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Byron Shire
March 21, 2023

Calls to focus on future proofing against flood

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The slip on Hogans Road photographed immediately after the March floods and once protected by traffic lights. Photo supplied.
The slip on Hogans Road photographed immediately after the March floods and once protected by traffic lights. Photo supplied.

With welcome news that Byron Shire Council have received much-needed state government funds for a North Byron Floodplain Risk Management Study, questions have been raised as to whether preventive disaster preparation should be the focus of governments rather than simply disaster relief.

Parliamentary secretary for the northern NSW, Ben Franklin MLC (Nationals) announced the $130,000 funding grant for Council last week.

Yet as The Echo went to print, the state government Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) were yet to reply as to why the funding for the flood plain management study had taken since June 2016 to approve.

Tweed Shire Council senior staff member David Oxenham, who is chair of the infrastructure, waste and environment sub-committee of the regional flood committee, said that ‘for every $10 they [the government] spend on recovery and restoration for flood events, they are spending $1 on flood management and mitigation.’

Oxenham pointed to the need for both state and federal governments to fund the essential work needed to make roads and other assets able to withstand the effects of disasters, rather than to just bring them back to the previous condition.

He told The Echo, ‘It is about making the assets more resilient. So far, the state and federal governments have said No. We would like them to put their minds to making assets more resilient rather than just replacement,’ he continued.

It’s a position supported by local civil engineer and former Greens councillor Duncan Dey.

‘Policy entrenched in failure’

He told The Echo, ‘In Australia, we spend bugger-all on good planning and heaps on “disaster relief”. Most disasters can be sheeted home to bad planning.’

‘Most other countries allocate 80 per cent of their disaster budget towards better planning and 20 per cent towards restoration.

‘Sadly in Australia we roll out the money when there are extreme weather events rather than planning to avoid building in areas prone to these events. This policy entrenches failure.’  

Euan Ferguson, who co-ordinated the regional flood recovery on behalf of the state government, recently handed back responsibility to local councils. He told The Echo, ‘Flood recovery in the northern rivers is going as well as it could. It is a long-term and complex issue.’

He highlighted the importance of planning in relation to flooding and other disasters that we know will happen again. He also said there is a need for insurance companies to ‘look at what worked and what didn’t.’

‘In my view, there need to be some changes.’

Meanwhile Byron Shire Council have recently replied to questions put forward by a range of community groups since Cyclone Debbie in late March.

Greater education within the community – in conjunction with the SES – was a key aspect in the response provided by Council to the 40-plus questions asked by residents.

However, some locals were hoping for a more pragmatic response.

‘There were people walking around in their pyjamas asking where to go in the middle of the night. We need our local representatives, Council, to look at how you create a central area where people know to go when there is a disaster,’ said one local who asked not to be named.

Another solution, suggested by resident Rebecca Brewin, involves sirens to alert residents that there is imminent flooding.

‘I believe it a more effective solution for the whole catchment than the patchy SMS evacuation message system currently in place.

‘Some residents are not receiving evacuation notices or receiving extremely delayed SMS.’

The Byron Shire Floodplain Risk Management Advisory Committee have also been appointed by Council, with the six members comprising Robyn Bolden, Rebecca Brewin, Susan Skyvington, Steve Keefe, Duncan Dey and Matthew Lambourne.

Ferguson meanwhile highlighted the fact that there is still a range of support available to both individuals and businesses who are struggling since the cyclone.

The Australian Government Disaster Assistance hotline is 1802 266.

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