The Guardian • Issue #2014

Flood, fire and famine

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2014

Photo: Jala

The 2022 Eastern Australian floods were one of the nation’s worst recorded flood disasters, destroying large parts of Southeastern Queensland and Northeastern NSW. The flooding killed twenty-two people and devastated the regional city of Lismore, incurring $2.3 billion of property damage in NSW alone. The state and federal governments’ response (or lack thereof) received significant media attention as residents struggled to receive support during a time of crisis. The agency created to respond to natural disasters following the Black Summer Bushfires, Resilience NSW, failed to react quickly to the flooding, resulting in unpreparedness and the active hindering of rescue efforts. Now, more than four months on from the flooding that destroyed their homes, the residents of Lismore are still struggling to receive financial support and compensation from the government.

Unlike the Queensland state government across the border, the NSW state government has failed to provide any real support for those most affected by the flooding. Premier Dominic Perrottet has failed to take decisive action, waiting for recommendations to be made by an independent inquiry led by former police commissioner Mick Fuller and a separate NSW upper house inquiry. Residents of the region have begun calls for the government to institute a voluntary land buyback program without waiting for approval from the inquiries, aimed at relocating residents from flood-prone areas. NSW already has a voluntary land buyback program however it is only funded for $2 million annually and has strict eligibility requirements that exclude the majority of those most affected by the flooding, currently only purchasing between two and three properties annually. To even purchase all the properties that meet the current restrictive eligibility requirements would require an expansion to the program of more than $300 million. Small businesses damaged or destroyed during the flooding have also struggled to access grants for rebuilding, most only eligible for a payment of $50,000, far less than the losses suffered by many small business owners. This issue has further compounded, many people losing their jobs as regional businesses have gone under due to flooding and the lack of government support.

The flooding in Lismore is only one of several “natural” disasters that have plagued Eastern Australia in recent years, events like the 2017 Lismore Floods, 2017-2019 Drought and the 2019-2020 Black Summer Bushfires. These “natural” disasters, continually referred to as once in a lifetime events have become commonplace as climate change exacts its toll on the environment and many people’s lives. The frequency and destructiveness of disasters like the recent flooding in Lismore will only increase as the Australian government and the liberal international order fail to act effectively on climate change. This reality has become all too apparent with the flooding that is currently taking place in NSW, 85,000 people being given evacuation orders or warnings. With the state government still yet to make significant attempts to alleviate the financial burden brought on by the flooding in Lismore, decisive relief and support for the ongoing flooding and future disasters seems unlikely. Without real action on climate change the natural disasters will only continue, government inaction turning these into further humanitarian crises.

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