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Byron Shire
September 26, 2022

Lismore post-flood recovery roundtable gets up

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Trampling of the graves of the murdered: reply to Will Liley

As I read Will Liley’s response to my article in dedication to my late uncle, I recalled the poem in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Clandestine in Chile:

Lismore underwater earlier this year. Photo David Lowe.

At its recent meeting, Lismore City Council voted to convene a roundtable public forum before the end of the year for stakeholders to speak on the current state of play with flood recovery, and share ideas for the way forward.

Several members of the public spoke in support of Cr Adam Guise’s motion.

Karen Allen from Reclaiming Our Recovery told Lismore Council, ‘The citizen-led early days of response to the current disaster showed how social responsibility is one of the strongest and most enduring characteristic characteristics of this community.’ She contrasted that with the growing ‘confusion, frustration and growing anxiety’ that was gripping Lismore now.

‘As a teacher and grandmother I’ve heard first-hand from children how scared and sad they are that their friends have moved away and that their preschools have gone,’ said Ms Allen. ‘They’re unsure of their futures – we all are. Our children deserve better after five years of trauma and trauma. They need confident adults and a confident community who knows where, when, and how we are going forward into a better safer and more just future.

‘We need to reimagine this more from a citizen approach with a focus on climate justice and community control of our LGA,’ she said. ‘We need to not let this all-consuming crisis result in us giving our power away to profit driven developers, or miss the opportunity to rreshape Lismore LGA as the best place to live.’

What is the post-flood future of Lismore? Photo David Lowe

Who profits?

‘Disaster capitalism does not belong in our region,’ continued Ms Allen.

‘We have seen this model play out disastrously in Brisbane, with for-profit development continuing on the floodplain both after the devastation of the 2011 floods and being green-lit for continuation by Brisbane council after this year’s flooding.’

She urged council to support the roundtable motion to ‘bring about the repair and healing the community wants… Give us the opportunity to ask questions, and let the citizens have the biggest say in shaping and steering our recovery.’

Jeremy Stewart also spoke in support of the motion. ‘I think that Adam Guise’s proposal is a really good one, we need to think outside the box,’ he said. ‘We really need to engage the community as much as we can.’

Sally Newham said that as a Lismore community member she had an increasing feeling that things were ‘out of our hands’, which was frightening.

‘It’s sad too, because in the immediate aftermath of that intense event we we took ourselves in our own hands, and we were amazing,’ she said. ‘I think we still have the capacity to be amazing as a community, and I would love to see our council recognise that and give power to that and support that in any way that you can.

‘We need that morale boost,’ she said.

Debate

Cr Guise’s motion found a seconder in Cr Colby. Cr Guise thanked the speakers for addressing the council. ‘It’s great to hear heart in this chamber,’ he said.

Cr Adam Guise. Photo Tree Faerie.

Cr Guise said the community has been left in the dark about the flood recovery process.

‘People feel like there is no leadership, and that’s fundamentally what we want.’ He said even councillors had been left in the dark.

‘We’ve been trying to get meetings with the Reconstruction Corporation so we’re not surprised or ambushed about places that they might be putting temporary housing. We want to be in the discussion and the debate about our community’s recovery.’

He said there were lots of ‘innovative ideas’ in the community.

‘This isn’t about looking backwards or reliving the trauma of the event. This is about looking at where we are now and looking forward to where we want to go.’

Cr Guise said the solution was to hold a public forum, perhaps in the Lismore Council chamber. ‘I’ve likened it a bit like to a speed dating forum, where we get a number of stakeholders who work in this flood recovery space… to share where they’re at and where they intend to go.’

He said insurance issues needed to be examined, as well as innovative housing ideas. ‘This isn’t about continuing the old ways of disaster capitalism, where those who can afford to profit from disasters. This is about addressing the growing social inequality that disasters like these inflict upon a community.

‘It’s about fundamentally addressing the housing crisis, once and for all,’ said Cr Guise. ‘Getting people out of harm’s way, off the floodplain, and into safer housing.’

Lismore Cr Peter Colby. Photo supplied.

Cr Colby’s view

Speaking in support of the motion, Cr Peter Colby said he found the months of trauma in the community since the floods very disturbing, and it was time for some leadership. ‘There’s been a lot of talk within the council, and the time has come to move forward,’ he said.

‘The first part is to come up with a vision… It’s not going to be an easy road. It’s going to zigzag all the way along. There’s going to be a lot of pressure groups who say we don’t like this or that, but ultimately at the end of the day, it’s the voice of the people that’s going to drive the decision,’ he said.

‘So therefore we need to work together and the council needs to focus its ideas and its opportunities with the people of Lismore to move forward.’

Cr Colby said he wished to add an amendment addressing the ‘probity’ of roundtable speakers, apparently to ensure that for-profit agendas were not being pushed, but later agreed with Cr Guise that these issues and other details would be resolved in conjunction with Lismore Council staff.

An emotional issue

Cr Elly Bird said, ‘This is a matter that’s really emotional to our community… I really support this concept. The only thing I would pick up on from Cr Guise’s speech is that I don’t think this room is big enough.

‘If we are going to actually be meaningful about our community engagement on this matter, it’s not getting councillors in a room to talk about the future of our community. It’s about developing meaningful community engagement processes for our community to participate in that conversation,’ she said.

‘Councillors need to remember that it’s not for us to determine the future and the shape of our community. It’s for us to listen to our community and give our community options to fully engage in shaping those visions and those determinations for how we want to live our lives.

Lismore Cr Elly Bird. Photo David Lowe.

‘It’s not for us to sit in a room as eleven elected people and say “right, this is what Lismore is going to look like in twenty years.” We have to have the conversation with our community,’ said Cr Bird.

‘We have to be led by our community in terms of what our community wants and how we see ourselves living together in the future.’

Not listening

Cr Big Rob then stood up and said he would shock people by speaking in favour of the motion, after listening to Crs Colby and Guise. ‘I didn’t so much listen to Cr Bird, because I’d already heard it.’

Cr Elly Bird pulled him up at that point, saying she ‘found that really rude’.

This then led Lismore Council into a long, painful argument about codes of meeting practice and points of order. Mayor Krieg asked Big Rob to apologise to Cr Bird and he refused. ‘I don’t believe I’m wrong here,’ said Cr Rob.

While Cr Rob was later censured for this and his other behaviour in the meeting, the post-flood recovery roundtable motion comfortably passed, with only Crs Gordon and Jensen opposed.


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