RICHMOND Valley Council is calling for a new model for emergency management in NSW, following this year’s catastrophic flood events.
In an 18-page submission to the 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry, Council said it was time to rethink the way that disaster response and recovery was managed, and to improve coordination between State agencies.
“Regional NSW has reached the limits of its resilience and we can no longer simply expect communities to pick up the pieces after an ever-increasing number of natural disasters,” the submission states.
“Our climate is changing, and the way we prepare for, respond to and recover from future disasters of this scale must also change.”
The submission pointed out that the Richmond Valley had endured eight natural disasters in just three years, and strong, decisive and coordinated leadership from all levels of government was needed to help communities deal with future disasters.
“The NSW Government must develop a new, consolidated model for emergency services which combines the key response agencies SES and RFS under one administration,” the submission states.
“The Government should also consider the best fit and future structure and role of Resilience NSW, as well as reduce the heavy reliance on volunteers to be our front line responders.”
Improvements to the way State agencies worked together to support recovery were also required.
“The NSW Government still lacks a clear, decisive and cohesive capacity for emergency response and recovery,” the submission said.
“This means that front-line agencies, such as councils, are often left in the dark, with no answers or resources to help their communities while State agencies attempt to unravel their own bureaucracy.”
As an example, Council said hundreds of Richmond Valley residents were still waiting for temporary housing sites to be established, three months after the flood.
Improving warning systems and telecommunications services, as well as temporary housing and voluntary house raising, have also been highlighted in Council’s submission.
According to Council’s General Manager Vaughan Macdonald, the February and March floods were the largest challenges the community had faced to date and the work to rebuild would take many years.
Mr Macdonald said people needed answers, which was why this flood inquiry, and the recommendations which arise from it, were important to the future of our region.
He said Council’s submission was prepared to highlight the common issues raised by the community following these two catastrophic flood events.
He said Council believed it was vital the experiences and concerns of local people were included in the inquiry’s considerations.
“The February and March floods have changed the face of the Northern Rivers and the Richmond Valley,” Mr Macdonald said.
“Many things have been lost – homes and livelihoods, crops and livestock, buildings and infrastructure, but the resilience of our community has remained.
“In the Richmond Valley, some 800 local homes have been badly damaged, with 450 of them currently uninhabitable. There are more than 1000 local residents displaced – living with friends and family, shifting between motels and other short-term rentals, or camped out in tents and cars, as the rain continues to fall – all desperately waiting for temporary housing which still has not arrived.
“Our Council is facing more than $150 million in essential infrastructure repairs and our local economy is expected to lose more than $250 million in productivity over the next two years, due mainly to the impacts on local agriculture and manufacturing industries.
“Local councils are not sufficiently resourced to meet the extensive costs of disaster response and repairs and we look forward to the inquiry’s findings and recommendations on how we can improve the emergency management model for NSW.”
Mr Macdonald said an invitation had been extended to Professor Mary O’Kane and Michael Fuller to visit the Richmond Valley and meet with Council and those who were dealing with the challenges of these events on a daily basis.
The submission can be viewed on Council’s website here.