Warwick 2013 flooding. Photo Gerard Walsh / Warwick Daily News
Warwick 2013 flooding. Photo Gerard Walsh / Warwick Daily News Gerard Walsh

Call for Federal Government

MORE than five years ago, Warwick was affected by one of the worst floods the area had ever seen.

Houses and businesses were submerged, fences floated away and fields of crops were destroyed.

The community rallied around those hit hardest, as they battled and struggled to get back on their feet.

Then it happened again. And again.

Now, facing the reality floods could strike again, Southern Downs ratepayers could face a financial nightmare unless the Federal Government addresses uncertainty surrounding the future of natural disaster relief funds.

The Local Government Association of Queensland and the State Government are calling on the Coalition and the ALP to give our region a fair go by reversing a decision on the allocation of more than $1.3 billion in Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangement payments.

The Queensland Government has repaid Southern Downs Regional Council the $1.9 million it spent since 2011 on flood-related reconstruction works.

Ron Bellingham was Mayor of the Southern Downs at the time of the floods, and said while it was a difficult time, the community reacted with incredible strength.

He recalled how self-sufficient and proactive the town was during the disaster.

“There was a lot of infrastructure and personal damage in the town,” he said.

“The State Government team were here within 18 to 24 hours, but most of the support came from within.

“It brought out the best of people and I was proud of those who were involved.”

He said the State Government assistance was an important part of the recovery process.

“They came and offered assistance fairly quickly,” Mr Bellingham said.

“It could have been more, but at the same time it’s mostly directed at council infrastructure and repair and those funds became pretty quickly available.”

Mr Bellingham recounted the moment the emergency funding team arrived in town.

“This team of people walked in with vests and they were here to help,” he said.

“But they wanted an office, and they said, ‘We don’t understand. We’re here to offer financial assistance but there’s no one here’. And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re going to do that you need to go out and see them. They’re pretty busy at the moment’.”

The team then told Mr Bellingham that in other disasters zones they had helped, people had been “queueing up at the door” for handouts.

“People appreciated the physical assistance, but it wasn’t all about money,” he said.

“They needed support most definitely, but it was never for them about money.”

Mr Bellingham said the financial support provided by the State Government helped cover the town’s expenses.

“Council got financial support from government, and that frankly was all we needed,” he said.

It is this funding that now faces uncertainty under the Federal Government.

The next time natural disaster strikes, it is likely the council will be forced to fix public infrastructure without a guarantee of getting its money back.

“We’ll continue to live with floods because that’s the environment we live in,” Mr Bellingham said.

“It’ll come again, and we need to be ready for that.”

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