Tuesday 21 June 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Launceston Flood Protection


Mr FINCH (Rosevears)  - Mr President, the good news is that the levees held.  Now Launceston residents in the low-lying areas of Invermay can sleep a bit more easily at night. 

The reconstruction of Launceston's flood protection system has not been without controversy.  At some stages over the past 15 or so years it was uncertain.  It all started in 1929 when 22 people lost their lives in a massive flood when both the North and the South Esk rivers peaked at the same time as they entered the headwaters of the Tamar.  This time the two tributaries peaked 24 hours apart but the flood was big enough to test the new levee system. 

The first levees were built after the 1929 disaster.  It became apparent they needed massive improvement during the 1980s and 1990s.  The momentum started in the 1980s with the Foster report which was commissioned by the state government and also with a crucial conversation between Jack Edwards of the Port of Launceston Authority and the former premier, Jim Bacon.  That was in October 2002.  They were at Woolnorth at the time.  They were concerned about the efficacy of the existing levee system.  Jack Edwards fought a tireless campaign for a better flood protection for Launceston.

I believe a pivotal event came when the former Legislative Councillor and former president of this House, Don Wing - who had expressed his frustration that the levees were inadequate and that nothing was being done - encouraged the former Launceston resident, Alan Birchmore, who had returned home after 41 years away, to put his hand up as chairman of the Launceston Flood Authority.  Alan had shown interest because he had been on the port authorities for Fremantle and Albany, so he knew a bit about work with water.

The then mayor of Launceston, and now honourable member for Windermere, Ivan Dean, and the general manager at that time, Frank Dixon, pushed hard both at state and federal governments to fund an improved levee system.  I recall, honourable member for Windermere, those debates in this House in May and June 2006.  Our colleague was successful in projecting that need for the levees to be updated.

The original ask was $30 million, but the eventual overall cost went to about twice that.  It needed a hard push to have those funds elevated, but worth every cent.  The Flood Authority formed a panel of engineer who drew on the best designs in Australia.  Parts of the levee looked okay, but a lot had to be replaced.

Jack Edwards argued in a letter to the Launceston Council in 2003 -

The scheme is only as good as its weakest part and one minor levee failure could have disastrous results.  Some suspect sections of levees are obvious and I believe could and should be made good without further delay.

One of the major initiatives for the renewed system was to buy industrial waterfront properties and relocate them to make room for a wider and higher levee between Invermay Road and the Charles Street bridge.  That was very time-consuming and a big effort was needed to convince the people to move.  I believe Boral is the only existing business that still has not quite relocated, but it is underway.  That timing was impeccable.  The whole project was completed last year and only months before this latest big flood.

It is often said a crisis brings out the best in people.  The Premier made a special trip to Launceston with his colleagues to thank our SES volunteers and staff at Youngtown.  They did a fantastic job, a superb job.  Many small businesses outside the levees were flooded.  I want to cite one case of a restaurant where the water came to tabletop level.  Thousands of dollars worth of food stocks were lost and the staff faced a massive clean up to reopen.  During this process they were helped and advised by Launceston City Council building and health inspectors, not penalised or restricted, but given tireless moral support and advice.  I salute those staff who made those people feel good in their times of grief and concern.  The staff of that restaurant, and many other small businesses, will be enduringly grateful to the officers of the council.

The job is not over yet.  Alan Birchmore is concerned about the river losing its flushing and cleaning abilities, and the levees will need periodic maintenance because the earth will sink and it will need topping up from time to time.  I am glad there has been an announcement of $500 000 to investigate and protect the Newstead area, particularly the Elphin section. 

Also, we need to prepare for more frequent flooding.  Low-pressure weather complexes and tropical tongues off eastern Australia are more likely.  Queensland and New South Wales, as you have probably heard, have experienced this just over this last weekend, although that did not reach as far south as Tasmania.  If a one-in-200‑year flood telescopes into maybe 10 or 20 years, we must be prepared.  I believe that with our levee system we should have it covered.