Echo questions remain unanswered around the advisory board appointments for the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC), which the NSW government says will help with ‘rebuilding flood-affected Northern Rivers’.
The advisory board announcement last week is the first indication that the government body has achieved something, after it came into operation more than a month ago on 1 July.
Like the embattled Resilience NSW, NRRC was established under the Premier’s Department, and as such, avoids public and government committee scrutiny.
Who was appointed to the advisory board?
Of the eight ‘local and technical experts’ appointed to NRRC, only two are women. A political figure, Ballina Mayor, Sharon Cadwallader is one of those locals.
Cadwallader was chosen for her role as Chair of Northern Rivers Joint Organisation (NRJO), yet was pictured with Nationals candidate Kimberly Hone in political campaign material for the 2022 federal election. The Echo understands Nationals supporters handed out How to Vote cards for Cadwallader during the 2021 Council campaign.
Other board members are Gary Barnes (Chair, Secretary, Department Regional NSW); Michael Cassel, (Secretary, Department of Planning and Environment); Peter Duncan (Commissioner and Deputy Chair, NSW Independent Planning Commission and former CEO of Roads and Maritime Services); Andrew Hall (CEO Insurance Council of Australia); Darren Kershaw (Executive Chair, North Coast Aboriginal Development Alliance); Jane Laverty (Regional Director Northern Rivers, Business NSW); Michael Rayner (Former General Manager Tweed Shire Council 2006–2011, Technical Expert).
NRRC is headed by former Local Land Services chief, David Witherdin.
The Echo asked Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, Paul Toole, ‘Why a political figure was chosen for the board’, and ‘Who chose these people?’.
Other unanswered Echo questions put to the minister include: ‘Is there remuneration for this advisory role? If so, what is it per annum?’
‘Can you supply the brief that was given to the board with regards to expected aims and outcomes?
‘Do you expect this advisory board to have no influence on NRRC decisions given “advisory” indicates no influence with final decisions?’
The Echo also asked, ‘How will the deputy premier ensure that NRRC integrity is improved in light of the potential collapse and criticisms of Resilience NSW? Would Mr Toole consider moving this corporation into a government department for example, to provide more transparency and accountability?’
A spokesperson for Mr Toole replied with statements previously given in the initial media release: ‘The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) is a statutory corporation created by the NSW Government to coordinate the planning, rebuilding and construction work of essential services, infrastructure and housing across the local government areas of Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Tweed, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Lismore’.
‘The work of the corporation will be guided by the advisory board made up of experts and community leaders, five of whom are local to the Northern Rivers.
‘The Board was selected by direct appointment to balance the right mix of skills, background, community representation and expertise in areas needed for the reconstruction’.
Mr Toole’s spokesperson added, ‘The Board will actively engage with the community to ensure their views are heard and implemented’.
Mr Toole said in the statement for the appointments, ‘We’re not just building back for now – this is about future-proofing communities by ensuring they are better prepared for future disasters’.
‘Much of the NRRC’s focus will be driven by the recommendations from the Independent Flood Inquiry, led by Professor Mary O’Kane and Michael Fuller, which is currently being considered by Government’.
Attempts to contact advisory board member, Executive Chair, North Coast Aboriginal Development Alliance, Darren Kershaw, were unsuccessful.
For more information on the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation go to www.regional.nsw.gov.au/our-work/NRRC.