A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has heard giving control over a major disaster to a volunteer-driven agency rather than professional emergency responders was akin to “madness”.
- A parliamentary inquiry into the NSW’s flooding response is underway in Sydney
- The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union wants Fire and Rescue NSW to be the lead agency for future flood responses
- The union state secretary says the Fire and Rescue NSW will need more funding to fulfil the role
The state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union, Leighton Drury, gave evidence in Sydney to an inquiry into this year’s response to major flooding.
He said the response to major floods and storms should be led by Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) because it had more experience in incident management than the current lead agency, the State Emergency Service (SES).
“You have people such as us, the police or even the ambulance service who are trained in incident management on a day-to-day basis and use that day to day,” he said.
“The moment it gets a bit big, it’s handed off to a volunteer organisation that look after these events once a year, once every couple of years.
Calls to better fund FRNSW
Mr Drury told the inquiry that FRNSW had swifter water response teams than the SES.
However, he said FRNSW had been consistently underfunded by the state government and would need additional resources to take over the lead agency role.
“The vehicles that our members drive aren’t fit for purpose,” Mr Drury said.
Yesterday the state government announced a $132.7 million funding boost for infrastructure, resources and staffing for the SES, including a new incident control centre in Lismore.
Mr Drury said there would still be an important role for SES volunteers to provide a surge in support personnel as required.
The inquiry committee questioned Mr Drury over the role of Resilience NSW in the flood response, to which he responded by saying the government’s executive agency seemed redundant.
He said local emergency management committees dealt with disaster preparation, while the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation had been established to lead long-term recovery.
“I’d kill it [Resilience NSW],” Mr Drury said.
Aboriginal community in crisis accommodation
The inquiry also heard from Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council’s chief executive about the effects of flooding on Cabbage Tree Island.
Chris Binge said a community of nearly 200 people were living in crisis accommodation around the Ballina Shire, but most people looked forward to returning to their culturally significant home.
He said it was important the community had a leading role in rebuilding the area.
“We want to make sure and ensure that whatever it’s going to look like, Aboriginal voices are going to be at the forefront,” Mr Binge said.
Mr Binge said First Nations voices and knowledge could also contribute to future plans for flood mitigation and response.
The inquiry also heard from a range of non-government organisations, such as GIVIT, which helps direct donations, and Red Cross.
Both generally identified a need for better communication and forward planning between government departments, including Resilience NSW.
Telstra and Essential Energy also fronted the inquiry to face questions about lengthy power and telecommunications outages in the wake of the floods.
The inquiry will continue tomorrow with evidence from the SES, Resilience NSW and other response agencies, and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Posted , updated