Following the distress and accusations issued by flood-affected communities in New South Wales that felt ignored by emergency services, Premier Dominic Perrottet has admitted that there was a genuine ‘sense of abandonment'.
Due to obvious shortcomings in the emergency flood response, Perrottet has committed the government to a review of the response.
“There’s no doubt that [within] some of the smaller communities there’s a sense of abandonment and I feel very sorry about that,” said the Premier.
“We couldn’t get in, I mean, you have so many communities that you just couldn’t get access to.”
One of those communities was Mullumbimby, which was left to fend for itself. The locals organised their own search parties and emergency help after they complained of being forgotten about by the government. For Mullumbimby, the sense of betrayal was stronger, as many of the unvaccinated locals had been thrown out of their jobs in the state’s emergency services due to vaccine mandates. They were later praised for their efforts by officials.
Despite Perrottet’s insistence that they were ‘forgotten’ because emergency services could not reach them, volunteers from Queensland and New South Wales made the difficult trip to help the town after their pleas went viral on social media.
“Obviously, over time, there will be assessments and reviews taking place in terms of the initial response. We’ll take on board and be honest about that and make the changes that are needed.”
Perrottet has said that his first priority is the clean-up operation taking place across Northern New South Wales. The floods have caused severe damage to services and cut off towns with landslides and fallen trees. So far, seventeen people have been killed between New South Wales and South-East Queensland. Thousands of people’s homes were so badly damaged that they cannot be lived in, leaving the state with a housing crisis.
The rains have not stopped, with areas along the Mid-North Coast being watched after the weather system returned on Monday afternoon.
“Ultimately right now my focus is to get this clean-up done, to get people into homes, to get businesses and financial support out to people.”
While the Premier talks up the recovery phase, residents in rural communities remain furious that they were abandoned in the critical days following the disaster when they were left with no food, water, or shelter.
Perrottet has committed $434 million to the flood recovery operation, which includes grants of $75,000 for farmers and $50,000. Grants always draw criticism. When they were offered during the drought, farmers were reluctant to take on debt after a disaster destroyed their source of income. Many have instead asked for money to assist with the urgent clean-up that does not have to be repaid.
While there are now 510 ADF personnel helping, for the towns that had to fend for themselves it feels like too little, too late from a state government that had no trouble mustering thousands of police and ADF for recent Covid operations.