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Frustrated Carnarvon growers call on WA premier to deliver on promise of flood assistance

By James Liveris, Tuesday June 22, 2021 - 08:18 EST
ABC image
WA Premier Mark McGowan visits flood-affected Carnarvon in February. - ABC

Four months after Carnarvon was hit by its worst flood in 11 years, frustrated growers say they are yet to see a slice of a $1 million flood fund promised by the WA premier.

In early February, the coastal town received more rainfall in 24 hours than it did for the whole of 2020, leading the Gascoyne River to overflow.

It was estimated the "once-in-a-decade flood" impacted almost 40 per of the growing district.

After visiting the area alongside State Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan in February, Premier Mark McGowan promised speedy help.

"A re-elected McGowan Labor Government would move immediately to establish a $1 million fund to support fruit and vegetable growers in Carnarvon impacted by recent flooding and to plan to mitigate flood risk in the future," stated a media released issued by the government.

The funding would give growers access to new soil for their properties as well as repairing and replacing damaged irrigation infrastructure.

But almost four months on, not one shovel has been lifted.

Growers frustrated

Carnarvon grower Phil Frzop has operated his farm since the 1980s and seen his fair share of floods, but said the current government inaction was the worst he had experienced.

"We are extremely frustrated that there has been very little action from the department and the premier," Mr Frzop said.

"We've been waiting for four months now.

"Our inability to produce an income, through no indirect fault of our own is not right."

Due to flood damage, Mr Frzop was only able to undertake limited planting at the start of this sowing season, and with no solution in sight he said he was worried.

"As a result of the last river flow, out of 15 hectares of land, 11 hectares was not useable," he said.

"We can now reuse some of it but there are still two hectares that we haven't been able to get into and we've lost a significant amount of our income because of it.

"The next river flow we'll have the same issue ? I mean how many times do we have to go through the same problem?"

'A priority that needs to be solved': Minister

Minister MacTiernan said the issue had been elevated to priority status.

"This has been immensely frustrating for everyone involved," Ms MacTiernan said, who confirmed that the $1 million for Carnarvon growers had been allocated.

"We've had all sorts of environmental, native title, planning impediments getting the soil.

"We are putting pressure on all the government agencies to get this moving.

"We are being promised that it will be sorted in the next two weeks."

However, Ms MacTiernan would not go as far as to say she was confident the government could deliver on that date.

"This is something that has turned out to be incredibly hard to deliver upon, and I regret that," Ms MacTiernan said.

"This is a priority that needs to be solved."

Premier Mark McGowan was contacted for comment.

His office issued a statement that said the state government was committed to delivering on its election commitments.

The relevant government agencies are currently reviewing the flood levee bank system and are expected to have a report ready in two weeks' time.

Further work is also underway in conjunction with the Gascoyne Catchments Group to assess water flow in the upper catchment areas.

Suffering in silence

Phillip Byron's banana plantation is located west of Bibrawarra Bore Crossing, where much of the deflected water caused severe damage to nearby properties.

Mr Byron said it was unacceptable for the flood levee system to safeguard 60 per cent of growers along the river.

"You can't put something in place that adversely affects what is essentially 37 per cent of the growing district," Mr Byron said.

"There is no recovery from it, there is no recovery from your loss of property values, your loss of crops and your income.

"It is something the government needs to address ASAP ? we can't just keep suffering in silence."

Sceptical of the future

The immediacy of topsoil was a lingering issue, however, grower Rod Sweetman said there was a longer-term issue that was more concerning.

"This flood was unique for its height and the amount of damage it did ? what is most concerning is the implications of a bigger event," Mr Sweetman said.

"Some of the problems have been transferred further downstream as a consequence of protecting one particular area.

"There seems to be a reluctance to release the remodelling based on data that was put into the model as consequence of this flood event."

Mr Sweetman said growers were waiting anxiously for the result of the report.

"We need to know what the government has in train to be able to mitigate that problem in the future," Mr Sweetman said.

"West of Bibrawarra Bore Crossing consists of about 200 to 300 properties in total that stand to be seriously impacted, possibly to the point of no repair if we get another flood event equivalent to that of 2010."


© ABC 2021

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