James Hacker of BBC TV’s Yes Prime Minister once said, ‘(there are) three articles of civil service faith: It takes longer to do things quickly; it’s more expensive to do them cheaply; it’s more democratic to do them in secret.’
If it wasn’t so tragic and serious, there is a whole new season of Yes Minister that could be written about our ‘Flood Recovery’.
Official statements like ‘we need to get people back into homes as fast as possible’ are starting to read like comedy.
Even local Lismore Labor MP, Janelle Saffin, who is a far nicer, more patient person than I, sounds exasperated.
She told the government to ‘please stop telling us it was unprecedented – everyone who was here is fully aware of that. People need to know what the next steps are.’
The latest episode in this drama features the release of the NSW Government Flood Inquiry, authored by former Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, and former Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane.
The Report itself is good, albeit there are obvious recommendations that have been requested for years. Like ‘fix the river gauges’, and ‘have a permanent Emergency Service presence in Lismore’.
What it didn’t do was lay out a roadmap for victims made homeless by the floods, explaining what reforms and assistance should be offered so they could know what their options are, and get on with their lives.
Everyone has been waiting for this information for so long, so there was stunned disappointment when none was offered.
All Deputy Premier Paul Toole could tell us was ‘we hope to have answers for people by Christmas’.
When Premier c was asked about funding, he said he feels optimistic owing to a positive telephone conversation he had with the Prime Minister on the way to the press conference.
It fell well short of the answers we’d hoped for.
As Tom Stoppard observed ‘a circle is the longest distance to the same point’.
For flood victims, it was a bitter moment of realisation that all the work we believed was in hand is yet to start.
Kevin Hogan, the MP for Page notes it is the local politicians who have to look despairing flood victims in the eye – and they have had an absolute gutfull.
The next-to-zero progress is as mystifying to our local MPs as it is to the rest of us.
It is particularly bewildering because the premier has spent so much time here during and after the flood, talking to locals and assuring us it is his greatest challenge and personal mission to get the Northern Rivers back on its feet. He does seem to be trying.
So what is going wrong?
I have to wonder if the ‘hands on’ approach by the premier to get things done here has had the perverse effect of making everything stop.
Is everyone in his government waiting for him to tell them what to do? If so, it seems impractical to expect this level of detail from a premier awash with problems like the train strike, warring ministers, a budget that ‘slipped’ $8 billion within weeks of its announcement – but most of all the Barilaro Inquiry, and the distractions of a ten day overseas ‘trade’ trip.
It is even less clear what work, if any, has been done by his Deputy Premier, Paul Toole, who is responsible for emergency services, and the ‘Floods’ Minister, Steph Cooke, who hails from Cootamundra.
The Nationals have sidelined better qualified MPs from Northern NSW – including Geoff Provest and Melinda Pavey – and this seems to go back (like everything else) to John Barilaro.
His retirement triggered a leadership contest – a power struggle that saw Mr Toole and inland Nationals defeat the Nationals’ Coastal MPs, leaving the North Coast unrepresented in the current cabinet.
There are many ministers and bureaucrats entrusted with money and power to lead reconstruction in the Northern Rivers.
While the flood victims are experiencing the crushing pressure of homelessness, those responsible for their wellbeing appear to be feeling no pressure at all.
What is missing is the transparency and accountability, so we can see more clearly who is responsible for outcomes, and a hard timeline to measure performance.
List the roads that need to be repaired for people to be allowed to return home – and tell us when they will reopen.
Publish the timetable for offering – and then completing – land swaps so people in flood zones can know when they can start rebuilding. We have to stop travelling in circles.
Maynard James Keenan wrote: ‘A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles on top of each other you get a spiral….’
There is a huge risk that if they cannot get their act together, the very people supposed to be leading us will retraumatise flood victims all over again.
♦ Catherine Cusack is a former NSW Liberal MLC and is based in Lennox Head.