Despite another epic (in length) Lismore Council meeting, only a fraction of council business was dealt with, but there were a few small wins for the community.
Item 10.2 on the agenda was House Relocations, Land swaps and Buy Backs. Councillors voted unanimously in favour of Councillor Adam Guise’s motion that: “Council acknowledges flood-impacted ratepayers’ desire for house relocations, buybacks and land swaps, and the certainty this would provide them, particularly to the most vulnerable in our community”.
Cr Guise’s comments included that thousands of residents and ratepayers have been impacted by the devastating February and March floods. ‘Many of these people are uncertain as to what the future holds for them living and working on the floodplain. Many have expressed the desire to relocate their homes to higher ground, and would be interested in schemes to relocate, land swap or have their land acquired on just terms. Council should support these people, particularly the most vulnerable, in order for them to relocate to higher ground.’
During Public Access residents Harper Dalton, Crystal Lenane and Robyn Murray spoke with impassioned pleas for the motion to be moved.
Harper Dalton said they had lived in Lismore their entire life. ‘I come from a disadvantaged background. I bought a house in 2020 with the intention to raise this house. It’s beautiful. It was built in 1910. It’s one of the oldest houses in South Lismore.
‘My grandparents have a property in Goonellabah, that has approximately five acres, just under, where their house was previously relocated after the 1974 flood in that scheme that existed at the time. Due to issues with subdivisions having smaller blocks, there’s been no allowances for them to put one additional property on that block and for anybody who thinks well why don’t you do dual occupancy?
‘No bank will allow you to put a house on somebody else’s title. It has to be a subdivision where your property, the bank considers it the security – you move that it’s called a “portability loan” and your mortgage goes with the house. So I could be given free land and relocate my house next week if a subdivision application was approved for one extra dwelling on a property that’s just a flat cow paddock.
$80,000 to raise a house
‘This issue for me is extremely close to my heart. I was going to raise the home when I bought it. Had I wasted $80,000, which is the current quote to raise a house, it still would have got close to a metre of water in it. So when you’re talking about relocation versus raising, not only is the quote I’ve received to relocate at half the price of that – about $45,000 – it’s cheaper and it’s also more in line with the sustainability principles, for example, in the circular economy. Repurposing the materials and relocating the house, where it will never have flooding again.
‘I think that this issue is so important for Lismore to look at in the long-term viability. It’s not talking about relocating the entire town. It’s talking about voluntary relocation of homes that are historical, irreplaceable in the hardwood, and then the Council looking at what land could be available and other types of solutions such as reducing the amount of land available to do small subdivisions, that aren’t dependent on the government or property developers to make a decision – that can happen with private owners.
‘Another solution I think the council could also do is look at waiving DA development fees for the purpose of relocating a historical home.’
‘I believe that in supporting this motion is supporting the future and prosperity of our community.’
The East Lismore Flood Action Group
Crystal Lenane said she was representing the East Lismore Flood Action Group, which is for everyone living east of the river. ‘We established ourselves because we feel a little bit left out of these conversations about relocating and land swaps and buybacks.
‘I’d like to just remind everyone here today that east of the river has also suffered catastrophic damage, experienced life-threatening conditions, and we also continue to live daily with the same trauma.
‘The recommendations that council has recently completed on the proposal for South and North to be offered land swaps and buybacks – I and others in East have been vocal against this. The recommendation should be for anyone who has been impacted in the Lismore area. We should all be treated the same and all be offered the same options – as we’ve all lived through the same trauma and catastrophic event. We have all lost so much.
‘This recommendation put forward by Council I feel will be adopted by the NRC and it’s clear it has been adopted across media outlets recently this week. It says that land swaps will end buybacks will only be given to those high-risk areas only. And I think it should be obvious after this event that all of Lismore is now at high risk.
‘We all needed to be rescued from our homes east of the river and we all had flooding up to our ceilings. Since the floods we have lost, well for me personally, I’ve lost over half a million dollars on my property value in one night. So that’s gone. Our properties in Easy will forever have a black mark on them. They have been through a flood. I would like to note that just before the floods we also recently spent the $80,000 to raise our home and we still lost everything.’
We need leadership
‘We need your leadership to advocate for all of us in your community and who have been impacted by this, not just for the few. Please is give us as many options and the best options that we can get by supporting relocation land swaps and buybacks – and be fair to all the areas of Lismore that have been impacted by this.
‘We are one community don’t continue to divide us by the river.’
Robyn Murray, who was also representing her husband Glenn, said that they live on the border of East Lismore and CBD. ‘We’ve never had water come over our floorboards. We are two metres off the ground. And we had 2.8 meters in the house. We lost everything. Now I’m the retirement age next year, and I’m totally distressed about what to do.
Do we just cut our losses?
‘We were lucky to have insurance. But do we fix the house? Do we just cut our losses and try and get something somewhere else? I don’t think so. Not at the current prices, but I just want to say our house was valued at around about 600,000 before the flood. I don’t know what it’s valued at now. It’s just an empty shell still drying out?
We’re being relocated over to Ballina. We’ve got to keep coming backwards and forwards to Lismore all the time to check on progress to check on the house just to monitor what’s happening in the community. We’re not going to get insurance next year. We only got it because of where I work, I get a special arrangement, and there is no way in the world my husband and I both retired, are going to be able to afford to insure next year if this happens again.
‘Quite frankly, I don’t want to go through this again. It was the most terrifying experience I’ve had in my life. I would love the option of a land swap. We have a 1926 Queenslander is beautiful – was beautiful. It does not deserve to be in a situation it is where it’s going to be constantly flooded. If this is any indication of what’s to come in the future. Structurally, our house is sound we’ve had it all checked out. But, internally, it’s absolutely ruined.
Scared to go back
‘It scares me to go back. I don’t really want to go back there. But in the end, we don’t have any option. It’s our home. It’s where we live. And we’ve got to try and make the best of it. But I’m just appealing to the council to assist as much as possible in situations like this. People that want to relocate please help us to do that.’
Doing the debate Cr Adam Guise said it’s been a long time coming. ‘I know it’s been a gruelling five or six months. It does seem like something needs to be done now to express this really pressing need in the community.
‘I am here again to raise this because it is a hot topic within our community. But I don’t feel, like many other residents, that it’s getting the attention and the support that it deserves.
‘I have attempted to raise this in this chamber before, but my advocacy along with others has fallen on deaf ears. But I’m hopeful now with the upper house inquiry report being released today, that the (Mick) Fuller and (Professor Mary) O’Kane report are sitting on the government’s desk, that is hopefully soon to be released in its entirety, really pushes the envelope and the advocacy on buybacks relocations and land swaps.
Cr Guise said the subject is something that needs to be the cornerstone of Council’s flood response policy. ‘We can’t keep talking about mitigation solutions, that if they had any merit whatsoever, won’t be done for years, if not decades.
Staring down the barrel of a third La Niña
‘We living on the floodplain are staring down the barrel of a third La Niña next year, a potential mega flooding event, and we can’t keep putting a vast proportion of our population in harm’s way. We can’t keep exposing them to the trauma, the damage, the heartache, and the loss that these devastating floods bring to our community.
‘I’ve said before – I live on the floodplain. I live in North Lismore. I love my place in the world, but I also recognize that unfortunately, our time is numbered. Our time is numbered, with climate change on the horizon, with the nature of floodplains being overdeveloped, creating bigger and faster floods, with the deforestation of our catchment and with extreme weather events exposing us to more events like this.
‘So therefore, with a heavy heart, I myself have to contemplate leaving the floodplain – and it’s a very, very hard thing to contemplate, but it is in the public interest. And it’s in the interests of those most vulnerable to these impacts.
‘It’s in the public interest because it costs the public, it costs us as a community, us as taxpayers, us as ratepayers, us as insurance companies – millions and billions of dollars.
Look at the cost
‘To those who think that it’s too expensive to relocate or buy back, people, look at the bill. Look at the cost. The personal impact bill, the mental health bill, the trauma, the waste bill – the countless hours and energy spent with dealing this for years to come, is a tiny fraction of a price to pay to move people to higher ground.
‘It’s also an issue of equity. We can’t leave it to disaster capitalism to decide who wins and who loses, who can rebuild more resiliently or who can afford to cut their losses and run. We must care for the most vulnerable in our community. We need to offer all people in harm’s way, the offer to be bought back or relocate at pre-flood prices.
‘So ask my fellow councillors to listen to the community members who have spoken here tonight. The overwhelming sentiment across our community calling for these options, for a government – a federal government that is eager to please, that has nation-building on the agenda and can fund and back a project like this, that sets the blueprint for how we respond to disasters like this.
Please support this motion
‘I asked my fellow councillors to please support this motion. Please support the most vulnerable in our community and send a message that we want this as the cornerstone of our flood response and recovery.’
After more debate from Councillors Bird, Ekins, Gordon and Rob, the chamber voted and the motion, with small amendments, was carried unanimously.
After the meeting, Cr Guise said he was very pleased that there was unanimous support for the motion, with the added element of lobbying the state and federal government for this option. ‘A number of flood-impacted community members spoke in favour of this motion, and it was heartening to hear their stories and their determination to see their houses relocated and preserved on higher ground.
‘Now it’s up to the state government to listen to the community and prioritise buybacks and house relocations in their flood recovery and adaptation response. We can’t keep doing more of the same and costing our community untold heartbreak and millions of dollars in damage that future floods will bring if we remain on the floodplain.’