Monday Jun 05, 2023

Tweed MP tells inquiry disaster agency ‘tried their best’ in NSW floods



Northern Rivers community leaders say they have led the flood response and recovery, as the state agency tasked with preparing for and responding to disasters faced further criticism.

An upper house inquiry is using public hearings across the region to examine the response to the catastrophic February-March floods across northern New South Wales.

Tuesday’s hearing in Lismore was told Resilience NSW was missing in action and struggled to run evacuation centres and co-ordinate emergency agencies.

Tweed MP Geoff Provest told Wednesday’s hearing at Murwillumbah he had been critical of Resilience NSW but still had faith in the agency.

“In all honesty they tried their very best,” he said. “They were accessible, but at times didn’t deliver.”

He suggested the agency’s processes could be improved, and noted it was the biggest disaster since Resilience NSW was established in response to the 2019-20 bushfires.

Community leaders differed in their assessment.

“Whatever Resilience NSW is doing doesn’t seem to trickle back to us,” North Byron District Activation chair Francesca Esposito told the hearing.

She is voluntarily circulating newsletters informing residents of the grants available and organising community meetings.

Tweed Shire Council Mayor Chris Cherry said the agency had begun doorknocking in her region to ensure residents know what help is available.

“They’re acknowledging people have slipped through the gaps … in terms of people accessing services,” she said.

Ms Esposito says her group has also been doorknocking to get people at community meetings.

“The council is not running these meetings, Resilience NSW is not running these meetings. We are running these meetings.”

She said local geologists, surveyors, hydrologists and civil engineers have formed a community committee to formulate their own flood response.

Northern Rivers Co-operatives Alliance CEO Simon Stahl told the hearing he heard a lot of talk about Resilience NSW, but has never met anyone from the agency.

The community did the heavy lifting during the flood response while emergency services were siloed by bureaucracy, Mr Stahl said.

Councils should engage more with local businesses, who could do more in the wake of disaster.

“Businesses have a lot of assets and a lot of people that they can deploy quite quickly, and will do it for their community,” Mr Stahl said.

Ms Cherry earlier told the hearing people in flood-prone areas should be rehoused elsewhere so “we’re not back here in the future doing exactly the same thing … getting people out of the floodplain”.

Lismore MP Janelle Saffin says governments know where the at-risk properties are and need to provide easier access to funds to help residents move or raise their homes out of flood danger.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Wednesday the heritage of town centres need to be preserved, but the government needed to ensure rebuilds happen in a way that protects lives and property in the future.

Kingscliff Ratepayers and Progress Association president Peter Newton told the hearing there was an “absolute need to stop development on flood-prone land”.

But the community has no faith in the NSW planning system’s ability to address continued development.

A letter he sent to Planning Minister Anthony Roberts, urging a pause on development in flood prone areas, has not had a response two months later.

“We cannot continue doing what we do now,” Mr Newton said.

“We are putting people in harm’s way.”

The floods in NSW and Queensland have become Australia’s fourth costliest disaster, with insurance claims exceeding $4.3 billion.

More than 216,000 claims have been filed up to the end of May, the Insurance Council of Australia says.

About 20 per cent of claims, totalling almost $1 billion, have been paid.



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