The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says the Parliamentary Upper House Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria was back in Rochester on Wednesday night after the deadline for submissions was extended a further two weeks.
A submission workshop was held in Rochester Secondary College by the Legislative Council environment and planning committee to encourage more residents to lodge submissions and walk them through the process of writing a more impactful document.
The inquiry has already received more than 700 submissions from across the state – with almost 100 of the from flood-ravaged Rochester.
Mr Walsh says his office has analysed the first 200 submissions posted online and he is alarmed at what the figures reveal.
He says of those submissions already public, mental health impacts has become the number one ranked issue for flood victims.
Followed closely by ineffective flood mitigation strategy, losing everything and still being displaced eight months after the floods.
“To compound the overwhelming number of mental health claims, number five on the list was physical health impacts,” Mr Walsh says.
“My office is still getting calls and visits from people who have now been out of their homes and their community for almost nine months – while others seem to be fighting a losing battle with insurers,” he added.
Legislative Council environment and planning committee researcher Kieran Crowe told the Rochester workshop despite what people think, the submissions to the inquiry were incredibly valuable.
Kieran says some people think their individual problems won’t be heard and won’t matter to anyone in government anyway.
However, he says only the people who lived through the flood, people who lost a little or a lot, can give an important firsthand account of what really happened to them.
“The inquiry can only write its report based on the information it receives, which is why every individual account is so important,” he says.
Mr Walsh says the submissions he has seen, littered with such simple appeals as “please help”, “please do whatever it takes so this doesn’t happen again” and “we lost everything” are bad enough, but pale by comparison with others.
He says elderly residents of flood affected towns have not only declined in health, too many have been reported as dying while still stuck in emergency or temporary accommodation.
“One woman said ‘seeing your mother spend her final days in substandard living conditions is distressing and depressing, something we will grieve for a long time and from which we may never recover’,” Mr Walsh says.
“Many submissions focused on the losses from the floods and the frustration of dealing with the both the insurance industry and applications for government grants,” he says.
But one submission managed to coalesce all that data in a depressing but accurate assessment: “Unfortunately, ‘we lost everything’ does not just mean people lost their home or possessions, which would be devastating enough”.
“No, this loss extends far beyond this,” she says.
“It means they have lost contact with their friends (as so many have been dispersed in different directions), their daily support networks, their town services, living close to family and home/life security, living in their familiar environment, and, heartbreakingly, too many pets.
“Those who were not inundated still have their homes but lost their community because everyone around them was (and still are) displaced.”
Later this year the Inquiry will kick off a series of public meetings to hear firsthand from people affected by the floods. The first hearing will be in Rochester on August 23 and in Echuca the following day.