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NSW must shake off its ‘rinse and repeat’ disaster thinking

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Geoff Helisma, Clarence Valley Independent

The NSW Government has “supported” six of the 28 recommendations made in the 2022 Flood Inquiry, and “supports in principle 22 recommendations, with further work required on implementation”.

Meanwhile, the report’s conclusion states, in part, “More damaging floods and other natural disasters will come, and NSW must shake off its ‘rinse and repeat’ disaster thinking.

“If this state is to be truly well prepared for disasters, it requires a full-time and sustained focus on an all-agencies and all-hazards approach to disaster response.”

“The government is committed to working towards the [22] objective[s] identified by the Inquiry but has identified the need to undertake further analysis and consultation (particularly with the Commonwealth, local councils and NSW agencies) on the best means of achieving this,” the government’s response states.

The response “recognises” that the “emergency services framework that responds to floods also has responsibility for responding to a broader range of risks, [including] other natural disasters (i.e. bushfires), but also terrorist incidents, foreign interference, disease outbreaks (i.e. Covid-19) and other biohazards (i.e. Foot and Mouth Disease) and cybercrime”.

The supported recommendations are:

  • Create a Community First Responders Program (funding appropriate community equipment and training, particularly in high-risk catchments along the east coast of NSW),
  • create a NSW Disaster App (to improve community confidence in government messaging and warnings),
  • Impact to Essential Services (government work directly or together with the Australian and other state governments and/or their relevant power and tele-communications regulatory, policy and market bodies),

NSW must shake off its ‘rinse and repeat’ disaster thinking

  • Task Force Hawk
    (government establish a high-level government standing committee…comprising key cabinet ministers, secretaries and commissioners),
  • Compound Mental Health Studies (government commission a longitudinal study on the effect of consecutive disasters on community mental health), and,
  • Cost Benefit Framework (enable Government to estimate the investment required for any given disaster, starting with flood events, and will enable the fast allocation of funding based on detailed and rapid analysis of flood and property modification, mitigation, preparation, response and finance related options).

In relation to the Clarence Valley, the report stated that it had suffered three flood events during February/March 2022, with the second flood being the largest.

“The second flood in Maclean was the highest flood recorded since completion of the Clarence River Levee in 1976.

“In its submission to the Inquiry, Clarence Valley Council advised that on 4 [four] occasions during the floods, SES disseminated incorrect information in evacuation orders including advertising evacuation centres that had already closed, had not been authorised for use during the flood event by the Clarence Valley’s Local Emergency Operations Controller, or that [they] were inaccessible as the evacuation route was already inundated and closed.

“Council found push notifications, app updates and social media posts to be insufficient for those located in areas with poor or no phone reception or during events that significantly affect telecommunications.”

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said he “under-stands where Kevin [Hogan] is coming from” regarding the NSW Government’s flood response being too slow, but said flooding was widespread over many local government areas (from the Illawarra to the border), which were subsequently declared dis-asters areas.

“The level of flooding was unprecedented – of Noah proportions –, no one was prepared for that,” he said.

“Logistically, it has been really difficult … whatever decisions the government makes in the Northern Rivers will have to be replicated (across the state] and those same sorts of support will have to be offered to other flood victims across NSW.

“That’s going to come in at billions of dollars, so the government has got to get it right … we can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

Regarding the future of development on floodplains, the flood inquiry report says, “There needs to be a reset in the way we consider and manage our floodplains.

“NSW’s floodplains must be recognised as an asset, rather than a nuisance that needs to be contained.

“With appropriate strategic land use planning, and a return of the floodplain to public ownership over time, we can unlock the value of floodplains whilst ensuring they are safely enjoyed to their full social, environmental, cultural and economic potential.”

Clarence Valley Independent 24 August 2022

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 24 August 2022.

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