Ivan Dean MLC
Thursday 19 October 2006
LAUNCESTON - THREAT OF FLOODING
| Mr DEAN (Windermere - Motion) - Mr Deputy
President, I move -
That the Legislative Council recognising the serious potential threat of flooding in the City of Launceston because of the aged and inadequate levees on the banks of the Tamar River calls on the State Government to -
(1) work with the Launceston City Council to review -
(a) appropriate plans for future maintenance and an emergency warning system;
(b) current emergency action plans, including evacuation and recovery;
(c) current land use and building controls to minimise impacts in the event of a flood; and
(2) calls on the Federal Government, State Government and Launceston City Council to make appropriate funding a priority.
Firstly, I would like to thank the Leader of the Government for providing me with an opportunity to talk on the motion that I have before the Council. I sincerely thank the Government for that opportunity. The motion is an amended motion and that has been distributed all parties.
As the years pass, misgivings are growing in Launceston about the flood risk posed to the lower-lying parts of the city that were inundated in 1929, so it is a long time since that flood. I have no wish to be alarmist, but Launceston remains virtually unprotected from a flood of the same magnitude as occurred in a disaster of 1929. The river-bank levees cannot be accepted as satisfactory. Engineers cannot guarantee them. They are in a dangerous state of disrepair. Today I will be seeking the support of honourable members to formally acknowledge the threat and to join with me in urging all three spheres of government to endorse a plan to protect this city. Launceston must be made flood-ready. My own responsibility is plain; as a local member of parliament and as Mayor of Launceston I have a duty to speak out. This duty does bear a serious responsibility, a collective responsibility shared by every other locally elected representative at Federal, State and local level. Collectively we must focus on the risk. I will not mince words: the risk is real. Exactly what disaster may strike is beyond precise prediction, but only the most imprudent would ignore the painful lessons of the past.
The historical record can be our lamplighter. The terrible flood of April 1929 followed two events of similar magnitude in December 1863 and July 1852. Those floods favoured no season; in turn, there was flood in winter, in summer and in the autumn. Since the 1929 event, 77 years has elapsed without a serious flood. Luck and good fortune have saved Launceston and I dare say the unreasonable lower rainfall pattern of recent times has lulled many into a false sense of security. But who will guarantee that saturating rains will not keep avoiding the catchments that feed the North and South Esk rivers? It is a vain hope and a foolhardy risk, Mr President, to gamble the prosperity of Tasmania's second city against the whims of nature. Heavy rains will return, we know that. Flood crests will again thunder down the rivers. If Launceston is not made flood-ready there will be havoc. The city has been part-drowned before and it has no immunity. The danger is real and the risk is quantifiable.
The long run of flood-free years means of course that the risk of a 1929-magnitude flood becomes more likely as time goes on. The probability is that a child who is now aged 10 has a near-even chance of witnessing a repeat of 1929 before they are 60. I am advised that the risk of a $100 million disaster has been calculated as a 40 per cent chance over the next 50 years. It is akin to tossing a coin and crying 'heads or tails'. The risk is that great. Factor in the science of climate change and the scenario becomes more grim. Sea levels are on the rise; the Tamar is tidal. As high tides get higher the potential for flood crests coming down the North and South Esk rivers and slamming into an incoming tide becomes a nightmare for emergency planners. They are dealing with a risk that is going to be a near-even chance of a disaster event, as I have said, whenever drenching rain falls in those catchment areas. We can near enough write the script now for how that disaster will unfold. When rivers in raging flood meet the estuary's tide, engineers predict the city's ageing and inadequate levees will be breached. There are numerous weak points, not one; there are numerous. When just one gives way, like a dam burst, the waters are sure to rush in.
Nobody can rule out the possibility of fatalities in low-lying Invermay. Large parts of the suburb are below the high-tide mark. Engineers tell me floodwaters could reach depths of two-and-a-half metres. I understand from engineers' comments that, I think, Invermay is the only suburb in this State below high-tide mark. It is the only place in this State.
Flooded rivers soon subside but when the North and South Esk rivers retreat to their normal flow, Launceston's problems will have just begun. Breached levees are useless against tidal water. The force of the ocean cannot be stopped. Like New Orleans, the city will continue to be at the mercy of the tidal invasion. The Tamar estuary will do twice a day what it has always done, and it will go on and on. At every high tide, water will sweep across Invermay. The suburb will be uninhabitable.
Mr Wilkinson - It's not a laughing matter.
Mr DEAN - Thousands will require emergency housing. It is certainly not laughable. Governments will have to find tens of millions of dollars for humanitarian relief and post-disaster rectification programs. And it will go on and on, Mr Deputy President. I can see you standing to attention and I am wondering why, Mr Deputy President.
Like Hobart when it lost the Tasman Bridge, Launceston will experience the social and economic dislocation common in any disaster-struck city. And, like the broken bridge, no quick, easy fix will be possible. Relentlessly the tidal flood will go on and on, tide after tide, until the levees are fixed, and that will be a long, slow task.
The city's experience is that the deep alluvial soils of Invermay are so soft that the construction of levees there has been a high-order engineering challenge. I just pause to say that one has only to watch a video that was taken of pile driving when the piles were being put in for the Aurora Stadium. As soon as the crust was broken there, the next strike on the pile pushed that pile on its own movement into the ground, I think it was about 13 to 16 metres without having been struck again. Some may sink or be so damaged as to be beyond repair. There will be no instant fix. There cannot be. Just imagine the difficulties and the danger. The tides will not stop while engineers and construction crews endeavour to repair and replace and, ultimately, improve the inadequate levee systems that failed the city in the first place.
The solution will be costly and long in the making, Mr Deputy President. Or we can resolve to prevent the disaster in the first place. Politicians and aldermen, government officials and the civic authority all must see the risk, share the burden and act to minimise that danger. If prevarication rules, the day will certainly come when panicked citizens will flee another flood of the 1929 magnitude. And, Mr President, let me quash any notion that the 1929 disaster could not have been so bad because the best part of 30 years went by before the first serious attempt got under way to provide Launceston with flood protection. The year 1929, I will remind people, was also the year in which the Great Depression began. In those depression years, apart from lost livelihoods, death visited many communities in the form of health epidemics, Launceston among them, and then came the Second World War and after that the intense period of post-war reconstruction.
In a nutshell, that is why flood protection did not dominate the public agenda until the 1950s. There were greater priorities, not the least of which was national survival. When Tasmanians at last turned their attention to the risk and to the danger they forged a common will. The authorities of the day took up the challenge with gusto. United in purpose the Government, the city council and organisations like the Launceston Marine Board were of one mind: the city had to be protected against a repetition of the 1929 flood.
Residents now aged 60 or so may recall that the levee project was the talk of the town during their school years. Land was resumed or acquired for the levees . The Launceston Flood Protection Authority, later to become the Flood Protection Board, was created by special legislation. This was a partnership endeavour between government and the council and it was charged to report directly to the Parliament.
Mr President, the technical problems faced by the flood protection pioneers were enormous. Some levees collapsed on the soft soil during construction. The work was not easy nor was it swift. They were building on a former swamp. Years passed until finally in 1975, although not quite finished, the levees were transferred to the Launceston City Council. The idea in brief was that the council would maintain the levees while the State's side of the bargain was to ensure the provision of adequate funding and to make good on design defects as they were identified.
Regrettably, successive councils and governments have too often been at odds on these matters. In clear language, I mean to say that the levees are inadequate today. They are in disrepair because not enough money has been spent on them. The council's physical effort can be characterised as a patchwork program. Against a serious flood the system, I regret to say, can offer no more security than a magic spell, yet if the long run of good luck has been Launceston's only saviour in recent times, plain commonsense may now be on the rise.
The New Orleans disaster has been a powerful focus and a powerful focus on all of us, but long before Hurricane Katrina was born the looming potential for disaster had instilled unease in the mind of a Tasmanian premier, and I speak of the late Jim Bacon. I am grateful to the former Port Engineer for Launceston, Mr Jack Edwards, Mr President, a long-recognised authority on the Tamar-Esk system, for reminding me of Mr Bacon's interest in fixing the problem. Mr Edwards has a passion in relation to these levees , and he wants to see those levees fixed. He has a strong resolve for that to occur.
Mr Edwards was present at the official opening of the Woolnorth wind farm in 2002, four years ago almost to the day, and relates that during this occasion Mr Bacon initiated a discussion and expressed grave concerns about the integrity of the Launceston levees . Following on from that, an exchange of correspondence began in January 2003. Mr President, I have those four letters here with me, and rather than read those letters I would seek leave to have them incorporated into Hansard, and I will table those documents.
The letters read as follows:
18 Sculthorpe Place,
Norwood, Tas. 7250.
The Hon. Jim Bacon MHA,
Premier of Tasmania,
Dear Mr Premier
At Woolnorth in October last you spoke to me briefly of your concern relating to the Flood Protection Scheme in Launceston and it was reassuring to know that you appreciate the gravity of the situation. I share that concern and have given it a lot of thought since.
It is now 74 years since the last major flood and one of my basic concerns is a dangerous degree of complacency and false sense of security which exists and needs addressing, albeit with discretion.
The reality is that 3 floods of the magnitude of "1929" have occurred in the last 150 years spread randomly from April through to December - and it will happen again - it could be next month - or not for another 20 years - but it will happen. Recent unprecedented and widespread flooding in the Northern Hemisphere gives a timely warning.
Added to this, the Scheme built on difficult ground is now 40 years old, has never been fully tested and essential remedial works to make good natural settlement and deterioration have not kept pace, seriously affecting the Scheme's overall integrity. It is only as good as its weakest part and one minor failure could have disastrous results.
The Scheme's completion in the mid 60's encouraged significant capital development on the flood plain which has accelerated in recent times with some high profile projects and more are planned, all wholly dependent upon the adequacy of the Scheme for their protection. Based upon a crude updating of Professor Munro's analysis in 1959 failure of a section of the levee system during a flood of 1929 magnitude could result in a damage bill, exclusive of the social consequences, exceeding $40 million.
I believe that some of the most critical and suspect sections of the levees are obvious and could be made good immediately at moderate cost without the need for any significant further investigation or delay. At the same time a bold and wide ranging review and upgrade of the whole Scheme should be undertaken as a matter of urgency as, in my view, the potential risks are very real and the benefits of protection substantial.
An effective course of remedial action might be -
(1) Utilising an established organisation such as LCC to make good without delay the most obvious and serious weak points such as ground subsidence under piled levees , replacement of temporary mud boxes!! (now 40 years old) and other obvious areas of levee settlement and deterioration.
(2) Establish a body similar to the Flood Protection Authority and Board which performed so effectively from the late 50's to the mid 60s' with responsibility to review the existing Scheme, prepare a staged programme of remedial action and upgrade and arrange for carrying out the actual work.
It would need sufficient funding resources initially to enable it to undertake urgent repairs without delay and for specialised emergency procedures in times of flooding.
I believe the immediate target should be to provide assured protection against at least, a "1929" magnitude flood followed by progressive restoration to levels as may be determined by such a review.
As the existing Scheme was based largely upon proven projects along the Sacramento and Mississippi Rivers of the USA where major flooding occurs on a frequent basis there would be considerable value in one or two appropriate people visiting and studying those projects as soon as possible or early in the review process.
Attention should also be given to subdivision of the protection system to reduce the risk of the whole protected area being flooded following any failure of one section of levee.
While my comments may be based upon outdated information and casual observation I believe them to be basically valid and justification for serious concerns. If my background knowledge of the original Scheme can be of any help you know that I would be happy to assist.
Mr J K Edwards
18 Sculthorpe Place
NORWOOD TAS 7250
Thank you for your letter of 16 January 2003 concerning the potential flooding situation in Launceston. Your intimate knowledge and involvement in putting in place the current protection measures provide a valuable insight into this issue.
Under the Partnership Agreement between the Launceston City Council and the State Government, there is a specific requirement to pursue flood control and I can assure you that I am taking a close interest in the progress of those discussions.
An accurate assessment by both the Government and the Launceston City Council of the costs and benefits of various potential strategies needs to be carefully assessed. Consultants are in the process of being selected to undertake this assessment. It is hoped a report will be finalised before the end of the year.
The Council and the Government have a desire to examine all major options to address the very real risks that exist. Some options canvassed by the public include buy back of properties, new planning controls, evacuation plans and engineering improvements to the existing levee banks.
Whilst I can see the virtue of your advice that a new Authority or Board be established to give full time attention to this important problem, and this suggestion has been made by others as well, a decision on such a new body would be premature until consultants have concluded an assessment and their report considered.
Thanks again for dropping me a line to expand on your concerns as we discussed last year - it's always good to catch up.
Jim Bacon MHA
18 Sculthorpe Place,
The Hon. Jim Bacon MHA,
Premier of Tasmania,
Dear Mr Premier
Thank you for your letter of April 7 explaining the action being put in hand in relation to the Launceston flood problem and your courtesy in taking note of my concerns.
I am very supportive of the positive direction being taken for a broad ranging review which is a logical process for the long term - but obviously considerable time will elapse before any concrete results can be achieved. The very nature of the foundation soils in themselves would inhibit a rapid programme of levee restoration if that course is chosen.
Meanwhile the growing risk of serious damage from even a moderate flood is very real while some localised sections of the levees remain suspect. As suggested in my earlier letter I believe that it is vital for an urgent program of basic repairs to be undertaken immediately and not be delayed by the review process. It is no exaggeration to say that any delay in doing so could have disastrous results.
Almost certainly whatever final decision is made some level of levee protection will form a vital part, and any work done now would be of long term benefit.
I am reminded of the old proverb - 'For the want of a nail a shoe was lost ' Such repairs are better done now than have to be attempted under difficult emergency conditions.
I apologise for 'harping' but feel duty bound to repeat these observations and also that I owe it to you personally to make you aware of my remaining concerns.
Mr J K Edwards
18 Sculthorpe Place
NORWOOD TAS 7250
Thank you for your further letter of 27 April 2003 regarding the current review of the Launceston Flood Protection Scheme and your concerns about potential shorter term problems due to the current suspect condition of localised sections of the levee system.
A flood levee is only as strong as its weakest section, and I agree that it is necessary for work to continue on the repairs to these sections as a high priority. Under the Government's existing agreement with the City of Launceston this program has been continuing in recent years, with an annual allocation of State funds to address problem sections. This program is implementing urgent rectification works that were identified in the engineering review of the scheme by independent consultants, jointly commissioned by the Government and the Council in 1996.
The Government will continue to work with the Council in dealing with the levee system's difficult foundation problems, to help ensure that the City receives suitable protection from major floods.
I have forwarded a copy of your letter to the Hon Bryan Green MHA, the Minister responsible for our joint program with the Council for his information.
Thank you again for bringing your views and observations to my attention.
Jim Bacon MHA
Mr DEAN - Mr President, Mr Bacon's first letter thanks Mr Edwards for his valuable insights, and held out hopes that an assessment of cost-benefit strategies, in effect a clear direction, might be finalised before the end of 2003. In his second letter to Mr Edwards dated 17 June 2003, Mr Bacon stated - and I quote -
'A flood levee is only as strong as its weakest section, and I agree that it is necessary for work to continue on the repairs to these sections as a high priority.'
Mr Bacon identified the fact that it was a high-priority necessity to fix those levees . Unfortunately, those good intentions have yet to bear fruit.
Mr Aird interjecting.
Mr DEAN - They have not been repaired.
Mr Aird - I think that's a bit unfair. We've got a signed partnership agreement with you. Let's be fair about this.
Mr DEAN - Mr Treasurer, let us be fair about it. What I am doing is quoting the letter and the comments of the late Mr Jim Bacon who said the fixing of those levees was a high priority. That was a quote from the letter.
Mr Aird - Through you, Mr President - we have spent a lot of time going through a process with the Launceston City Council. You know that the Government has committed $700 000 to assist the council in working through the partnership agreement, so what is the point of this argument?
Mr DEAN - The argument is that it was three-and-a-half years ago when that statement was made. That is the point I am making.
Mr Aird - When did we sign the partnership agreement?
Mr DEAN - Mr President, I am not going to reiterate my comment other than to say that was a statement made by the late Premier, Mr Bacon, three-and-a-half years ago.
Mr Aird - I think you will find it was 1999. Wasn't the partnership agreement signed in 1999?
Mr DEAN - The first partnership? I did not think it was that early, that long ago. I am not certain, from memory.
The Government is now conscious of the threat, I believe - of course it is. The New Orleans disaster was a powerful galvanising force. Together, the State Government and the city council sent officers overseas to New Orleans itself, and also to California and the Netherlands to examine best-practice scenarios in flood-prone situations. Mr President, New Orleans was the catalyst for collective action, but like the words of King Canute, all the investigations overseas will be as nothing if they do not lead to common purpose, shared effort and a funding commitment. The options are stark. We can allow prevarication to persist and push policy onto the backburner. In this event we will be turning a blind eye to certainly tragedy and perhaps death.
Ms Thorp - I'm glad that you're not being alarmist.
Mr DEAN - Or we can unite the forces of elected representation. I am not being alarmist; I am stating facts on good evidence - from engineers, people who understand this situation well.
The immediate challenge is to repair the defects and bring the levees up to scratch. And there must be consensus on development in the low-lying suburbs for the long term. Certainly I do not want the horrors of a New Orleans-style disaster on my watch. I doubt that my parliamentary colleagues, both State and Federal, and my fellow aldermen do either.
Engineers know that a flood of the 1929 magnitude can be held at bay. And we know - the bad news - Launceston is overdue. That is the equation that Launceston faces: a known threat plus high probable risk of that threat eventuating plus engineers who know how to avert the threat, provided they have the time and resources to do the job. The onus is therefore clear: we must make Launceston flood-ready. We must give the engineers the resources to do that job. We must improve emergency management systems and ensure future developments are appropriate.
At this stage I wish to thank Mr Geoff Brayford, a Launceston City Council engineer who has a strong passion to ensure Launceston is flood-ready. He is a credible and respected engineer who is not likely to give up until he can say, we can say, we have done all that is possible to protect Launceston. He is capably supported by a second engineer, Mr Steve Ratcliffe, both of whom have a passion to ensure that the levees are as best they can possibly be.
Mr President, should those of us who hold elected responsibility duck this issue then devastation within the city is going to remain a continuing high-risk probability. Costs to governments from such a disaster will far exceed the costs of preventing that disaster, we know that.
Passage of this motion I hope will begin to set the clear direction envisaged - to act before it is too late. I am pleased to note that northern Liberal MHA, Sue Napier, has gone on the record this parliamentary session also expressing concern about funding for the Launceston levees . I hope the entire Opposition shares her view and, in fact, I will be urging them to become active participants in a solution.
For instance, Mr President, if the Liberal Opposition in this State was so minded it could set out to convince Tasmania's Federal Liberal representatives to act collectively in Canberra and lobby the Federal Treasurer to invest in this project. So, rest assured, I will be approaching the Liberal Party to advance that and to seek that funding that is now necessary.
I commend the motion to honourable members.
Mr AIRD (Derwent - Treasurer) - I have been advised that I have two minutes so I will adhere to that. Firstly, we previously heard from the honourable member for Windermere last May, I think it was, when he outlined the case that he thought should be put forward to make some thorough analysis of the situation that exists in relation to the flooding problems that have been thought to be a problem here.
The Government supports the motion, is the other thing I want to say. We acknowledge, as the State Government, that it is an issue of significance to the Launceston area and we acknowledge that Launceston City Council, by itself, will not have the capacity to deal with this issue and we also believe that there should be a tripartite response to the need to find some remediation and, to be quite frank, we do not know the answers to the problems. There is going to be a range of solutions here, not just engineering, and I wanted to get that on the record.
There was a specially formed steering committee established with the State Government and council representatives which has initiated some consultant studies. That I know, and I toured with the Mayor and the honourable member for Windermere today into the flood-prone area and we know that the studies have been concluded and we know that that steering committee is putting together some recommendations which will come forward in November. It will be following on from that that we will have to work through the options and how we find some solutions to the problems.
But I just wanted to put on record that this is a classic example of an infrastructure problem that local government faces. It is no good playing the blame game here. It is no good saying, 'The Launceston Council should have been doing this and this and this, and why were the planning requirements stopped, the development of housing and other developments in the area?' - that has happened, it is a fact of life and we have to get on with some action.
I can go around the State and identify other areas of councils' responsibility where there are infrastructure needs that cannot be met by the local councils . So we need to have a consistent approach to this, we need to be transparent in terms of our assistance. I do not know what the cost is going to be but it is going to be considerable if we follow a full engineering response - I do not know if that is going to be the only response that we can have.
There is more I want to say about this issue, but I wanted to get it on the record now because we are in Launceston and I understand the need for the honourable member for Windermere to raise this issue here on this occasion. I did not want the debate to not include some response from the State Government at this stage. We do know it is a serious issue and we do know it is going to require some effort from all tiers of government. Mr President, I move -
That the debate stand adjourned.
Motion by Mr Parkinson agreed to -
That the Council at its rising adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday 31 October 2006 in Hobart.
Mr PARKINSON (Wellington - Leader of the Government in the Council) - Mr President, I move -
That the Council do now adjourn.
Thursday 2 November 2006
LAUNCESTON - THREAT OF FLOODING
| Mr DEAN (Windermere ) - Mr Deputy President,
I will certainly consult with the Mayor of Launceston over this issue
and I will seek his position on it. What I would like to say here, as
I have mentioned already to the member for Montgomery, is that you have
to move on with all the issues. Because you have a difficulty with one
area it does not necessarily mean that you can stop everything else just
to fix the one issue.
Mr Aird - Now that is a very good call. I agree with that entirely and I might need to remind you of that some time in the future.
Mr DEAN - Thank you, Mr Treasurer. You have to move on with these issues for the future of an area and for the community. Having said that, I would like to thank the Leader and my colleagues who provided me with the opportunity to raise this issue in Launceston.
Mr Parkinson - We knew how important to you it was to raise it in Launceston.
Mr Aird - Particularly after you put the advertisement in the newspaper. You would have looked remarkably silly, if you do not mind me saying so.
Mr DEAN - Right, I could well have done, but I had every belief in the fact and I accepted the Leader's position when he said he would make the opportunity available to me if at all possible, and he did that.
I also thank the members for their support and I thank the Treasurer for the positive comment he made while in Launceston on this matter. It is, Mr Deputy President, a very serious issue and it is an issue that we do need to move forward with. The Mayor of Launceston inherited this position on winning the election in October last year and immediately took the course of action that he believed was necessary. That was to identify very clearly to all levels of government and to the people the true state of the levees in Launceston. That really was not known. There was a lot of talk, there was discussion from time to time but the genuine position, if I can use that word, of the levees was not clearly known. We have taken a lot of advice on this from a number of engineers; we have taken advice from consultants - there have been consultants' reports on top of consultants' reports on top of consultants' reports in relation to the levees and all of those reports paint a similar picture - that is, that work must be done and done now. That is the situation that we have reached. For a very long time the eminent Mr Jack Edwards has had a passion in relation to these levees and getting them right.
I am urging all members here today to support this motion. It is a tripartite agreement between all three spheres of government - that is, the Federal Government, State Government and local government - and all three have to come on board now to move it forward. A steering group has been set up in relation to this and I did briefly mention this while I was in Launceston. That steering group will be meeting again tomorrow in relation to this matter. Because it is now known exactly what the situation is I am very confident that we will be able to move this forward in the interests of the people of Invermay in particular. Invermay is, as I understand it, the only suburb in this State that is below high tide; there is no other area in Tasmania. So that, I think, identifies very clearly that this is the one area we must fix.
Mrs Smith - Have they stopped letting people build there until it is fixed?
Mr DEAN - No, they have not, but that is a part of this process. There have been changes to the planning scheme. It is a matter that is looked at very closely each time a development application comes in, but the floor level of any new building must be 1 metre above high-tide mark. The levels are marked right throughout the Invermay area now. There are markings through there to identify the levels that would be reached in a one in 50-year flood, one in 100- year flood and a 1929 flood level is clearly marked right throughout Invermay.
Mrs Smith - So are you saying people are building above the danger level?
Mr DEAN - It is a matter that is looked at. Each case is dealt with on merit. There have been no approvals since that change to the planning scheme was made, but there have been some, I think, additions to some buildings and that planning scheme now is being invoked and is being carefully applied.
Mrs Smith - Now, with public knowledge of the issue, you would have a legal liability.
Mr DEAN - We do, and that has been made clear, but one of the problems that the Launceston City Council was confronted with was the belief that with more publicity given to this issue and with the amendments to the planning scheme, properties in that area would be devalued. So that was another area that had to be considered, but that was not the overriding issue. The overriding issue was the safety and future of all people living in that area.
Having said that, I would urge all members to give support to this motion. I look forward to moving this matter forward at the very first opportunity.
Motion agreed to.
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