Wednesday 22nd June 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Flood Event in Launceston



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I thank the member for Windermere for bringing on this MPI.  It was interesting to hear from the member for Western Tiers about the damage that has occurred in his area.  It was very dramatic for those people and quite a setback for the area and farming properties.

A number of lessons were learnt from the Launceston floods following Monday 6 June.  There were also a number of questions posed.  When the Chair of the Launceston Flood Authority, Alan Birchmore, returned to Launceston after an absence of more than 40 years, he said he found the Tamar River, like so many people before him, was in a much, much worse state than when he left.  He was quite surprised at the degradation that has occurred.  Jim Collier has been a river warrior, a champion of the Tamar River and campaigning.  They too, member for Windermere, have linked up and conversed quite a lot about the state of the Tamar and the situation it is in now.

Alan Birchmore said after the recent floods, he continues to be concerned about the Tamar losing its flushing and cleaning abilities.  Alan Birchmore pointed out bacterial pollution in the Upper Tamar was far worse above the power station tailrace than below it, indicating the Cataract Gorge is not functioning as it should.  That has been a concern for decades.  I know I am getting away from the floods but this is a point of concern for the area.  One would hope the flushing that has occurred with the flooding has helped to alleviate the pollution situation. 

Over the years, a number of people have blamed the Upper Tamar's siltation woes on the Hydro's Trevallyn Dam which diverts much of the Gorge flow to the power station and the tailrace below.  Some have said that the dam should be removed.  Whether it could be as dramatic as that I am not sure.  In my view I do not think that is necessary.  At the very least some say the dam should be managed as a flood buffer.  By quickly reducing its storage whenever a flood is predicted, that would enable the Trevallyn Dam to hold back floodwaters and then release them more safely.

Mr Hall - You might have a drop in real estate values up there if you remove the dam around Blackstone Heights, I would suggest.

Mr FINCH - Yes, if you remove the dam.  As I say, I do not think that is necessary and people love that water view.  If you look at somewhere like Sydney, they pay zillions for that opportunity to catch a bit of water.  I went up with a friend who was thinking of buying a property -

Mr Hall - It is something the member for Launceston might take up for next year's election - remove the dam.  I don't know.

Mr FINCH - Thanks, she will appreciate the tip.  A friend in Sydney was looking to buy a property and it was advertised in Sydney as a water view.  We went to have a look at it and were virtually on the block of land with this water view; you would have to build a three‑storey place and you would have to stand on top of the wardrobe with a telescope to actually see the water through the trees.  It was just bizarre, yet that is how it was advertised.  I suppose it is intrinsic to us as people that we have this attraction to water views.  We are made up mostly of water, of course, and that attraction is there.

This process that I talk about with the holding back of the floodwaters to release them more safely could be used to prevent the South Esk peaking at the same time as the North Esk.  As I mentioned yesterday, that is what happened in the 1929 disaster.  Some say the best-case scenario would be to decommission the Trevallyn Power Station and use the dam for recreation, scenic values and for flood control.  Perhaps this would be feasible if the dreaded departure occurs with one of our big industrial power users.  If they decide to close, or if Tasmania increased its non‑hydro renewable power capacity sufficiently, there might be the opportunity to do that.  It might be interesting to hear what Hydro's take on these points are.

In the week from 6 June it was obvious that while the levees protect much of low‑lying Launceston, they probably make the situation worse for businesses outside because the floodwaters have less area to dissipate, as pointed out by the member for Windermere.

Yesterday I talked of a business, a restaurant, that was very badly flooded, and of course other businesses were affected too.  It is hard to see how this can be avoided in the future.  The Flood Authority and the Launceston City Council will need to look at this minor disaster - it could have been much worse had the levees failed.

Alan Birchmore was driven to get up at 3 o'clock in the morning to go out and observe what was going on because he was very nervous about his baby - I could call it that, being chairman of the Launceston Flood Authority - and he wanted to be on the ground to see what was occurring out there.  No doubt much has been learnt from what happened with this flood and the way the water reacted around the Launceston area in those low‑lying areas.

At this stage the Newstead area, and the Elphin area you talked about, have no protection from flooding from the North Esk River and about 50 Newstead homes had to be evacuated during the floods.

The announcement on Sunday has been alluded to already, of the future Coalition government combining with the Launceston City Council to commit $500 000 to build the flood levees at Newstead.  I am sure a similar agreement would be likely from a Labor government if that comes about.

The Mayor of Launceston, as Albert van Zetten said construction of about two kilometres of earth levees to protect Newstead would be started as soon as possible and the project will be managed by the Launceston Flood Authority.

Now the big question is the future frequency of flood events.  Mayor Albert van Zetten said after the floods -

One thing that we do know is that there is far more likelihood of extreme weather conditions … I am hoping that it's not going to be for years that we cop that sort of rainfall again but we do not know. 

That is from The Examiner.

The Upper Tamar has experienced major flooding in 1852, 1863 and 1929.  There is a big gap between 1929 and 2016 but it does not tell us anything about the future.  I have understandably concentrated on Launceston's flood problems but I am mindful of the loss of lives and the damage through to the north-west coast and along the south Esk area outside Launceston.  My son's partner's uncle is that missing chap at Evandale, so it is close.

As Albert van Zetten said, we can hope that the next big flood event is not going to be for years but we have to prepare for it to happen again soon.