Thursday, 19 October 2023

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Flood mitigation

Wendy LOVELL, Harriet SHING

Flood mitigation

Wendy LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (12:38): (318) My question is to the Minister for Water. Minister, once again the farmers and residents living below the Eildon Dam have been flooded, despite pleading with you for most of the year to direct Goulburn–Murray Water to manage the dams under its control in accordance with the statutory framework under the Water Act for flood mitigation and the guidelines issued by your department in April 2022. As you know, in recent weeks those living on the Goulburn downstream of Lake Eildon were once again subjected to avoidable flooding. Why did the minister choose not to make such a direction to Goulburn–Murray Water?

Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Housing, Minister for Water, Minister for Equality) (12:38): Thank you, Ms Lovell, for that question. This is part of a series of issues around the management of our water storages and the mitigation of flood risk. I note that Lake Eildon as at today’s date is 99.3 per cent full. It has got 24.2 gigalitres of airspace in it. I also note that following record floods last year the work to make sure that landowners, that licence-holders and that communities have the information that they need goes on. This includes the engagement that we have with Goulburn–‍Murray Water, with the Bureau of Meteorology, with the SES and with local councils. We have daily inflows into the reservoir that are expected to continue to recede slowly over the course of the week.

But, Ms Lovell, we also have a situation – and people across our catchments understand this, notwithstanding the tension around mitigation of flood risk on the one hand and increasingly dry conditions on the other – of using our water storages to store water and not for flood mitigation. This is a situation that also requires planning, mitigation, assistance for communities to develop flood management plans, the work of modelling and making sure that we have up-to-date information on the impact of flooding, particularly with increasingly volatile climatic conditions. We know that off the back of a record dry August and September it is a very different scenario that we are looking at now, with the declaration of an El Niño weather event, which is typified by those hotter, drier conditions and less frequent rainfall. Floods are, without a doubt, incredibly distressing for communities impacted by them. I am keenly aware of the distress and of the anxiety faced by people who live downstream from those flood-affected areas.

I am also really determined to make sure that Goulburn–Murray Water continues to work with landowners and continues to work with councils, the SES, the Bureau of Meteorology and others, but again we need to make sure that we are striking that balance between the adequate management of water for those people who own it and who hold it, those licence-holders, and making sure that we are managing risk, including by way of controlled releases. GMW will continue to adaptively review its releases and to adjust them accordingly as conditions evolve across the Goulburn catchment, and that is something that is being done in direct discussion with landowners and with communities as that situation evolves, including by way of providing regular updates and information on storage operations.

Wendy LOVELL (Northern Victoria) (12:42): Minister, that same answer went down like a lead balloon in Rochester earlier this year. Minister, earlier in the year in discussion with local residents around the Eildon dam wall, your chief of staff stated that you would visit Molesworth to meet directly with those impacted by the October 2022 floods. This meeting has never taken place. Now that there has been a second flooding, with some farms actually hit three times, will you now commit to visit Molesworth and meet with locals to hear their stories and, more importantly, for them to hear how you and the Allan government will support them?

Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Housing, Minister for Water, Minister for Equality) (12:42): Thank you, Ms Lovell, for that question. My office and the department and Goulburn–Murray Water have been in constant contact with community members from Molesworth. Again, the impact of last October’s floods was devastating for residents in Molesworth, including those in and around the riverbanks and in particular people in the caravan park. I have indicated to my office, in coordinating visits, that Molesworth is an important part of that itinerary. I have been working my way around the state, Ms Lovell, meeting with flood-affected communities. It is really important that those visits and those conversations continue into the future. Recovery, as you know, is a long-term proposition, and when we talk about the impact of floods, the engagement between the department, my office and Goulburn–Murray Water continues, including with communities like Molesworth.