Seven months ago, my partner, toddler and I uprooted from Sydney after buying our first family home in the Northern Rivers town of Pottsville. Like many of the communities in this region, it’s magic. The beaches, estuaries and bushland couldn’t be described as anything less than perfect. But more than that, it’s a place (I have quickly learned) where everyone is your neighbour, and you could never walk alone.
It’s this exact spirit which has almost solely carried many of the regions hardest hit by recent floods. I’ve watched in awe as communities have mobilised with fundraisers and to provide financial aid to people whose lives have been ravaged. Volunteers swarm streets of decimated towns to help move waterlogged personal belongings, clear rubbish, provide food and basic supplies, and begin what will be a glacial rebuild.
The majority of people most severely impacted are those whose lives and circumstances were already incredibly tough. Families who have struggled through two years of pandemic setbacks and hardships only to start 2022 in pure devastation.
To describe what has unfolded as heartbreaking, would be a colossal understatement.
My partner, a teacher’s aide at a local behaviour school, went out with colleagues last week to provide support to one of their students and his family. They live in a motel in the town of Murwillumbah. The motel has been obliterated and for four days, before anyone could get there to help, the family and other residents were sleeping in a communal area of the building without basic necessities like bedding. The simple offering of clean sheets, sleeping bags and groceries was met with unbridled emotion and sheer gratitude.
But while volunteers and community members are doing an exceptional job in supporting relief efforts, their fatigue is setting in fast. There are still whole towns blocked off, with people fearing they’ve been forgotten. Calls for greater ADF support seem to be going unanswered.
Our Prime Minister — missing in action as always — has said that he “understands” people’s “great frustration” but has failed to commit anything from the federal $4.8 billion emergency response fund on flood mitigation measures in the wake of the disaster.
“There is an enormous effort that has been put in to get to everywhere that people can get to” he told 2GB radio earlier this week.
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Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud meanwhile attempted to shift onus onto the NSW government, regarding Australian Defence Force deployment.
“The states make an assessment about what is the timing that they can be brought in that’s safe and they’re … not in the road of those professionals,” he told ABC Radio.
“It is a balancing act, we do try and work with the states and say ‘make sure they know that the assets are there ready to go’, but ultimately, it has to be (the state’s) call.”
But the people of northern NSW can’t rely on their Premier either, with Dominic Perrottet leadership’s on the crisis looking flimsier by the second.
A few days after conceding that the government’s flood response was lacking, and announcing a review, he’s done little to steer things in a different direction. People who have lost everything are still being assisted by civilian efforts, not their elected officials. With clean-up efforts intensifying, Perrottet said he would welcome greater Commonwealth support, but with Morrison and his ministers passing the buck, there is no assurance.
These are Australian lives we’re talking about; hundreds of people displaced, thousands of people impacted. The recovery will take years. While the steady hand of compassionate leadership is critical, these communities are receiving anything but.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.