It would be a massive understatement to say there has been a mixed reaction to the Gillard Government's decision to introduce a levy on taxpayers earning over $50,000 to help fund the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort following the Great Floods of 2010 and 2011. While the LGAQ has adopted a neutral view on the need for a levy, others have condemned it as unecessary or not going far enough. The federal Oppositon says there is more fat to cut out of government spending and so a levy is unjustified. The Greens and at least one Independent, Tony Windsor, says there should be a permanent levy for rebuilding after natural disasters.
That's the political argument. In policy terms, it's good that Queensland will receive an advance payment of $2 billion from Canberra to kick-start rebuilding efforts. This has less to do with providing relief to families hit by flooding as it does with ensuring that the state and regional economies do not fall into the doldrums due to ongoing problems with supply chains and distribution networks damaged by this unprecedented disaster. On ABC radio this morning, treasurer Andrew Fraser, who is handing down the state's mid-year economic review later today, promised minimal red tape would tie up distribution of that $2 billion to councils and others getting on with the reconstruction job. He urged councils to "get on with it'' and, importantly, confirmed that a local government representative would be included on the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, the outfit in charge of deciding where the money will be spend and where rebuilding priorities lie.
Great to hear that the Emerald community is well on track to recover from its second severe flood in three years. The report on this morning's AM program on ABC radio featured a lot of locals who exuded optimism. There wasn't a negative sentiment to be heard. You could imagine everyone just rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it, just as they did following the 2008 floods. Perhaps Emerald is just used to massive change. After all, it's been smack in the middle of the state's mining boom for several years now and has had to cope with the social and economic upheaval that has brought. Here's hoping the many other communities affected by these floods bounce back as cheerily as Emerald.
The Great Floods of 2010 and 2011 were a lesson in the value of community spirit. Mining companies in particular saw the opportunity to give back to the regional centres where so many of their staff call home. When the Nogoa River peaked at Emerald on December 31, Kestrel mine workers had already helped sandbag homes and evacuate people and their belongings to higher ground. The mine flew in 10,000 sandbags and rolls of black plastic to help seal as much of the town’s infrastructure from floodwaters as possible. After the flood, about 100 of the mine’s workers were part of organised recovery efforts, cleaning as many as 70 houses in one day. At Condamine, the Queensland Gas Company(QGC) offered around 70 SES workers and residents temporary accommodation at its Windibri Camp. QGC staff were also involved in the cleanup. These efforts were on top of some generous cash donations from mining companies to the Premier’s flood disaster appeal. Total donations from the coal industry amount to more than $5 million. On the negative side, the floods have caused about $2.3 billion in lost coal export sales since early December, according to the Queensland Resources Council (QRC). The QRC estimates that just 15 percent of the state’s mines are operating at full capacity.
Of course, the big issue at the moment is the flooding that has hit most councils in Queensland over 2010 and 2011. The amount of damage has been staggering and quite difficult to get your head around if you haven’t seen it first hand. In Somerset this week, I saw a barn-sized shed leaning drunkenly across a road. The water had picked up it and the fire engine that was inside it and deposited them a good 50 metres from the concrete pad where it once sat.
If there is a positive feature of this disaster it is the round-the-clock work being put in by council staff in rescue and recovery. Many of them had their own properties damaged or, in the case of Lockyer Valley council staff, knew someone who had perished in the flooding. Yet they toiled from dawn to well past dusk to get their communities back on their feet.
Then there were the volunteers who donated their time and money to the cause. Businesses giving away food and other goods, people opening up their homes to complete strangers, carloads of others travelling from interstate and even overseas to help - all of this has created a wealth of social capital that we should be drawing from for many years to come.