Murray River flood levees
Question without notice
My question is for the Minister for Water.
Residents living along the Murray River in my electorate have long been raising concerns about the poor state of the levee banks, especially as they have been watching rising water levels during the past fortnight.
They are concerned that the flood levees have not been maintained and have significantly deteriorated as a result of many years of neglect.
While there is a Victorian flood plain management strategy there seems to be a great deal of confusion about who is responsible for levees in Victoria. Minister, what steps are being taken by the government to ensure that our flood levees are regularly inspected and fit for purpose on an ongoing basis, not just when an emergency arises?
Ms Neville, Minister for Water
I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. As the member for Shepparton has indicated, it is a very difficult time for a number of communities along the Murray as we continue to see threats around flooding. I know that there have been some intensive interventions made by some of our emergency service workers in some of the levee work to maintain some of the really critical levees that are protecting towns. One occurred over the weekend in Wangaratta.
Victoria has about 4000 kilometres of levees across the state. Many of these, particularly those along the Murray, were built in the early 1900s. Some were built by private landowners, some by council. Many of these are in a state of disrepair, particularly those that are not around our townships. The priority of councils and communities over the decades has been to maintain those that surround our towns. But there has been a lot of dispute over who has responsibility for these levees.
In 2014 the former minister got a draft flood plain strategy, which caused a lot of grief at the time in terms of who was responsible. That strategy talked about the state government not having any ongoing financial responsibility. So we committed to some further consultation with communities, which we did, that resulted in the flood plain management strategy being released earlier this year, linked with $25 million of investment. For the first time this does assign responsibility. It basically assigns responsibility to those who benefit from levees; they have the responsibility to maintain those levees. It is very clear about that. It also assigns responsibility for who is responsible for responding in flood situations. It identifies nine regional areas that will have flood strategies for which the $25 million will go towards supporting particular flood mitigation works.
In the past it has been a very ad hoc arrangement in relation to whether the state government contributes. For the first time it is very, very clear that the state government will be a partner with the council and with the commonwealth government in building new levees and in the major refurbishment of levees with those who benefit being responsible for the maintenance of those levees. We will contribute one-third towards the cost of building new ones and refurbishing levees.
There has been a commitment to 15 particular areas of funding, including Numurkah, Donald, Bendigo and Seymour, which is about supporting both the strategy development as well as the infrastructure that they need. We gave some additional resources to Numurkah recently to put in some monitoring arrangements as well. We are rolling this out and it will be the first time the state has some responsibility in this area.
Minister, across the river in New South Wales substantial levees have been constructed, and this, among other things, has affected the ability of the community and emergency services to predict the outcome of the current flood event. Minister, will you provide details of the mechanisms for management of flood levees on both the New South Wales and the Victorian sides of the River Murray, including the current status of any joint committees and when they last met, and what cross-border processes are in place to deal with the current flood event in my electorate?
I thank the member for Shepparton for the supplementary question. Firstly, in relation to the current flood, there are arrangements in place that operate between the Victoria State Emergency Service and the New South Wales State Emergency Service that are well understood and play out in terms of managing the flood across the New South Wales and Victorian border.
In relation to the current issues that the member talks about, undoubtedly New South Wales agencies have identified a number of levees that are unauthorised, and we are still to understand the impact that they might be having on flood flows. The New South Wales government is investigating that and will be reporting back to Victoria in relation to that. In regard to the flood plain strategy in terms of the long-term arrangements, each of the nine regional strategies, where they are along the Murray, will require partnership with those New South Wales agencies for ongoing flood mitigation and flood strategy work.