Saffin, Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow were invited to speak at the start of day two of the upper house inquiry into the response to major flooding in New South Wales in 2022.
Krieg told the Lismore Workers Sports Club hearing that Resilience NSW struggled with the concept that working in an emergency crisis was a 24-hour job.
He said the council ran an evacuation center for up to 800 people for two weeks before a state government agency offered support.
“At the height of a natural disaster, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think that’s where resilience really struggled,” he said. “[They had] a concept of, well, it’s five o’clock and I’m going home kind of a scenario.
“We had local elected officials [at the evacuation centre] who worked the night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. They acted as a counselor, security guard, unfortunately, methadone distributor as well, all of those things because the government agencies just weren’t there.
Saffin told how Resilience NSW was unprepared for a disaster and how she and other local officials had to contact the Premier’s Office to get other agencies access to evacuation centres, as well as to organize the Salvation Army security and food.
“NSW Resilience has been found to be insufficient at all levels, it is institutionally incapable of doing the job it is supposed to do by law,” the Labor MP said.
“Everyone is talking about this flood as unprecedented…and unprecedented becomes ‘we couldn’t have done better’.
“Well, you can in disaster preparedness. One of the fundamentals is that you prepare for what happens if, not what happened before.
Chris Gulaptis told the inquest that the response from government agencies was insufficient and slow.
“People were sleeping on the floors of schools, churches and hotels,” the Nationals MP said. [Families and strangers] slept side by side or in their car with their pets for more than a week. For comparison, a tent village for 500 RFS volunteers was set up in Wollongbar in just two days.
“I have also received criticism from government agencies tasked with helping flood victims recover that their response is too slow and bureaucratic. And I believe this is largely due to the lack of a coordinated response from state and federal agencies.
Mayor Mustow said the New South Wales government still lacked a clear, decisive and cohesive emergency response and recovery capability.
Asked how he felt about residents made homeless by the disaster forced to pay their fares, Mayor Krieg said he felt embarrassed and humiliated. He said he had lobbied the NSW government for 12 weeks for some sort of assistance.
“As a newly elected representative, I would have thought we could help our citizens and finding out that it is a legal requirement for these homes and businesses came as a shock to me.
“It’s the sort of absurd paperwork waste we’re dealing with.”
The Upper House Committee Inquiry into Sydney’s North Coast and West Floods is traveling to flood-affected communities across the state to examine disaster preparedness, coordination and response.
A separate government inquiry, led by the chair of the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission, Dr Mary O’Kane, and former New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, is under way. courses to investigate the causes of floods, emergency response and the future of construction in floodplains.
A spokesperson for Minister for Emergency Services and Flood Resilience and Recovery, Steph Cooke, said it was inappropriate to comment on individual submissions or evidence until the inquiry had makes its recommendations.
He said Resilience NSW continued to be responsible for providing immediate relief by re-supplying isolated communities with essential items, assisting with the cleaning of properties and supporting the deployment of short- and medium-term temporary accommodation.
“Resilience NSW continues to work in Northern Rivers communities and runs door-to-door outreach programs to ensure all flood victims have the opportunity to have face-to-face support during their recovery,” said he declared.
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