More flooding predicted: What’s happened to the flood levee?
THIS wet season the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting an increased risk of flooding and cyclones, bringing into question just how motivated the three levels of government are to realising the South Rockhampton flood levee project.
Major flooding has impacted South Rockhampton historically and in recent years in 1992, 2011, 2013, and 2017, resulting in an estimated repair bill of $67 million over the past decade.
Rockhampton Regional Council has struggled over the decades to deliver the levee project, which was first identified as the most cost effective option to mitigate the effects of flooding in Rockhampton in 1992.
With the levee’s cost blowing out to an estimated $189 million, and the state and federal governments unwilling to go beyond their initial $25 million commitments, RRC abandoned its plans in October to build the project for the foreseeable future, seeking to stimulate the economy by redirecting the money set aside towards more achievable projects.
“Given the impacts of COVID, council believes this money could be redirected to other priority projects to support our region,” Deputy Mayor Neil Fisher said.
As governments seek to rebuild the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, pouring money into a variety of infrastructure projects, it remains perplexing why additional funding was yet to be found for a project that would create jobs while flood proofing 1,500 properties, businesses, schools and the Bruce Highway.
During a frantic State Election campaign where Rockhampton’s nine election candidates clashed over a variety of issues and Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk visited the city within 24 hours of each other, no one campaigned on the promise of securing more money to resolve the levee impasse.
Federal Government’s response to levee issue
Federal Labor Senator Murray Watt took aim at the Federal Government following the RRC’s decision to reallocate money set aside for the levee project.
He claimed the Federal Government committed $4 billion last year to fund disaster recovery measures such as flood levees, cyclone shelters, evacuation centres and fire breaks, of which the government had spent “zero, not a single cent”.
“There are funds sitting there, doing nothing,” Senator Watt said.
Upon his arrival into Rockhampton in October, Mr Morrison toured the Hastings Deering site, which was one of the potential beneficiaries of the future levee’s floodproofing ability.
When asked by the Morning Bulletin whether anyone in the company raised the issue with him during the visit, the Prime Minister said they hadn’t, before deferring to Capricornia MP Michelle Landry to explain what the Federal Government was doing towards supporting the project.
“I have spoken to the Deputy Prime Minster’s office about this and after the election, the three levels of government will sit down and discuss it,” Ms Landry said.
“Because the Premier made a $45 million commitment down in Bundaberg (for a levee), she certainly hasn’t made it in Rockhampton.
“It is very important and is certainly still on my radar but it is certainly something that we need to discuss to see how the cost can get pulled down.”
Queensland Government’s response to levee issue
On the election hustings in Rockhampton, Premier Palaszczuk answered a question from the Morning Bulletin about the predicted wet season and whether a re-elected Labor Government would step up to help deliver the levee
“Of course we were willing to do a levee in partnership with the Federal Government and the council but it became a cost which was so large that it was beyond the realms of possibility,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“Unfortunately, all three levels were not agreeing on the amount that could have been spent on it so our priority is job creating opportunities across Central Queensland.”
The Premier said they needed whatever was proposed for the levee to be “reasonable”.
“That was always our intention to have a reasonable proposal, but unfortunately the council and the Federal Government walked away from that proposal,” she said.
“We want to make sure that we do everything we can to protect Rockhampton.
“I was here during that (2017) flood event as well, and I remember it very clearly.”
Expected to be officially declared as the re-elected member of Rockhampton, Labor’s Barry O’Rourke said the problem with the levee project was the significant cost blowout.
“Every project must be assessed on its own merits and the cost benefit analysis must stack up to deliver for Queenslanders,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“We saw this council-led project skyrocket from $60 million to over $189 million. In addition, council cut its earlier $30 million public commitment to $15 million.
“Like the Commonwealth Government, the State Government committed $25 million. But council could not make up the $130 million shortfall.”
He said the Queensland Government was committed to the funding set aside for the levee, staying in Rockhampton.
Survey results of the top five perceived benefits of the levee perceived by the community
1. Reduce damage to the city – 71.9 per cent
2. Help protect roads and infrastructure – 70 per cent
3. Reduce disruptions to the community – 69.7 per cent
4. Highway traffic won’t need to be diverted during floods – 68.3 per cent
5. Help protect community members – 67.1 per cent