Northern Rivers Community Calls to be Heard on Plan for Recovery

Australian Greens

A grassroots Northern Rivers community group Reclaiming our Recovery has delivered a letter to members of the NSW Government, local MPs and staff of the Reconstruction Authorities describing the response to the Lismore flood recovery as "inhumane and incalculably cruel." The group says the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) has lost the social licence to operate in the region due to what they say is a refusal to listen to and communicate with the community.

The letter calls for a reset on what has happened and to pivot to a community-led recovery based on the National Principles for Disaster Recovery, a Federal Government best practice initiative that aims to centre communities in responses to disasters and empower communities to be active participants in their own recovery. The group says the much needed reset and repair starts with a community meeting with political leaders giving the community a genuine opportunity to express their concerns and put forward their proposals to be included in the recovery.

Greens MP, environment and planning lawyer and resident of the Northern Rivers, Sue Higginson said: "This call for a reset was inevitable, it's very timely and a good idea. Right now, there are so many in our community who are not on the path of recovery and they are not being heard. Sixteen months after the floods, while some have been offered a buyback they have nowhere to go, people are still living in tents, in homes that are unliveable and instead of centring these people in the recovery process, they are being shut out.

"The community is rightly asking that the national best practice principles for disaster recovery be followed and be used to restore the relationship with the NRRC and deliver the best outcomes for the community. Shutting the community out of its own recovery and limiting the options available to them, while they are vulnerable, having been through unimaginable trauma will not deliver the best outcomes for our region. The community has been told to wait and wait, vital information is not being shared, communication has been very poor, the new government has played politics with the budget and commitments appear to be cracking.

"As part of the reset we need to reconsider land swaps and house relocations. This was one of the things the community foresaw as a necessary option to stay in the community and out of the disaster zone. We were told that land swaps are too complex and not possible. They were taken off the table too early and without a proper explanation. Instead we were told we would have buybacks, but only for some. The reality of this scheme is now in focus. The roll out has not been transparent, in some cases the communication has been so woeful it has been traumatising and the maps that have informed eligibility for a buy back are based on modelling that did not include the very flood we are recovering from. Things are likely to get worse from here.

"The stark reality of the Government's buy backs is we are actually generating a further level of displacement, because many who are being offered a buyback, those who were most impacted, have nowhere affordable to go. Many will have no choice but to stay. Land swaps may involve market based and environment and planning complexity, but in comparison the current scheme is becoming more and more complex in terms of the costs of failing to deliver real recovery - one that is community led and builds us back better and together.

"The NSW Government needs to listen to the calls in this letter, it harbours the same hope and vision that our community has been carrying from day one, that we can and must recover together and build back better. We do need to bring the community together to listen genuinely and work in genuine partnership. I thank Reclaiming Our Recovery for their advocacy and their will to see this through to a resolution that works best for the community. I will certainly be joining this initiative and attending any meeting to hear our community on their terms." Ms Higginson said.

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