Sue Arnold gives a first-hand account of how the NSW Government has failed to help flood victims during the crisis.
I LIVE IN Ocean Shores, on NSW's far north coast, high on a hill with no fear of the floodwaters taking away our house, our cars or our animals.
The valley below with its streets of houses, playgrounds and tennis courts disappeared underwater, as though the sea had taken back the suburb. Lismore, Ballina, Murwillumbah, Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby, Coraki, New Brighton — the floodwaters spread across the far north coast creating havoc.
So many people lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Some were able to save their animals. Many lost their pets. Horses drowned. Dogs, cats, chickens, cattle drowned.
Friends in Lismore lost their houses, their offices — everything. People in all the far north coast flooded areas were in crisis with no access to immediate help. Some families spent several days on their rooves waiting for rescue.
My son lives close to one of the heavily flooded rivers and watched the floodwaters come within metres of his house. Neighbours living further up his rural road had landslides, houses disappeared under a wall of mud. People died; a couple survived for almost two days buried up to their necks in mud.
For a week, we were without internet, mobile phone and landline coverage. Occasionally, we could get texts through. Food was very scarce as supermarket shelves were almost empty. The Coles major supermarket at Ocean Shores provides for a very large urban area, but was forced to close down because of flood damage which meant no supplies could be gathered. Getting petrol meant sitting in long queues with a hopeful heart that the station wouldn’t run out.
The highway was blocked north and south.
If you didn’t have cash, forget it. Many like me borrowed money from friends. I begged my local coffee shop for two eggs, raiding our deep freeze every day wondering what to cook with no fresh food of any description.
Life with no communication, no food, no petrol, no mail, no money, no end in sight is something no one wants to go through.
When a few roads opened, the sheer extent of the enormous damage was revealed. Massive piles of ruined furniture, mattresses, electric goods, fridges and washing machines covered footpaths. Upside down cars, shipping containers and fridges afloat. The devastation is mind-boggling.
There’s no adequate relief in sight for the thousands left homeless. IA contacted Byron Mayor Michael Lyon to ask if the Council would approach the State Government to see if local motels could provide accommodation for the local homeless. There are literally thousands of Air B&Bs which are empty. The Government could set up a program that provided compensation to motels and Air B&Bs who participated.
Mayor Lyon responded by directing me to this link.
On opening the link, it's clear that there hasn’t been much thought put into the process. How any homeless family can access the internet to fill out the form is a major question. Are they supposed to have fled the floods with their mobiles intact together with chargers?
Telstra/NBN service had collapsed. Day after day, nothing but silence. It was abundantly clear that Ukrainians had better communication even as the Russians bombed and hurled missiles.
Some Telstra accounts received the following text: ‘Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the floods’, advising contact details for ‘outage information and restoration updates’ available on the internet.
What kind of stupidity allowed this message to go out?
Several people suggested buying an Optus mobile as apparently, the service had some coverage. But the mobile could only be activated on the internet.
ATMs didn’t work; any petrol station with fuel only accepted cash. Shops that had anything left to sell only accepted cash.
Southern Cross Credit Union provides customers with a Visa credit card. But it was not accepted anywhere for a cash withdrawal from the few EFTPOS machines online. An unknown number would not take ANZ cards.
In Lismore, where mainstream media concentrated its focus (to the detriment of all other flood-ravaged areas) locals were forced to crowdfund helicopters to drop off supplies to isolated residents.
If ever the NSW public needed a glaring example of the absolute failure of this L-NP Government to cope with any kind of emergency, this catastrophic flood has done the job. In his first effort as Premier, Dominic Perrottet stuffed up the Omicron epidemic creating massive problems for hospitals, medical and health staff combined with a shocking loss of life. One that continues as case numbers spiral back up to January figures.
Now, Perrottet is in Lismore where according to the Sydney Morning Herald he intends to spend a week ‘devising a recovery model for flood-ravaged Lismore as he vows to personally ensure past mistakes in disaster zones are not repeated’. Apparently, a really slow learner.
And he expects people to take him seriously. What a joke. Here’s a politician with zero experience in disasters, who made a total cock-up of the Omicron variant – who can forget the queues, the overloaded hospitals and health workers? – was not voted into office and is in reality an interim, temporary Premier.
Today, several army trucks arrived. Days late.
According to Byron Councillor Mark Swivel, Defence Minister Peter Dutton went on Radio National this morning to say that it was the Council's and emergency services' job to respond to disasters:
“The ADF supplement that.”
A federal emergency response fund of $4.8 billion has not been released. Emergency Management Minister Bridget McKenzie has previously said the ‘fund will only be used as a fund of last resort’. Given that McKenzie is a National Party Minister, the non-action is no surprise.
David Littleproud, National Party Agriculture Minister, told Sky News:
ADF personnel aren’t trained in the immediate response.
They aren’t trained the way SES people are. And so if we send them in too early, they can get in the road.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has earned no credit for his focus on nuclear submarines at a time when Queensland and NSW people are in desperate need of help.
People are really angry. It’s a tragic sight to see suburban roads chockers with huge piles of rubbish knowing that families are living in the shells of their previous homes.
Australia is suffering from a spectacular failure of leadership.
As one flood survivor told IA this morning:
“It’s up to the community now to organise emergency plans. Governments aren’t going to do it for us.”
Without the extraordinary community support, the current situation would be much worse. So many have risen to the occasion, confirming the Australian spirit is alive and well.
No one mentions climate change impacts.
Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.
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