Cyclone Debbie: looming storm evokes thoughts of Yasi

Northern Queensland prepares for destruction of the sort not seen for seven years

Cyclone Debbie: looming storm evokes thoughts of Yasi
The Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast map for the cyclone


With the regions between Townsville and Mackay soon to bear the brunt on Cyclone Debbie, the Queensland Transport Association (QTA), the state government and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) have sought to prepare transport businesses and the public for its onslaught.

In urging members and industry colleagues in the potential impact zone to "please take care and be safe", the QTA advises them to keep in mind issues related to natural disasters and employee entitlements.

"If an employer is unable to continue operating the business as a result of a natural disaster, they will need to determine employee entitlements during the closure," the association states. 

"This may include offering the choice of taking accrued paid leave, or in some cases, standing employees down. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides a default right for an employer to stand down employees for a certain period.

"The effect of standing down an employee is that the employer is not required to make payments to the employee for that period.

"The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) right to stand down arises when an employee cannot usefully be employed during a period of time because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible (for example a flash flood which prevents employees from entering their work premises).

"An employer can only exercise a Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) right to stand down an employee if they cannot be usefully employed. If an employer could obtain some benefit or value from work performed by an employee then the employer will not be able to stand down that employee.

"Where an employee is physically ‘cut off’ from attending work or they are required to care for themselves or family members, it’s desirable they remain (where they can) in constant communication with their employer.  It is from these discussions the employee and employer can decided upon how the absence will be treated, for example through the use of accrued paid leave and when the employee can safely return to work.

"Where a long distance driver is already ‘on duty’ and delayed because of an impassable highway the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award provides an employee must be paid for all time up to a maximum of eight hours in any period of 24 hours, at the rate weekly base rate (i.e not hourly driving rate). The employee must take all reasonable steps to minimise the period of delay.

"Employees that are members recognised volunteer community disaster relief organisations, such as the State Emergency Services are entitled under the National Employment Standards (NES) in the Fair Work Act to take a period of unpaid leave for the purpose of undertaking community volunteer activities associated with natural disaster."

"Under the NES, the duration of community service leave is not defined, however it must be reasonable having regard to:

a)     the time the employee is engaged in the activity

b)    reasonable travel time associated with the activity

c)     reasonable test time following the activity.

"Employees wanting to take a period of community service leave must provide their employer with notice as soon as practicable and if required provide suitable evidence they are a member of a recognised volunteering body and been activated for the emergency or natural disaster."

Debbie warnings

Presently a ‘category 2’ storm, Cyclone Debbie is forecast to become a category 4, while Yasi, which passed to the north of Townsville, ended up being  a category 5.

"Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie has recently strengthened into a category 3 system, and is expected to intensify further as it continues to move west-southwest towards the Queensland coast today," the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says this morning.

"Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie is forecast to make landfall as a severe tropical cyclone between Ayr and Cape Hillsborough, north of Mackay, on Tuesday morning."

It adds that destructive winds with gusts over 125 km/h may develop about the exposed coast and islands between Cape Upstart and Mackay during the afternoon.

These winds may extend further north along the coast to Townsville overnight and tomorrow and to adjacent inland areas, including Collinsville, tomorrow.

"Areas of heavy rain with the potential to cause severe flash flooding are expected to develop about parts of the northern and central Queensland coast and adjacent inland areas later today and continue through Tuesday," the BOM says.

"Widespread daily rainfall totals of 200 mm, with isolated falls of 400 mm, are also likely to lead to major river flooding over a broad area next week, and a Flood Watch is current for coastal catchments between Cardwell and Gladstone, extending inland to the eastern Gulf River catchments."

Memories of Yasi

If fears over the size of the event are realised, infrastructure and agriculture devastation could approach that of Cyclone Yasi six years and two months ago is likely.

Yasi cut the Bruce Highway and coastal rail links and flooding cut roads inland.

It also destroyed horticulture and banana and cane plantations thereby impacting on related long-haul transport operations.


As evacuations start, the state government says technical staff driving more than 30 specialised trucks have headed to north Queensland to assist Ergon Energy crews with any required power restoration. 

"These officers are among more than 800 field staff available to be deployed to the response zone from Ergon Energy, Energex and contractor resources," it adds. 

Energy Queensland has 125 generators available, 35 mobile generators, four high voltage units, and three mobile substations to assist with the restoration of power. 

Ports between Abbot Point and Townsville have been closed and shops evacuated. 

The Queensland Reconstruction Authority has deployed regional liaison officers to Cairns, Townsville and Mackay to provide specialist support to local disaster management groups and councils. 

ABC Local Radio is the emergency broadcaster with 106.7FM servicing Cairns and Far North Queensland, 630AM for Townsville and North Queensland 101.1FM Mackay and Central Queensland.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) notes BOM has issued a warning for Inland areas between Lucinda and Mackay including Charters Towers, Pentland, and Mount Coolon.

It advises drivers "exercise appropriate caution, including the possibility of postponing non-essential travel".

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