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June 6, 2023

Flood recovery: time to tell the state government your thoughts

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Anyone wanting to share information and ideas about recent climate catastrophes on the Northern Rivers with those in charge of NSW has until 20 May to make official comment.

The state government was quick to promise an inquiry into the record-breaking weather events of February and has this week invited the public to make submissions.

The government says all related stories and photos are welcome, so long as permission to share is granted by original creators.

Deputy Premier Paul Toole set up the inquiry, which is to be led by Professor Mary O’Kane and Michael Fuller.

Professor O’Kane used to be the state’s chief scientist and is perhaps best known for her work overseeing a report into dwindling koala populations nearly six years ago.

Mr Fuller used to be the head of the state’s police force.

The pair are tasked with examining and reporting on the causes of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from what the NSW government has called ‘the 2022 catastrophic flood event’.

Both have been on the Northern Rivers this week, today visiting Wardell and the Fire and Rescue base in Wollongbar.

Ballina MP determined to get ‘real answers’ on flood rescues and recovery

The inquiry’s terms of reference don’t restrict focus to the initial flooding in late February, suggesting more recent flooding and landslides, such as that seen in Byron Bay’s town centre last week, could be included.

‘There have been terrible gaps and missteps in the rescue and recovery supports for our community,’ Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith posted on social media on Monday.

The state member represents Ballina and Byron Shires as part of her lower house seat and says she’ll make sure the community gets ‘real answers’.

Speaking to The Echo on Tuesday, Ms Smith said it was reassuring to see the premier out and about the region along with Professor O’Kane and Mr Fuller, especially when compared to the prime minister’s public responses.

‘The premier isn’t shirking from the mistakes and that the financial assistance packages needed to be brought out quicker,’ Ms Smith said.

The Greens member also acknowledged announcements from the state education minister, Sarah Mitchell, who was today promising $500 for flood-affected students and $1000 for flood-affected teachers to replace lost resources.

Ms Mitchell had also promised a ‘build back better’ plan for Upper Main Arm Public School, Ms Smith said.

The Ballina MP was on her way to a meeting with the school’s P&C association along with federal Greens candidate Mandy Nolan.

Cyclonic winds in Ballina and kayaking over sewage in Byron

Ms Smith was in parliament last week when her electorate was inundated with heavy rain and flash flooding.

Landslides in both shires ruined infrastructure repairs started after February’s disasters and Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader described ‘cyclonic winds’ to the south of the electorate.

The Byron-Ballina Gateway Airport was effectively closed for days, as were most main roads in the Ballina Shire.

Evacuation orders were issued for Wardell and Cabbage Tree Island within 24 hours of an evacuation centre at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre being due to close.

To the north of the electorate, The Greens’ federal candidate for the seat of Richmond, Mandy Nolan, said she’d met residents in Byron Bay who had to kayak in and out of their properties thanks to sewer outlets flooding.

One resident had been electrocuted owing to damaged infrastructure, Ms Nolan told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom on Friday.

SES admits mistakes

Meanwhile, Ms Smith said she’d attended a briefing in Sydney with other members of state parliament and emergency authorities.

‘The SES acknowledged that they got it wrong,’ Ms Smith told Bay FM, referring to an evacuation order for the Lismore central business district that was withdrawn and then reinstated in pre-dawn hours.

Ms Smith said she’d asked why evacuation orders hadn’t been issued for Byron.

Evacuation orders were issued for Mullumbimby further inland and shops could be seen last Monday with sandbags outside their front doors.

But as the rain fell, Mullumbimby was spared the worst while Byron Bay was temporarily cut-off from road access to the outside world and featured at least two lakes in town, one in Jonson Street and the other in Marvel Street.

Very few businesses in Byron’s town centre had sandbags.

‘What it has laid bare to me is that we don’t really know what is the threshold to call for an evacuation,’ Ms Smith said.

Bureau of Meteorology questioned

Like so many Northern Rivers residents voicing concerns in social media groups, the Greens member also had questions regarding the Bureau of Meteorology,

‘Why are they so hesitant to declare East Coast Lows?’ she asked, ‘and to actually say, you know what, you should get out?’

‘You can underestimate a weather event,’ Ms Smith said, ‘but the precautionary principle says you should err on the side of caution and what I’m seeing is that the information that the Bureau of Meteorology is giving SES is the opposite of that’.

Ms Smith echoed Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader’s theory, which was that authorities didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic by issuing evacuation orders based on uncertain forecasts.

But while Councillor Cadwallader told Bay FM she understood even getting to an evacuation centre could be impossible when roads were flooded, Ms Smith said she didn’t understand the official hesitations.

‘We’ve just gone through life threatening events,’ Ms Smith said, ‘is anyone going to be outraged to have been evacuated if they didn’t absolutely need to be? I don’t think so. But maybe I’m wrong on that’.

Causes, planning, responses, recovery… go!

The NSW government’s inquiry is to look at:

  • the causes of and factors contributing to the frequency, intensity, timing and location of floods;
  • preparation and planning by agencies and the community for floods in NSW;
  • responses to floods, particularly measures to protect life, property and the environment;
  • the transition from incident response to recovery;
  • recovery, including housing, clean-up, financial support, community engagement and longer-term community rebuilding.

The government says the inquiry will also consider and, ‘if thought fit’, make recommendations on a range of matters, including:

  • the safety of emergency services and community first responders;
  • current and future land use planning and management and building standards in flood prone locations across NSW;
  • appropriate action to adapt to future flood risks to communities and ecosystems;
  • coordination and collaboration between all levels of government.

Professor O’Kane and Mr Fuller are to report to the premier on ‘causation, land use planning and management and related matters’ by 30 June, government information online says, and on all other matters by 30 September.

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  1. We have government agencies who are employed to report all that and to manage that area of their expertise so what point is there to have 2 people write up what is in plain site that the incoming tide is to blame for the flooding so fix that and that will cure the drainage problem at Lismore

  2. I give permission to share,The SES needs to be able to get texts and I know their number to the public won’t except any.With the shadieest of reception that we have around Lismore it is sometimes the only way of communication,that’s only if you’re with Telstra yeah if you’re lucky you might get a text through,.It was infuriating that for over a week we had no communication,The first text I received was the bill really,paid it, just didn’t want to.The company hadn’t given me a service,in the time that was of most need,or doesn’t this matter now. What about next time,oh yeah we just coped that ,wonder if someone was trying to call, hope they made it out alive.What about next time.If Telstra can’t keep us connected especially when it comes to major desasters,Am I delusional don’t they have a duty of care?

  3. Ms Smith, Ballina MP, might be determined to get ‘real answers’ on flood rescues and recovery, but she took little interest in a report given to her early in 2021 detailing the massively silted Richmond River not dredged for thirty years. All rain and storm waters in the catchment must exit out the Richmond River mouth. If water can’t get out through the river mouth, it will flood surrounding land.

  4. I heard reports about the two weather events , both on the radio and internet ( I find the NBN channel 10 with Gavin Morris weather report the best ) that 100ml plus ( about over 4 inches ) of rain was forecast . That is 100ml of rain in a rain gauge , which is a small instrument of measure of rainfall . 100ml of rain in a short timespan is an extreme weather event if it is widespread over a large area , particularly if it is also in the rainforest hills . Recommend windy.com for ease of access to the bom radar and satellite view . A extreme weather event is something to take notice of , and prepare a action plan . I have a almost daily interest in the weather

    Have a feeling that with the 10 year drought ending about two years ago , we all became complacent

    If in a flood prone area their needs coordinators in each street or block of streets for communication purposes , equipment (kayaks , first aid supplies ) evacuation plans , refuge, etc . this is survival for the individual and neighbours in each area . Taking responsibility for our survival

    How long is it since the Wilson and Richmond River system has been dragged , to remove any snags ( tree logs etc ) preventing the efficient flow of water to the ocean , Probably never

    With the abundance of bitumen roads and concrete everywhere directing drainage water flowing more quickly to the river systems rather than soaking into the ground slowing the flow to eventually reach the river systems , then the river systems need to be maintained to ensure outflow to the ocean , in both these weather events the ground was already saturated from previous rainfall making things more drastic


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