Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (11:47): I rise to put overwhelming support to this motion. It is critically important that we do acknowledge our emergency service personnel, whether they be paid or whether they be volunteers, no matter what colour uniform they wear or what part of the river communities they come from. Everyone rallied, and they rallied exceptionally well.
Living on the edge of a river, we understand the vagaries of what high flows mean, and inevitably some of those high flows do turn into floods. When we do recognise that there is a flood event coming, we have to act, and the emergency services, the river corridor communities and their support bases all came together. I think it was an outstanding collaboration of all walks of life that came to the defence against what was the might and power of Mother Nature.
We have experienced this before, and we will experience it again. I am a little aghast at some people using a climate change explanation around floods. If it was climate change in 2022, was it climate change in 1974? Was it climate change in 1931, was it climate change in 1956, or was it climate change in 1870? We will have to find out one day, I can assure you.
I think it is important we recognise that the vagaries of Mother Nature and the weather continue to challenge us every single day. Whether living in the city or living in the country, there are those challenges and we have to rise up and prepare, just as those emergency services and volunteers did.
To put it into perspective, back in 1956 we saw 341 gigalitres and back in 1974 we saw 182 gigalitres. One thing that has not been definitive in this past flood is the actual number. There were vague numbers of 180, 190 and 195 coming into the border. It is very hard to measure those flows, particularly on the border because that is where it crosses over the border and enters a very vast and wide flood plain commonly known as the Chowilla flood plain.
That flood plain is about 12 kilometres wide and the significant amount of water coming into South Australia then spreads and we see those flood waters impact. It rose to about 4.2 metres. As it makes its way down the corridor, we have different landscapes and we have different flood plains. As it flowed into some of those more narrow landscapes, particularly below Lock 2, the river rose up to between 7.5 and 7.7 metres. That had significant impact on those communities, particularly the shack and smaller communities in that middle section of the river that could not put up levee banks. All they could do was move their possessions to first or second levels. The river height did pose challenges and every community had a different set of circumstances.
My electorate of Chaffey goes from the border down almost to the outskirts of Mannum. During the last six months of my travels around the electorate, I have seen the vast challenges to those different river communities. The first port of call of the high river into South Australia was not only the Chowilla flood plain but it was also the town of Renmark.
As the member for Hammond said, Renmark is an island. It is an island in the middle of a flood plain that is front and centre to Mother Nature. All that river wanted to do was run Renmark over. It wanted to continue on its merry way. We know that rivers and floodwaters like to go straight ahead; they do not like to turn corners.
I pay tribute to all my river communities, whether it be Renmark, Paringa, Berri, Barmera, Loxton, Waikerie, or moving down to Mid Murray. They did an outstanding job and they came together and learnt from one another. They rallied together to understand how they could best defend what was a raging river sent on its way from our eastern seaboard, the catchment of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Over a number of years, the landscape has changed. What was flood plain back in 1974 is now farming country. We have seen farmers and communities defending their turf, defending their properties, with the majority of them now building levees, whether they be permanent or temporary. But when levees are built, the water is then directed straight ahead. It is directed past their properties and inevitably it is all directed towards the Murray Mouth. Along the way we saw a lot of destruction and heartache, and through all of that we saw emergency service personnel not only managing communities and infrastructure internally but giving the leadership that was needed to keep those communities as safe as possible.
They were not the only ones to do that. There was also some great historical knowledge. Some of those elderly people had experienced some of those past floods. Particularly in the Riverland, we saw a lot who had experienced 1956, more who had experienced 1974 and they painted a picture of what happened in yesteryear, which gave us a much better understanding of what we needed to do and what we needed to do better. There were some vagaries, some problems and some mistakes made.
The forecast river flow events did not match historically what the river height was because we had seen more and more constraints put into our river corridor. The river corridor is very complex. What I would say to give anyone an understanding of what people had to encounter was that, over time, we have seen that those constraints have been put into the river corridor—whether it be environmental regulators; whether it be causeways, and roads, and bridges; whether it be housing development. We have seen a number of those constraints that have added to the height of the river, but they have also added to the complexities of being able to manage the flows and of course in relation to what the river height meant.
If we look upriver where there is a much more complex system in the Edward, the Wakool and the Lachlan, we saw river flows up there—as a number, about 180 GL—but the river was running at about 0.8 of a metre higher. To understand that, to better prepare, we did see a number of rejigged numbers out of the government departments that was very frustrating for people building levees, very frustrating for people moving pumps and very frustrating for those who were moving their possessions out of their homes, out of their shacks, because it was a moving target.
As a government, they did not get it quite right but, as we progressed, it became better and better. It became more accurate, just like South Australian Power Networks. They were very tardy in the beginning and I was very critical, but I commend them for responding and they became better as the waters proceeded through South Australia and the river corridor. When it really did matter and when the river came to a peak, they had got their act together and responded accordingly.
I must quickly touch on some of the levee systems. I remarked on Renmark, which had 36 kilometres of levee. They did a very good job not only of building it—the local businesses, the councils planning and monitoring and engaging the engineers—but also doing the ongoing daily monitoring so that we understood if there were any weaknesses, any erosion—particularly wind and high flow—and we were there to respond, and we did.
I think everyone who was part of that, particularly the CEO of the Renmark council, should be commended. All the council should be, but he was a leader in South Australia through local government in planning and making sure that we were best prepared. Moving along quickly, I must pay tribute to the two lives lost—one at Taylorville, one at Loxton—which is very, very sad.
We now move into the recovery phase: the clean-up, the roads and the ferries to be reopened. People must remember that they have to register for the clean-up because there will be a lot of homes, a lot of shacks, that will be demolished. There will be a lot of asbestos and a lot of waste. I would urge the government to make sure that they do put enough resources into the clean-up, they do put enough resources into the recovery, because this will be a scar if not dealt with properly; it will be a long-festering scar that the river corridor and communities will have to put up with.
I want to thank the emergency accommodation. The Humanihut that was brought up to the Riverland was outstanding work. Not a lot of it was used, but they did a great job. DefenCell, which is about eight kilometres, is worth its weight in gold. There are many, many more people I would like to thank, but from the border to the mouth, I think the South Australian emergency services should hold their heads high. They did an outstanding job in keeping people as safe as they could and as dry as they could, and we will prepare for the next flood because it could be next year.