Lessons learned from 2011: MP’s memories of disaster
THE 2011 floods in Ipswich were not a first for Blair MP Shayne Neumann.
As a boy living with his family in Trumper St, East Ipswich in 1974, he experienced the devastation inflicted on a city unprepared for such an environmental disaster.
With his own house under more than two metres of water in '74, Mr Neumann's family fled to North Booval, only to be forced to evacuate a second time when the Bremer River rose there.
He still remembers the vital contribution made by then-councillor Des Freeman and his wife Colleen in helping flood victims.
The ability of the community to help its own is a theme that still resonates.
By the time 2011 came around, Ipswich was a much bigger place, but some things had not changed in those 37 years.
The Federal MP said inadequacies in the way various levels of government operate in times of natural disaster were again brought under the spotlight.
Since 2011, Mr Neumann says much work has been done, but there is still more to do.
"The big picture out of 2011 is that we were not prepared for the floods and we have to do better," Mr Neumann said as he reflected on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.
"We saw the importance of different levels of government being able to work together, but more so we saw how important small community organisations were in being able to move people to where they were needed and organise assistance.
"That community approach proved vital, especially in country areas that found themselves isolated."
Community centres and the volunteers manning them were among the heroes of the floods, providing assistance for families who had lost their homes.
The importance of the Ipswich Showgrounds in providing shelter for flood victims led to a huge investment in facilities in the years after the disaster.
Work started in 2019 for a new convention and exhibition centre at the showgrounds, designed to serve the purpose of an evacuation centre big enough for 300 people in the event of a repeat of the flood disaster.
Mr Neumann said government funds were also channelled into important flood mitigation projects, including at a notorious area at Thagoona, where a structure was built to divert water away from properties.
It was one of a handful of Ipswich mitigation projects that received $40 million in federal funds in 2013.
Unfortunately, some mitigation measures did not go ahead following the subsequent change of government, with then-PM Tony Abbott canning the funding.
Up in the Somerset region, the feds signed off on a number of bridge replacement projects, installing new bridges with foldable, metal guard rails in place of vulnerable old timber bridges.
Mr Neumann said many of the lessons learned in 2011 helped reduce the impact of the 2013 floods, which in some areas west of Ipswich were the worst of the two events.
"The 2013 floods showed how much Somerset Regional Council had learned from 2011. They were so much better prepared, as were local councils in general," he said.
So if another 2011 flood was to hit in 2021, would Ipswich and the rest of the region be prepared?
Mr Neumann believes there is still work to be done.
He was particularly scathing of what he described as "rapacious" insurers who still made billions in profits in 2011 despite infamously leaving countless homeowners high and dry.
An inquiry was established into the conduct of insurers in the wake of a wave of complaints from distraught homeowners.
The findings included a recommendation that a national approach was needed to carry out flood mitigation, reducing the risks and lowering the cost of flood insurance for residents.
Mr Neumann said better planning was also needed to equip the community in the event of another major flood.
"We need strategic planning for future floods, and more resources for those important community groups," he said.
"A whole bunch of local organisations showed great leadership during the 2011 disaster.
"To support them, we need community centres with proper showers and industrial kitchens.
"Telecommunications also need to be upgraded in country areas. Moore and Linville were cut off.
"In 2011 we saw Telstra pits filled with water, I had to give my phone to people from the Somerset region who were stuck in Ipswich, just so they could make contact with their family to let them know they were safe.
"We also need better co-ordination between the different levels of government."