DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: NSW Parliament’s estimates hearings into the NSW Government’s flood response

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JIHAD DIB, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES:  Good afternoon everybody and thanks for coming, appreciate you being here. Jihad Dib Shadow Minister for Emergency Services. What a morning, we’ve heard today from the government, everything that we’ve wanted to know about the floods and about their response to it and there’s things that came out very clearly. Firstly, there’s a lack of coordination, that we knew. There was a lack of communication, that we knew. But what we heard today was the government’s denial of reality. Indeed, when they were questioned, the response was, we haven’t dropped the ball and that’s really hard to believe. Explain that to people who have lost loved ones, explain that to people who have lost their homes, explain that to people who have lost a sense of community, their employment, explain that to the people who are having to clean up the mess.

Now, budget estimates is a really important opportunity for governments to front up and to answer questions. And what we had today was the government rather than come up and own up to things that they didn’t do right, is instead, dig their heels in and play a sense of denial. To say we did not drop the ball when it’s very clearly in every single step along the way the ball has been well and truly dropped, I think is a far stretch from reality. We’ve got the big question is, and we haven’t had the answer to this, the question that we haven’t received an answer to that became very clear, is who is actually in charge? Who’s in charge of the whole situation? Who’s in charge of the preparation? Who’s in charge of the response? Who’s in charge of the recovery and who’s in charge of the rebuild? What we saw today is everybody passing the buck to somebody else, a very siloed approach and an approach that basically says it’s somebody else’s job. You can’t rebuild communities when you continue to look to bypass the product onto somebody else, to say it’s somebody else’s job. In a first step, how can you possibly say we did not drop the ball when every single step from the preparation, from the response where local community members had to get in their own kayaks, in their own boats in whatever means they could to rescue people while the emergency services were unavailable? Moving along from there, the lack of communication in the mixed messages, the opportunity for people to get to higher ground, certainly there’s a dropping of the ball. Then, of course, the emergency responses in terms of finances, the opportunity to give grants to communities to get started once again. We’ve seen over 10,000 applications for business grants and only 700-odd of them have been approved. That’s less than seven per cent. You can’t keep saying we’re sorry, we’re going to learn from this. This is a continuation of dropping the ball and you’ve got to accept reality that when it comes to this situation, the government has just not managed it well. So what’s the situation today, the situation today is still very very dire. Nobody knows who’s in charge. Things seem a mess, like an absolute mess. We’ve got businesses that are still shut, we’ve got the town of Lismore that still doesn’t have electricity six weeks after this incident. We still don’t have electricity running and this is a first world country. We should be able to solve this problem and the reason we haven’t got there is because nobody knows who’s actually in charge to tell the person, can you please make sure this happens. Nobody knows who takes ultimate responsibility for a decision to be made. We’ve got far too many organisations, far too many heads but not one who actually coordinates the response completely. So we’ve got electricity, we’ve got a situation where many of the families in temporary accommodation are going to have to move out for what, do you believe it, the Easter holidays, so people are making way for tourists because they actually have lost their home. Now how is that not a dropping of the ball? Where is the emergency accommodation? Where is the temporary supply? Where are the pods that we were promised? Where are the more motorhomes? We’ve got more and more people now without a home and faced on top of that the additional burden of having to move out during Easter holidays so that people can actually come in and enjoy their Easter break. Surely there’s a decision that has to be made about what’s more important, and how do we support communities. There’s another dropping of the ball. We’ve got questions that remain unanswered. We’ve had questions that weren’t answered clearly around the role of the ADF, who made the decision? Questions about how we could possibly have a faulty gauge and who was responsible for the faulty gauge? Who was responsible for the upkeep of a siren that didn’t run? Who was responsible for the pump that didn’t work? Those questions still remain unanswered. Which Minister responsible for which part, who is actually the Minister responsible for the recovery, when in reality, we’ve got a Minister who’s the Minister for Flood Recovery, but it’s a shared position with the Deputy Premier. These are questions that are really important because they give a community a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and a sense of where they move forward. So I can’t believe that the government would come in today with all of the things that are open to them and all the expectations that we have at budget estimates. And rather than just say we dropped the ball we accept it, we want to make it better, they would instead deny. They wouldn’t agree that there is a lack of communication, they wouldn’t agree that there’s a lack of coordination. There’s a time and a place for leadership, this is the time and this is the place and the leadership is about owning up to mistakes that you make. And it’s also about accepting when you do things wrong. We can’t have a government that says I’m sorry, we did not drop the ball when every single thing that has happened points exactly to that point. JOURNALIST: Just on that accommodation issue, even just putting the morals aside for one moment, does the government actually have any power to say to the Mantra Resort for instance, no, you can’t, you’ve got to tell those people who’ve been booked for a year they can’t stay here because we have emergency situation? It’s a private business. DIB: Yeah And I think that’s a really good point that it is a private business. But I think it also then points to the fact that we haven’t been well organised. Where is the government organisation and the prep and this comes back to that point about dropping the ball, about leaving things left unsaid or unplanned for. I can understand that maybe you know, the private business says look, we don’t want it but certainly you can also work with private businesses and you can work with organisations and you can work with companies to achieve an outcome. I think it’s wrong not only morally wrong, but also just wrong thing to do, where we’ll be upping a family that’s already lost their home to say that we needed to move for two weeks away because someone’s gonna have a holiday and then you can come back and we’re gonna move you to somewhere else. Where are the pods that we’ve been promised? Where are those motorhomes that we’ve been promised? What things have actually been put in place to try and rectify this situation? And again, this comes down to the preparation. We can’t just simply say, oh, here we are, it’s Christmas, it’s Easter now we need to move out. Who was actually thinking about this before and this is what I come back to again and again. What’s been really clear is a lack of coordination and a lack of responsibility that somebody accepts. JOURNALIST: Shane Fitzsimmons, they made it very clear that the SEC is the lead agency, certainly from a combat perspective, is this just proof that they don’t have enough funding? DIB: Well, I think there’s a lot of things that we’re going to be learning throughout the process. We’re gonna see that not only in the review, but also in the parliamentary inquiry that we’re undertaking. We saw the SES be told that they’re the lead agency, and yet some decisions were made, where others have said the same, it’s their decision. As one example the SES when we’re talking about the gauges, for example, is a question who’s responsible for the gauges? Oh, we are. Well who’s responsible for the pumps? Oh, the pumps belong to somebody else. When we’re talking about the electricity, have any of the electricity providers been asked to support? Oh no we don’t know. Well who’s responsible for that? The SES is responsible for that. But we don’t know whether the SES has gone out and made this decision. So certainly what we’ve seen is the important valuable role that the SES plays but more significantly, what this has demonstrated is the fact that we’ve got an emergency management system because at the moment it seems to run in silos. And we can’t have that because community doesn’t run in silos, and we need a coordinated response to every situation that we have. So if that means that more funding is provided, more support needs to be provided, then the inquiries will bring that up. But what is very, very clear, the government will drop the ball when there is no one accepting responsibility. And we’re seeing at the moment that no one’s accepting responsibility to make all of the calls that needs to be made. JOURNALIST: Just moving away from the ball analogy because it does open up all sorts of semantics, do you at least think the community would have expected some level of responsibility being taken by the government and acknowledgement that there were failings in this process? We didn’t hear that today. DIB: What we didn’t hear today was an apology and an apology that says to the community we let you down. I said before, we may not be able to stop the rain, we may not to be able to stop the flooding from occurring, but we can do a lot to mitigate it. I think the Australian public deserves that. They deserve to know that we get things wrong sometimes and I think that’s a really good example of leadership to be able to say I’m sorry we didn’t get it right but this is how we’re going to continue to improve things I think is a really sign of, of a leadership, of accepting that not everything is perfect. That’s what the community will want to hear. The community does want to constantly hear plaudits. They have done exceptionally well as a community to be able to step it up and support one another but we need more than plaudits at the moment. They’re living without electricity, without the grants, without knowing if they can rebuild where they’re currently living, without actually having access to the things that keep their lives going. They’re over the plaudits, they need a government that says we’ve got it wrong, we’re moving on, this is what [inaudible] and here’s how we’re going to move forward. JOURNALIST: In response to a line of questioning about I believe it was the ADF involvement, Commissioner Fitzsimmons said, look, it would have been great to have and I’m paraphrasing, more resources there, but it’s not what was forecast and there was a lot of references back to what was forecast. Isn’t that a fair defense and fair response to what we saw on the ground? I mean, it was two metres above what was forecast. DIB: I think it’s really important that this is not a criticism of the SES and the volunteers that do an exceptional job. But we’ve heard a number of times this is not what was forecast. So we need to ask ourselves some of the questions, are the forecasts wrong? Are we using the right forecasting tools and equipment to manage this happening because we’re constantly here? This is the first time it’s unprecedented, this is not what was expected, I understand that it was much bigger than what people thought was going to be. But I think the question that comes down to the response of it, and you saw the line of questioning in terms of response to people who were stuck on the roads, people who couldn’t be rescued, people who didn’t know the current situation in terms of communication. So yes, you might not be able to stop certain things from happening but I think we could be a lot better when it comes to the mitigation and preparation and we didn’t have that. JOURNALIST: Just been trying to flip through Hansard just due to Clinton’s question about Easter break and accommodation. There was a question about this wasn’t there in Parliament last week, do you remember or have the details, that question answer about whether there could be a Moratorium or prevention of … DIB: There was there was a question and from memory and look at this is this now going back a week from memory, I think there was not much that could be done, we’ll look into it, we’re gonna check it out. That’s what not a real committal, but there was a question, I think it was, there might have been Wednesday or Thursday. I remember the question. I remember parts of the question. JOURNALIST: Anything else you want to add? DIB: I think the really important thing here is that we will need to rebuild communities and we need to rebuild communities well. I think that’s a responsibility for everybody to play a really important part but it only works when we all work together. What we say today is incredibly disappointing in the sense that we put out emergency services that are basically working in silos. We’ve seen a government that has dropped the ball, but then they denied that they have and at the heart of all of this is a community that is suffering. All we need to do right now is to help rebuild his community, get this community up and running, and make sure that the next time that we are dealing with a natural disaster, we don’t have the same situations again when we say we could have done things better, let’s get them done right. Let’s get them done properly. Let’s actually shine light on everything that went wrong with that spirit of wanting to improve things. What we saw today was denial and denial is not doing to cut it, doesn’t cut it for the community, and it doesn’t cut it for the leadership that’s required in this tragic situation.

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