, I tell you what: it is not independent, it is a cook up, it is a stitch up and it is not good enough for Melbourne Water to be doing that, and that is one of the reasons that we need this particular inquiry.

I just noticed we have got some FOIs in on Mr Wimbush and related matters. I note the department does not seem very enthusiastic to answer those, and they have been, I have to say, reluctant to even do a search for the word ‘Wimbush’. They tried to tell us that they would not be able to search the word ‘Wimbush’, and I said, ‘Well, how many Wimbushes are there?’ You know, Wimbush is a very unusual name, but they do not seem to be able to do a search for the name Wimbush.

Jaclyn Symes: On a point of order, President, bearing in mind that I acknowledge your previous ruling that the lead speaker has broad discretion to be reasonably general, referring continually to an individual who is not mentioned in the terms of reference, I do not think, and referring to unrelated FOI matters is clearly outside the scope of this motion, and I would ask that the member come back to the contents of the motion and perhaps talk about the community impacted. You have specified what this inquiry is about. I think it is more about the people.

David DAVIS: On the point of order, President, Mr Wimbush is clearly part of the genesis of this inquiry and –

The PRESIDENT: I think you are both debating this point of order, but the original point of order from the Leader of the Government I will uphold and ask Mr Davis to come back to the motion. I remind members that are on the speaking list to respond to the comments of the mover of the motion.

David DAVIS: I note that I have only got a few moments remaining, and in that time I do want to point to the terrible outcomes for people in the Maribyrnong River catchment. The stories there are quite extraordinary. The failure to warn is quite extraordinary. Individuals and families have suffered very severely, and that is why we have to get this catchment management right.

My colleagues, as I said, will talk about some of the country catchments and the significance of those and the failure to warn in some cases in some of those country catchments and the lack of preparation in others. They are all critical points, but I do think it is important also to focus on the fact that some of these longer term issues with planning are actually very important. In particular in city areas, where planning has not always been thought about holistically enough, there are developing issues in a number of our catchments. Those poor people who have suffered so much in the Maribyrnong River catchment in this recent cycle are the case study for that, and I think the community would be very concerned about that.

Sonja TERPSTRA (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:26): I rise to make a contribution on this motion standing in Ms Crozier’s name. It is a very important motion, and I will touch on some of the specific elements in it in a moment. But I just want to acknowledge that the communities who were impacted by this flood event are the ones that need to be at the forefront of our minds when we are debating this, because some of the commentary that I have had the benefit of listening to I think is actually incredibly disrespectful not only to the communities but to our first responders who were helping communities, not only the SES –

Jaclyn Symes interjected.

Sonja TERPSTRA: Absolutely not. Often in times where there is a significant event like this we are actually at our best. People come and help each other, roll their sleeves up and get prepared to go into floodwaters. I saw pictures on the news of people getting their tinnies and ferrying people out of houses – old people, people with their pets and the like – so they could be taken to safety. Those are the things that remind us that when we are experiencing hardship or times of crisis Victorians are absolutely at their best, and that is what I think we need to focus on rather than the kind of paint-by-numbers rambling craziness about ‘government bad’. Let us not forget there are people who lost their homes. They were significantly impacted and continue to be significantly impacted by these events, and it is completely insensitive of Mr Davis over there in the approach that he has taken to debating this matter to continue to use it as a political stunt to say, ‘Government bad. Government always bad.’

But the fact remains that this referral motion is about a committee inquiry, so obviously the committee’s job is to take evidence from people who are impacted and have experience and to hear about what has actually happened to them and make a decision. Mr Davis has a very interesting approach to these things. But I just note that the main point of this motion is to inquire into the large flood event, the October 2022 flood event, including but not limited to the:

(1) causes of and contributors to the flood event;

(2) adequacy and effectiveness of early warning systems;

(3) resourcing of the State Emergency Service –

and the responses to those things. Of course later down in the motion there are a range of rivers that get mentioned in regard to that.

I just want to talk about my own personal experience as well, because I do not live in the inner city and I do not live in the regions, but I live near the Yarra River. The Yarra is not mentioned in this motion, by the way, and I can state from my own personal experience I think I have seen the Yarra break its banks on at least three occasions. But certainly on this occasion, when I was driving to and from or in and out of Bulleen and those sorts of places, the Yarra was of significant concern. When you cut out the roads that allow you in and out of near where I live – if one of the roads is cut – you have got another option to get out. But I was watching the floodwaters rise and was getting exceedingly concerned about the continuing rising of the water, because as we know, once a rain event happens you get the rain. But then with the Yarra it is what happens upstream – it continues to feed into the river – and it was very concerning. It is good that we have mentioned a lot of these rivers, but the Yarra is also a significant river, and I hope that we will get some information about that river as well.

I know Mr Davis is fixated on planning framework decisions and all the rest of it. Of course they are matters that are touched on in this motion, and no doubt they are things that will be addressed in the course of the inquiry. But again it is disappointing to hear Mr Davis in his contribution trying to – I think the Leader of the Government, Minister Symes, touched on this in her point of order – use the word ‘planning’ umpteen times. To link to a report that has nothing to do with this inquiry is quite disrespectful and rude to people who have been impacted by this. It is just a disgraceful thing for you to do, Mr Davis – again, completely disrespectful to the communities that were impacted by these floods and continue to be impacted.

People are looking for answers rather than just a political stunt to try and say ‘government bad’ – always ‘government bad’. One of the things that this motion talks about is inquiring into some of the causes – and I think Mr Davis spent all of 3 seconds on it in his contribution – but we know that climate change is a significant contributor to these events. They are extreme weather events. He spent 3 seconds on it and about 10 minutes going on about ‘government bad, IBAC, IBAC, government bad, planning, planning, planning’. Ridiculous! That is pretty much what it was.

Let us talk about the facts – for example, the flood event. The Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Niña event on 13 September 2022, the third consecutive year a La Niña event had been declared. That is pretty extraordinary – the third year in a row, La Niña. Modelling suggested that it would be a relatively short-lived event peaking in spring and easing by early 2023. Alongside that event occurred other meteorological events: a negative Indian Ocean Dipole and a positive Southern Annular Mode had the potential to increase rainfall. Not only were people aware of this, but the Bureau of Meteorology were telling people and advising the community that, ‘Hey, these are extreme weather events, and these things are happening,’ and so of course people started to watch and pay attention to these things. Victoria endured its wettest month on record in 2022, and with a third La Niña weather system in a row, wet conditions had not eased since 2020. That was quite extraordinary in terms of weather events. So again, to say that there is some sort of government bad intention to do Victorians over is kind of farcical. Dam storage was nearing capacity, including a 10 per cent increase since the same period of the previous year, 2021, and catchment conditions averaged to above-average soil moisture. You can see the confluence of events that led to this. It is climate change. You know, climate change causes more severe weather events more often.

In preparation for the storm event, the State Control Centre was activated to tier 2 on Tuesday 11 October, escalating to tier 3 on Wednesday 12 October in response to the commencement of the event. The VICSES established more than 50 sandbag collection points across the state in conjunction with local councils. Again, I want to acknowledge the fantastic work the Victorian SES did, not only in helping communities prepare for this event, because they knew what was coming, but after that – rescuing people. And as I touched on before, community members came out of their homes to help people. They are the things that we need to acknowledge. The best of Victorians is on display when we have to pull together in these extreme weather events and actually help one another. Over 1 million sandbags were distributed over the course of the flood event, and then heavy rainfall on Wednesday and into Thursday 13 October saw 3049 requests for assistance to the Victorian SES in 24 hours, including 1766 flood incidents and 128 rescues. That is enormous. It put enormous pressure on all of those resources, but they responded well to those events.

There is lots more that I know other contributors will say on these matters, because there is actually a lot that is being done. But again, just touching on some of these things, much of north-west, north and central Victoria received their highest October rainfall on record, with area-average rainfalls across Victoria at 160.3 millimetres, and some of the most affected areas included Seymour, Maribyrnong, Euroa, Benalla, Shepparton and communities along the Murray River.

As I said, I do not live in the inner city, and I know the Greens are very keen to worry about the Maribyrnong River, which is important. But the Yarra is not mentioned in there, and there are plenty of other rivers in regional Victoria that we must make sure are included in this – because it is not just about the inner city. There are communities that are impacted by these events right across the state. The Murray River reached its peak of approximately 38.4 metres – the highest the river has been since the 1974–75 flood event – which is 14 centimetres lower but not as high as the 1956 flood event of about 39 metres.

I could go on and on and on about the facts of this matter. I note Mr Davis has left the chamber, because he does not want to hear about the facts. He does not want to hear the reality –

David Davis: I’ve just returned, actually.

Sonja TERPSTRA: Yes, well, you are not in your place either, so maybe you should resume your place if you want to say something. But in any event, this event was a protracted one, with complex, ongoing impacts and concurrent response recovery occurring due to the large-scale displacement of communities and ongoing influx from floodwaters across Victoria.

The clock is against me, and I will have to conclude my contribution there. I look forward to the contributions of my colleagues on this matter, because there is plenty of information that is actually realistic information, not paint-by-numbers craziness by the opposition over there. So I will conclude my contribution, and I welcome the positive contributions made by my colleagues on the government benches.

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (10:35): I would like to speak in support of the motion. I have been involved with the Flemington Victoria Racing Club (VRC) matter since 2004, and I have expressed my concerns previously, publicly and in this place, on the current Melbourne Water review. That review process has been, I think, disturbing. What we have seen is a process of Melbourne Water reviewing Melbourne Water, and at the same time we have seen magnificent people from organisations like the SES and the Red Cross pretty much as window-dressing in what have been described as ‘community consultations’.

This proposal captures our concerns on the VRC and the flood wall issues, and at the same time I think most importantly it elaborates that and contextualises it into a broader discussion about the impact of climate change across Victoria – I note and thank Ms Terpstra for her contribution in this regard; I thought that was really useful, so thank you for that, it is much appreciated – and recognises the terrible, terrible losses that have been experienced by Victorians with climate-driven flood events. This inquiry provides an opportunity for the house and for the committee to undertake a broad-ranging review, as proposed in the motion. Most importantly, from our perspective, and we flagged this issue previously, we are keen to ensure that the review also considers the lessons that can be learned from these events in terms of adaptation strategy. Clearly, climate change continues; it continues to escalate, and the impact of that on Victorians across the state continues to grow and evolve. We need to not only address how we mitigate the expansion of climate change inducing gases and suchlike, but we also need to look at how we adapt to the changes that will be required in our everyday lives. This review picks that up. I would like to, on that basis, simply commend the motion to the house.

Wendy LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (10:38): I rise to also join in debate on this motion and congratulate both the coalition and the Greens for initiating motions to have a review of the floods in Victoria. I thank the Greens for their cooperation in coming to an agreement with us on a motion that the crossbench and the opposition were satisfied with, because when we do have events like major floods in Victoria it is only right to review them, and it is right that this Parliament should have a review of them. It is right that we all understand the implications, the ramifications and the effect that they have had on our communities. At the outset I should declare that I actually was impacted by the flood myself. The river is my back fence – the Goulburn River. I was very fortunate not to have any inundation within my home, but I did have water right throughout my property. My two sheds were under water. There was water underneath my home, and I was displaced from my home for a full six days from Saturday 15 October, not being able to return until Friday the 21st.

My neighbours were not as fortunate – 30 centimetres right through their home. Some of my neighbours at the top of my street were even less fortunate, with up to a metre through their homes. A number of houses were inundated in my neighbourhood and in my community of Greater Shepparton, which includes Mooroopna, but also right throughout my electorate. I think that places like Rochester have been hit particularly badly, but of course we saw Echuca and a number of other communities – I should not really start naming communities because there were so many of them.

It is right that we look into the causes and the contributors to this flood event and how the management of our irrigation infrastructure may have contributed to some of the flooding in the north of the state. I am not going to speak on the Maribyrnong portion of this because Mr Davis has canvassed that quite extensively and I know Mr Mulholland will also canvass that extensively. I will keep my comments to the north of the state. It is right that we have a look at the adequacy and effectiveness of the early warning systems, and I have to say there are a lot of areas that did not get any early warning. Certainly in towns like my own town of Shepparton, as soon as Seymour went under we knew it was coming for us, so we had some warning. But warnings to evacuate were very difficult during this flood – much less clear than they had been in previous floods. But those of my constituents who are in the upper areas of the Goulburn catchment, just downstream of the Eildon Dam, received virtually no warning whatsoever. Many of them did not know the water was coming for them at all, and these were catastrophic floods that wreaked havoc along the Goulburn River and its tributaries.

The rivers prior to the flood event were full and so were the dams, and what we know is that they increased the releases from Eildon quite substantially at 11 pm on 13 October. Prior to that time there were about 9000 megalitres a day being released from Eildon. That was up to 38,000 megalitres from 11 pm on 13 October. Residents between Thornton, Acheron, Whanregarwen and Molesworth had no warning at all that that water was coming. It started coming at 11 o’clock, and between 2 am and 4:30 am they woke to find their properties under water and having to take action in the dark if they needed to move stock or equipment, to evacuate themselves or to save some of their possessions from their home. It is very difficult for people to move cattle in the dark, and this was a significant problem for them that the state should apologise for. Also we need to investigate just why that happened and why they were not given more warning.

To give you an idea, the closer to the lake you were, the quicker the water came of course, and in Thornton it came at around 2 am, in Whanregarwen at about 4:30 am and in Yea between 6:30 and 7 am. The rivers rose quicker than they ever did before, and this was a factor right along the river. I know that at my place there is a park on The Boulevard before our street, and it usually comes up into that park. It then comes through the park and across The Boulevard, and we have several hours to get out, even when it has broken its banks. At 5:30 that night someone said to me, ‘They’ve said we have to evacuate by 6:30,’ and the water had not even broken the banks of the river at that stage. I drove into town to the ICC and spoke to the guys there and said, ‘Are you really sure about this?’ They said, ‘It’s coming very fast.’ By 7:30 they had closed The Boulevard. I have never seen in 2 hours it break the bank, come through the park and across The Boulevard.

We still have a couple of hours to get out around the back way once that has happened, but it meant that I had to leave a day earlier than I thought I would be leaving my house. I thank Sarah Ross-Edwards for saving me, because she was the one who arrived at my house and said, ‘You have to get out now.’ If Sarah had not done that, I would have been stuck in there for six days and not been able to do my job, and I wanted to be out and doing my job, as Sarah knew.

But we had significant flooding events along the Avoca River, the Barwon River, the Broken River, the Campaspe River, the Goulburn River, the Loddon River, the Maribyrnong River and the Murray River in this state. We need to have this investigation, and one of the things we really need to understand too is the impact of infrastructure on how the water moved and how the water drained away. I was just speaking with a family in Bamawm the other day, and they told me that they had water coming at them from the river on one side and water coming at them from Goulburn-Murray Water’s infrastructure – I think it was channel 14 at the point – on the other side. The water from the Goulburn-Murray Water infrastructure actually had more impact on them than the river, and when it started to subside, the river water actually drained away quite quickly but the water kept coming from the Goulburn-Murray Water infrastructure, and then when it was time for it to subside, it was trapped there by the Goulburn-Murray Water infrastructure. There was nowhere for it to drain.

We had the same problem in Kaarimba. For people in Kaarimba, some of them who were not even in the flood plain were flooded. Areas that have never flooded before that should not flood were flooded. The main reason for this was that the Goulburn-Murray Water owned infrastructure, the levee banks around Loch Garry, failed and blew out in several locations. That sent water into areas where it should not have gone had the bars on Loch Garry been pulled and the water gone in the right direction. For Mick and Kerry Wickham at Kaarimba – not in the flood plain – they had water up to the top of their pool fence and at that level right throughout their house. I have photos of Mick standing in his house with water up to his chest. They should not have flooded at all, but that water sat there for six weeks, and after six weeks it only subsided because they pumped it out. It was trapped there by, I think, channel 12 at that point. In fact on their road, on Sandilands Road, there is still water sitting on the road that cannot drain away because it is trapped there by infrastructure. Again, we have roads in Colbinabbin and Corop that are still covered with water now. The floods were last October. The water is just not draining away, and some of it is trapped because of infrastructure.

What we saw from the government was a lot of flying in and flying out. When they flew in, they talked to public servants and they flew out. There was no actual engagement from government ministers or the Premier with the people who were flood affected. They were secret visits. And still no-one from the government has walked down the streets of Mooroopna. People woke in the middle of the night and put their hand out of bed and went, ‘Oh my God, there’s water’ – (Time expired)

Jacinta ERMACORA (Western Victoria) (10:49): I rise to speak on this motion to review Victoria’s flood preparedness and response to the October 2022 flooding event. In doing so it is important to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the efforts of the tens of thousands of Victorians across the state who have turned out for their communities, whether they were emergency services staff and volunteers, community leaders, neighbours or friends, as is often the case when these types of events happen. I also want to acknowledge just how devastating these floods were and, as other speakers have said, that the three years of La Niña and the Indian Ocean dipole really had a significant effect in the hydration of catchments. These devastating effects have impacted families and their homes, businesses and farming enterprises, and many of these effects are ongoing at the moment. Many homes remain unoccupied and damaged. Also damaged infrastructure is still being repaired.

I want to acknowledge the emergency services that responded – not just the volunteers but the professionals as well – but also acknowledge that volunteers are often highly professional and highly qualified and trained in the work that they do. There is the SES, which is made up of volunteers; the CFA, which is made up of both volunteers and career firefighters; local government, who play a central role in regional communities in supporting and providing support services during emergencies; and all of the highly trained volunteers. Then there are members of the community, like others have said already in this debate, who just get up and do what is needed, who worked on the front line, laying sandbags or providing food for those who needed food.

I would like to also acknowledge rural councils, again, who play an integral role in emergency support. I also want to acknowledge, in a quite separate point, without direct involvement, our Indigenous community, because I want to acknowledge our First Nations people for their knowledge of water management. I think that no discussion on this issue should exclude their knowledge, so I wish to acknowledge the management of our state’s waterways by our First Nations people prior to the colonisation of this land. In the same way their land was never ceded, neither was the water. What we often do not recognise is that cultural knowledge of water includes expertise on geographical landscapes, hydrological knowledge, engineering knowledge and knowledge of how to sustain a community without damaging the ecology of a catchment. I think we all have something to learn in that space.

In 2011 there were floods in Allansford, in the Warrnambool community. At that time, in 2011 and 2012, I was the mayor of Warrnambool. Luckily for me this was my first direct exposure to a flood scenario. The Hopkins River was under great stress and the river was rising significantly. The issue at that time was that there were no early warning mechanisms upstream of the Hopkins River, which meant that Allansford as a community really did not know how high the water was going to get and how far it would spread out throughout the Allansford township.

There was a community meeting led by the SES, and between 200 and 300 people attended that meeting, all residents of Allansford concerned about what would happen with the rising floodwaters. The CFA were there. As it turned out a low-lying area in Allansford was flooded and pumping was required by the CFA, 24/7, to empty that low-lying area into the Hopkins River. Warrnambool City Council provided a safe meeting place – this is what local governments do in a disaster – a relief and recovery centre and a place for emergency shelter for displaced animals. The council also provided support in assessing damage to buildings. In that time, 10 years ago or more, there was significant uncertainty of the impact of the flooding episode. Recently the same episode happened – another flood in Allansford. The Hopkins River came up, but early warning mechanisms were installed. The SES and emergency services were able to predict fairly accurately how high the river was going to go. That provided significant support and certainty to the Allansford community.

In speaking on this motion, I want to progress a huge thankyou to all of the Victorian police, SES, Life Saving Victoria, ESTA and other staff and volunteers who performed those nearly 1000 water rescues across the recent floods throughout the whole of the state of Victoria. Much of north-west, north-central and central Victoria received its highest October rainfall on record, with average rainfall across Victoria at 160.3 millimetres. Some of the most affected areas included Seymour, Maribyrnong, Euroa, Benalla, Shepparton and communities along the Murray River – the mighty Murray River flood plain system.

The Australian Defence Force established Operation Flood Assist on 17 October last year, providing general duties personnel and two CH-47 Chinook helicopters to assist with reconnaissance, the evacuation and relocation of communities and resupply of essential food supplies to isolated communities, including feed and fodder for livestock. Victoria deployed teams to New South Wales and Queensland during their major floods last year and currently have dozens of personnel in Western Australia supporting their response to the recent flood emergency. The emergency services sector works as one, and it is amazing to see the seamless cooperation of these agencies in times of crisis. That is exactly what I saw in Allansford in the recent floods and 10 to 11 years ago when it happened as well. I congratulate all those who have made an effort to keep our communities safe.

Samantha RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (10:59): I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Greens in support of this inquiry motion. From the outset I want to thank the opposition and the crossbench for working with the Greens on refining the terms of reference for this inquiry. The Greens are pleased to see so many in this chamber recognising the need for a proper inquiry into last year’s floods and listening and bringing the concerns of the community into this chamber and into this debate, especially from the Maribyrnong area, to get to the bottom of what wrong and, importantly, the lessons for the future.

The inquiry reference is broad and inclusive of a range of flood events that occurred late last year. I will focus in my contribution on the Maribyrnong flood event, but my colleague will expand briefly on the statewide events soon after me. At the outset I want to acknowledge my Greens colleague in the other place Ellen Sandell for her tireless advocacy on behalf of affected residents and her determination to secure a full inquiry into the devastation of last year’s Maribyrnong floods.

On 14 October residents in the suburbs that line the Maribyrnong River – Maribyrnong, Kensington, Ascot Vale, Avondale Heights and Aberfeldie – woke to find that the river had broken its banks and their homes were under threat. With no prior warning and no time to sandbag or gather more than a handful of possessions, many residents were left with just moments to evacuate as the waters rushed in. Hundreds of homes were flooded. Residents lost cars, possessions and some their whole homes. Many residents are still unable to return to their homes and are living in temporary accommodation dislocated from their communities.

Four months on from the devastating floods it is now abundantly clear that residents were failed by our government. We need to understand why. They were failed by Melbourne Water’s early warning system. The alerts that were supposed to warn residents of incoming floodwaters came far too late or not at all. Residents only received evacuation alerts at 4 am and 6 am when it was apparent that the modelling was wrong and the river was expected to peak 1.8 metres higher than predicted. Many fled at the last minute with no opportunity to retrieve precious possessions.

They were failed by years of planning decisions that prioritised profit for developers and corporate interests over community safety. Housing developments across the state have increasingly been approved in flood risk areas, allowing homes to be build on areas previously designated as flood plains. The more urban development on a flood plain, the less able the area is to soak up water and rainfall and the more likely residents will be impacted by future flooding. We clearly saw the effects of such decisions in the Maribyrnong flood. In 2015, at the request of Melbourne Water, Moonee Valley City Council reduced the flood plain area along the Maribyrnong in Avondale Heights, which subsequently permitted the Rivervue Retirement Village to construct more housing closer to the river. The floods inundated the retirement community, and today 47 homes are still vacant and awaiting repair, with residents forced to live in temporary accommodation or with family.

Of course they were failed by the Labor government, which has not done enough flood mitigation planning or preparation in the years since the 1974 flood, with one notable exception. While Maribyrnong and surrounding suburbs flooded, one area along the Maribyrnong was spared from the floods: Flemington Racecourse. In 2007 the Minister for Planning approved a 2.5-metre high flood wall to protect the racecourse, which is built on the flood plain, from future flooding. The proposal for the flood wall was opposed by Maribyrnong City Council, Moonee Valley City Council and Melbourne City Council, all warning that the construction of a flood wall would exacerbate flooding of homes in the racetrack’s vicinity. Community members led a passionate campaign opposing the construction of the flood wall and calling for their homes to be saved. But the then planning minister ignored all opposition and approved the wall, and in October last year the wall worked as intended.

In the 1974 Maribyrnong flood the racecourse made up a quarter of the area flooded. In 2022 it was zero. The wall redirected floodwaters away from the racecourse and into the homes and shops in surrounding streets. I am sure everyone in this place shared the same outrage we felt at seeing the photos of the dry green surrounds of the racecourse surrounded by residential areas covered by muddy floodwater and photos tweeted with glee by the former head of the VRC, and given the close relationship this government has with the Victoria Racing Club, it is hard not to see their influence in the approval of the flood wall. The decision shows that the government has been more focused on protecting vested interests than in looking after the residents of Melbourne’s west. It clearly demonstrates who the government is willing to protect – the racing and the gambling industries – and who they are happy to leave behind.

In response to the disaster the government established an inquiry to be undertaken by Melbourne Water but on such limited terms that the community’s concerns were largely neglected or overlooked. It was an exercise in attempting to brush criticism under the carpet, the opposite of shining a light, and some have called it a tick-a-box exercise. With the government’s inquiry there will be no further investigation of how and why the early warning systems failed or why the evacuation procedures were inadequate, no scrutiny over government decisions or policy that may have worsened the impacts of the flood and no consideration of how planning decisions like building homes on flood plains may have put homes and livelihoods at risk. While the inquiry will consider the impact of the flood wall, it will not investigate how it came to be built in the first place. Residents were rightly outraged, but when questioned on the independence and effectiveness of the review the Premier dismissed concerns and told reporters to take it up with Melbourne Water.

Maribyrnong residents deserve better. They need an actual independent and broad-ranging inquiry into these floods to explore why the flood wall was built in the first place, why early warning systems did not work and how we can better protect homes and lives during climate disasters. Make no mistake, we will see more of these once-in-a-lifetime flood events as the climate crisis worsens. They will be more frequent and they will be more severe. We have seen five serious floods across the country in the last year alone. New Zealand has just suffered its worst storm this century as Cyclone Gabrielle slammed into the North Island. But our planning system completely fails to require any consideration of climate mitigation or climate disaster management in decision-making. It means that we keep approving new urban development that ignores the increased risk of climate-fuelled disasters like fires, floods and storms and fails to keep people safe. If we continue to stick our heads in the sand like this, we are at risk of losing more lives and more homes to entirely preventable disasters.

This inquiry will also look into the question of the adequacy of our response services and whether they have the resources they need for future events. For example, with the SES, we know volunteers do incredible work, but often they do not have the resources they need to do their work. We have been down to the Footscray SES, which covers the Maribyrnong, and they are in a dusty shed out the back of a council facility, with hardly any wi-fi or phone reception and not enough vehicles. We will need better resourcing for services like these, and we will need better resourcing for them to be able to deal with increasing climate disasters, so I am glad this inquiry will look specifically at that as well.

This broad-ranging independent inquiry is necessary to fully investigate the absolute policy and planning failures that exacerbated last year’s floods and most importantly look at what we can do in the future to prevent these things from happening and to better support communities. It will also expand on Melbourne Water’s limited terms of reference. We know that the current inquiry will not do the main concerns the community has justice. We must do better when it comes to increasingly frequent climate disasters, and this inquiry is an important starting point. I urge everyone in this place to support this referral.

Evan MULHOLLAND (Northern Metropolitan) (11:07): I rise to make a contribution and to support this motion, particularly on behalf of my residents in the Northern Metropolitan Region that were affected by these floods, including residents living along the Maribyrnong River. I think that Labor stands condemned on all aspects of that particular disaster. Now, I support the racing industry, and I support Flemington Racecourse in particular, but the process of building and the approvals process for the flood wall itself I find deeply worrying and deeply concerning. They repeatedly ignored the pleas of both the community and hydrology experts. In April 2004 the Age reported that councils had warned that the project could put nearby homes at risk. In July of the same year the paper reported councils warned that houses near Flemington racetrack could be flooded as a result of the project – well, surprise, surprise. The then Maribyrnong mayor Bill Horrocks was quoted as saying he was bitterly disappointed that the minister had ignored the request for further studies on the flooding risk to local residents.

Now, I note the community advocacy of those like the member for Melbourne, another member for Northern Metropolitan, Ms Ratnam, and David Ettershank, but I also have to acknowledge one particular individual that was with the community all the way along, and that was former Premier Ted Baillieu when he was the shadow planning minister and then as opposition leader, and he has continued to follow this issue very closely. In November 2004 he called for the release of all documentation relating to the flood risk by councils and by well-credentialed experts, many of whom said it would aggravate flooding in those areas – how prophetic. He continued to raise concerns in Parliament in 2005, citing:

There is now considerable evidence that the wall will increase … flooding …

in the area. He also highlighted how the state government through Melbourne Water had engaged their own consultant to do modelling to project the impact of flooding.

He rightly described it as a sham process and made the comparison that if umpires on a football field asked players to call the shots, they would be laughed out of the game. Now we have Melbourne Water doing its own review into the wall with the same conflicts of interest, and we have the terrible optics of the same person who was the minister for water at the time, John Thwaites, now heading up the very agency responsible for this disastrous project. We are told by the other side that he has recused himself from the review, but that is a bit cute. He has an army of loyal staff at the agency, and it is fair to assume they would not dump the muddy dirt on their boss, would they?

I note the contributions from the other side that this is about the people, and I agree. I think we can all agree with the Westminster principle that we are but representatives of the people. We are accountable to them, so we are here as representatives of the people. That is quite different to the comments from their leader, who would like the people to have nothing to do with this inquiry. Premier Daniel Andrews has said that the more politicians are involved in this, the less likely we are to get an outcome that residents and all Victorians want and need. Just like them setting up their side processes back in 2004–05, with their own consultants not other experts, we can see the same thing happening again. It is in fact the people, through this house, that demand a proper inquiry take place, because the conflicts go on and on and on.

I note the contribution of my colleague Mr Davis. You have had Labor’s hand-picked Nick Wimbush step aside as chair of the same review following a serious conflict of interest related to his role in a 2015 decision to amend flood-planning rules along the Maribyrnong River to allow aged care properties to be put along the river. So we are seeing conflict after conflict after conflict, and we see a repeated behaviour by those opposite dating back to 2004–05, where they set up their own inquiries and had their own little hand-picked Labor appointments overseeing those inquiries. I think it is about time that this chamber, as a representative of the people, takes matters into its own hands and looks seriously at what happened and looks seriously at the warnings that were given by actual experts, not Labor’s hand-picked consultants, as to how the flood wall might have aggravated, as predicted, flooding to my local residents around the Maribyrnong River. This is why I support an independent, open and transparent inquiry into how this whole mess under the Labor government – under multiple Labor governments – was allowed to happen.

Georgie PURCELL (Northern Victoria) (11:13): I rise today to speak in support of this motion to refer the state’s preparedness for and response to Victoria’s major flooding event of October 2022 to the Environment and Planning Committee for inquiry. The floods in Victoria in 2022 caused widespread devastation to people, the environment and animals. Those of us who were living in flood-affected regional Victoria saw the effect of these floods, and we all must support any inquiry into our state’s response to this phenomenon.

I remember driving back from Bendigo into Kyneton just at the point the Campaspe spilled over its edge. More than 3000 farm animals and more than 120,000 hectares of crops were lost and wildlife in the thousands, but the exact number is unknown. Of particular concern were the catchments and flood plains of the Maribyrnong River, where the worst flood in 50 years destroyed hundreds of homes. But one place that is protected at all costs over and over again was spared amongst the ruins, the Flemington Racecourse. Guarded by a flood wall erected in 2007, the racecourse stood steadfast while displaced families and their pets scrambled, having lost everything they had. These people believe their homes would have been saved if it were not for the 2.5-metre flood wall. Instead, they were bulldozed so that the spring carnival could go on and the greed of the racing industry could continue to thrive.

We are living in a climate that is rapidly changing and the scope of Melbourne Water’s own inquiry is far too narrow.

This government that props the racing industry up with millions upon millions each year has a responsibility to protect and to answer to everyone affected by these floods. This is not a new issue. Campaigns by residents against the flood wall installation have been ongoing since the early 2000s to prevent this very issue that they had warned about. The government’s own materials state in relation to flooding:

The impact on the landscape is determined by a range of factors including the topography of the land, vegetation cover, pre-existing soil moisture and the duration and intensity of the rainfall event.

But there is nothing in it about a purpose-built flood wall. It is difficult enough to manage our state through this climate emergency; we need to stop making things even harder for ourselves. I would like to think that politicians have learned by now that building a wall is never the answer. Yet the racing chairman publicly praised the decision on Twitter, saying that the Melbourne Cup would always be safe, and then promptly deleted it. At the same time, displaced families dragged ruined belongings through the street against the backdrop of marquees that were set up to house the champagne-sipping elite. The flood wall represents classism at best and protection of animal cruelty at worst, and that is why I will be supporting this motion today.

Sarah MANSFIELD (Western Victoria) (11:16): I would like to also express my thanks to the opposition and those who have spoken in favour of this motion today. I am very supportive of this motion, and I would first like to acknowledge all of those in the electorate of Western Victoria who were significantly affected by these floods. I saw particularly during the campaign period many communities that were severely affected, from Beaufort to Ararat. We know Loddon shire and even my own hometown of Geelong had major impacts from the flooding. I also want to acknowledge all of those residents who were affected by the Maribyrnong flooding as well. We know that those communities continue to feel the impacts of that event to this day. I particularly welcome the broad focus of this inquiry and its attention to systemic issues that contribute to flooding, including climate change, which we have heard about from a number of speakers today, and how important that is going to continue to be when it comes to planning for the risk of flooding.

We have also heard about the importance of planning decisions, and I really welcome the broader scope of this inquiry to look back not only at historical planning decisions but hopefully inform the decisions we make across this state in at-risk areas going forward. Additionally, I am heartened to see that we are going to look beyond metro Melbourne. River systems are not isolated bodies of water, but they are connected living entities, and you cannot look at one part without considering other parts of a river system. As someone from a regional area, I really appreciate that it is going to look more broadly at our whole river system.

We have heard that intense rain events are becoming more frequent and severe, and they will continue to do so due to our changing climate. The risk of flooding is increasing both in urban and in rural areas. We have seen during this flooding event and many recent major flooding events in the last five to 10 years the damage that these events do to infrastructure and properties but also to the health of our river systems, because contaminated waters flow back into the rivers.

I think what this event demonstrated was a failure to put people, including First Nations people, and the environment at the heart of planning decisions in our river catchments. What it will also mean is that communities remain at risk during future events. We continue to see inappropriate development close to our rivers and on flood plains, and this is, as has been alluded to by others, due to a failure of an integrated approach across the state. Each council has its own way of approaching these things and its own approval processes, and again it does not make a lot of sense when river systems are connected living entities and they cannot be separated from the land or other water systems around them.

Environmental degradation around our waterways, including a failure to preserve and restore riparian vegetation along rivers, has further increased flooding risk to communities. There has been a lot of focus in this debate so far about built infrastructure. It has been talked about as a way to mitigate flood risk, but we have not talked about the natural ways we can also alleviate flood risk through attention to the riverbank ecosystems and riparian vegetation. I really hope that this inquiry will look at the contribution that artificial manipulation of waterways and destruction of adjoining vegetation ecosystems has made to flooding risk.

This inquiry is an opportunity to look to the future and to better understand what we need to do to prepare communities for more impacts of climate change like flooding. Climate readiness will require significant state government investment, particularly in rural and regional Victoria where the costs can far exceed the capacity of councils, in terms of adaptation measures – stormwater infrastructure is incredibly expensive, and many councils do not have the ability to invest adequately in that stormwater infrastructure – but also for disaster responses. As we have heard from my colleague Dr Ratnam, the SES is such an important part of our disaster response, particularly again for our rural and regional communities, and they are crying out for more funding and investment to support the wonderful work that they do.

Additionally, councils that were affected in the recent flood event face major costs, ongoing costs, to rebuild infrastructure that was damaged. There needs to be some consideration as to how those sort of infrastructure costs will be met in the future, because it is unsustainable for particularly our rural and regional councils to continue to have to fund those rebuilding efforts. So once again I welcome this inquiry and in particular the breadth of the inquiry and its focus on those systemic issues that lead to flooding, but also I really hope that from this we will learn lessons for the future so that as a state we can be better prepared for what is coming.

Gaelle BROAD (Northern Victoria) (11:23): I rise to support a committee inquiry into the state’s preparedness and response to the Victorian floods that commenced in October last year. The floods followed a very wet winter with above-average rainfall in September and already very high water levels across the state’s river systems, including the Goulburn, Loddon, Ovens, Avoca, Campaspe and Murray rivers. The floods spread to 63 local government areas, and the impact was felt right across northern Victoria, especially in local communities like Rochester, Mooroopna and Shepparton, Echuca, Wangaratta, Seymour, Euroa, Bendigo, Charlton and Kerang.

Now, for some people, floods are last year’s news; they have moved on. But for those who have lost homes, businesses and crops there is still a very long road to recovery. I like a quote from Albert Einstein. He said, ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.’ An inquiry will do just that. It will consider the causes and contributing factors of the floods, the adequacy and effectiveness of early warning systems, the resources of our emergency services, flood mitigation strategies and future planning and a range of other relevant matters. A committee inquiry will provide an open and transparent assessment of Victoria’s flood preparedness and prevention, but regional communities impacted by flooding will also get an opportunity to provide submissions and share their learnings. We need to hold committee hearings in northern Victoria in the towns that were affected so that we can hear the experiences of those directly impacted by the floods.

An inquiry is a chance for us to look back, ask questions and see what was done well and what we can do better. We need to look at the adequacy and effectiveness of our early warning systems. Evacuation orders were issued for towns like Seymour, Shepparton and Rochester. But in other areas people wrongly assumed that the water levels would not get higher than the 2011 floods, and for some it was too little, too late. There were night evacuations in some areas, and in the inquiry we will ask why. I heard that there were restrictions on text messages for community meetings. You could send them for bushfires but not in the case of the floods.

We also need to consider the emergency response. Certainly the experience of the 2011 floods did assist the understanding and response this time around. I visited Rochester shortly after the floods, and I was absolutely amazed to see the community and the response there. The Presbyterian local church was being used as a relief centre. People from the neighbourhood house were getting involved, and from the local hotel. There were barbecues and Foodshare was there, and a link to register names of volunteers to get people who were coming from further afield to assist. So I especially want to acknowledge the local volunteers and those community coordinators that have been crucial in this response, along with the SES, and also to thank the CFA staff and volunteers for their efforts. Talking to people in towns across the state, it is evident that the CFA are held in very high regard. I know in Kerang the CFA coordinated community sandbagging efforts, and they managed to fill 8000 sandbags in just under 4 hours. In towns like Rochester, 43 out of the 48 brigade members had their own homes flooded, which was terrible, given that they were not even able to protect their own homes in some circumstances because they were out helping the community.

Emergency housing is also a matter that I have no doubt will be raised during this inquiry. I remember speaking with a couple from Kerang whose farm was flooded, and they were offered emergency accommodation at the Mickleham facility, which is 3 hours away. Also people from Rochester went to the Bendigo showgrounds. That was an excellent relief centre there. There were many groups like the SES, Red Cross, police and army assisting on the ground and helping with tents, food and supplies. But it is a challenge in a flood situation because people want to be close to their homes and their local community to assist with that clean-up and recovery effort.

We need to look at the mitigation measures. We should consider the benefits of ring levee programs for regional houses outside of country towns to help protect those areas. In towns like Rochester, locals have been calling for the early release mechanism upstream in Lake Eppalock, and I know Peter Walsh, the Leader of the Nationals in the other house, has spoken to that. A hydrological study is needed to assess the feasibility of installing gates on the spillway at Lake Eppalock to enable pre-releases which will help reduce the impact of flooding in future.

Mental health is another significant concern when it comes to these natural disasters. The last few years I have worked in disaster recovery programs and I have assisted people impacted by drought, the Victorian bushfires and also COVID and now the floods, and I can say floods are certainly one of the most challenging areas. When you think of the context, farmers right across this region had an excellent season. They were looking forward to a fantastic, phenomenal season, and then the floods came, which is devastating. Thousands of people across northern Victoria have lost their homes, and it has placed pressure on families. Now the wet has just continued to cause delays with the harvest, as people cannot get their machinery on the land.

We know the road networks were significant. They were shut down for some periods of time. I spoke to locals from towns across the state who were not happy with the state of our roads even before the impact of floods. We had highways shut and people using very small roads and coming front-on with very large freight trucks using those same small roads. So we need to look at our local councils, who are still waiting on the funds from state and federal government to help complete the works required to bring the roads back up to standard.

We need to look at essential assets. The inquiry provides an opportunity for that – to look at how we protect our power stations and hospitals and how we can manage staff shortages with people moving out of town. Local, state and federal government funding: we have got to avoid the blame games and make sure that the lines of authority are very clear in a disaster.

We also have issues with insurance in some areas – soaring insurance premiums and some insurance companies actually pulling out of offering insurance in some areas. In Rochester over 200 caravans are around town being used as temporary accommodation. One hundred and sixty people are living at the Elmore relief centre, and up to 600 homes have been gutted, with work still to be done. Bushfires can bring out the best in people sometimes, and with floods we have seen they can also divide people – so there is a bit of a different approach there sometimes. We see the best and we see the worst. But how do we build resilience, and how do we help communities work together? These are the many questions that need to be answered during this inquiry.

The committee will be able to conduct a broad review of flooding and flood preparedness across Victoria and deliver findings and recommendations to improve our response by 30 June 2024. Right across northern Victoria, people are struggling. They are living in caravans, they are driving on terrible roads, they are battling with insurance and they are saying, ‘Don’t forget about us.’ So on behalf of those impacted right across northern Victoria, I ask you to support this motion today.

Georgie CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (11:32): I rise to thank those members who have spoken on this motion. It is an important motion about a very important issue. As members across the chamber have said, it has impacted tens of thousands of Victorians, and those impacts cannot be underestimated. We need this inquiry to understand those issues around the preparedness for response, around the causes and the effects and around how the effectiveness of those early warning systems in particular could have averted much of the disaster and impact of the floods.

I want to particularly thank Dr Ratnam for speaking with me in relation to what she was proposing, and we worked together to ensure that this important inquiry got up. I understand that your community of Maribyrnong was largely impacted – just so many people, and they are still being impacted because they are still displaced, many of them – but equally, as Mrs Broad has just highlighted, the agricultural industry. There are thousands of losses of stock, fencing, those townships – this flood event had a wide impact across the state.

Mr Davis pointed out the planning issues very eloquently in terms of what this government has failed to do and previous governments have failed to do in relation to some of these aspects that we are talking about on this important inquiry. So again I would urge all members to support this inquiry so we can get it up and running, so those Victorians that are impacted can have a say and we can better be prepared for a future event, should one like this occur.

Motion agreed to.