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Byron Shire
March 21, 2023

Dr Hanabeth Luke says failure to plan is a plan to fail

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The failure of the NSW government to support the most vulnerable people in Lismore and the Northern Rivers a year on from the devastating 2022 floods is being called out.

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Independent candidate for Page, Dr Hanabeth Luke, has demanded greater community consultation and disaster planning after her calls for support ahead of the catastrophic weather event went unanswered, leaving thousands of locals without homes.

‘Nobody envisaged a flood like this, but the terrible truth is that we could have been more
prepared if we’d had a good modelling system in place,’ she said.

‘I called the Recovery Support Officer from the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, and asked how I could prepare for the floods. I was informed that they were not on alert, and that it was just a matter of “sitting and waiting as there are no evacuation orders in place”.

‘I contacted the MP for Resilience and Emergency, Sophie Cooke. She did not respond.

‘Just a day later, Lismore was under five metres of flood water.’

Dr Luke says that sespite her urgent calls to the relevant agencies and decision makers, nothing was done.

‘From these calls, it became clear that there was no agency working to prepare for the catastrophe; they were waiting to respond once an emergency was called,’ she said. ‘This was far too late.’

Science should be at centre of discussion

Dr Luke teaches regenerative agriculture at Southern Cross University and was part of the flood research centre that was never funded. She crewed a tinny rescuing people from rooftops in Woodburn, later caring for flood victims in Evans Head evacuation centres and helping with the coordination of recovery efforts.

Flooding in Lismore, looking east over CBD, 1 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

‘The people of Lismore are deeply concerned about the future of their city, which they love very much,’ she said.

‘The sheer scale of the floods leads to difficult discussions about measures required to maintain a safe and habitable city.

‘These discussions must be informed by science, supported by experts and take the community into consideration at every step.

‘The needs of the businesses, tenants, homeowners and our homeless population need to be heard and accepted. The wider needs of communities including downstream towns and villages, must also be taken into account,’ said Dr Luke.

‘The reality is the warning signs were ignored. If we had the right mechanisms in place, I firmly believe we would not be seeing the level of devastation that we’re now dealing with.
“We urgently need government funding to establish a Recovery Committee representing a cross-section of groups and interests in Lismore and downstream communities.

‘We simply cannot sit by and wait for the next disaster to occur. The reality is our region is destined for more floods, and we need to act now to prevent future devastation.’

Dr Luke said she is also looking to international examples of best practice in disaster recovery. ‘Following the disastrous hurricane Sandy in New York City, an international design competition informed their solutions. A similar initiative here would allow Lismore, and the wider Page region, to consider the experience of other cities that have been devastated by flooding,’ she said.

‘The time for action is now,’ she said.

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    • What a strange response and I have no idea what you found this on.

      The last unit I taught in December is called Building Resilience in a Changing Climate, through Drought, Fire & Flood (during which time my farmer students inspired me to run). This unit gained the best student feedback I’ve ever had (4.84/5) – My average over 11 years has never dropped below 4.5. I’m also a scientist with a career on the up, managing project side by side with farmers across Australia.

      If interested in evidence, take a look at my Google Scholar account.

      5 years after finishing my PhD, I’m a tenured Senior Lecturer in Science & Regenerative Ag. I’m not running because I don’t love my job – I love it dearly.

      I am running because it is NECESSARY – we need political will to address these huge challenges we face as communities, businesses and farmers.

  1. Hanabeth, how can you not realise that, had the authorities reacted to the risk when it became apparent in the days before the flood, the same devastation would have occurred because the floodwaters would have reached the same height anyway?

    • There may have been fewer people on their rooftops, more precious belongings taken out, cars saved and some deaths may have been averted. All worth doing I would have thought.

    • It costs a great deal less to prepare properly and people can adjust their plans to a more accurate flood height. Risk = Hazard – mitigation measures.

      The drains were full, Brisbane was flooding and these systems usually move south. Real-time rain guage sensors and a smart modelling & alert system, twinned with reliable internet would have allowed community & emergency services much more clear information to act on, even if we were looking at best case vs worst case scenarios.

  2. There is always a few, we know them well in the Echos pages, won’t be long to wait before they come scribbling away.

  3. The first warnings from scientists was 50 years ago, yet still some are treating this flood as an unexpected unique event, whereas it is just an example of what will become worse. Hotter air causes more evaporation and holds more moisture. We have reached 1degree hotter and are heading for about 2.5 degree hotter IF carbon emissions reach neutral by 2050 (noting that the loose gas emissions take decades to reach our atmospheres edge where they become a dense band of insulation – ie increased temperatures till the end of this century). We can expect increasingly worse floods and bushfires, and despite warnings from, now, a global consensus of scientists, the powers that be are still in denial. Its the laws of Physics, of how gas’s interact with our atmosphere and subsequently our climate. And the student I talked to has high respect for Ms Luke and her knowledge – ignore the trolls, we have a planet to save

    • The Flood WAS was totally unexpected.
      I mean we’ve had the experts Scotty, Domy, Barny all telling us how unexpected, with their various description of the flood as “1 in 500 years”, “1 in 1,000 years” and “1 in 3,500 years” event.
      Now that we’ve had this flood event, no need to do anything for 500, 1,000, 3,500 years…take your pick according to your ‘expert’ of choice.


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