The New South Wales agency tasked with preparing and responding to natural disasters was missing in action following disastrous flooding in the state’s north, an inquiry has been told.
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin told an inquiry hearing that Resilience NSW were “simply not there”.
“They were missing in action and they never made their presence known,” she said.
The hearing is being held on Tuesday in Lismore, the northern NSW town hardest hit by disastrous flooding from relentless rain in February and March.
Resilience NSW was set up in 2020 in the aftermath of the black summer bushfires, with a remit to lead disaster and emergency efforts from prevention to recovery.
But the agency was hindering instead of helping the disaster response, and the role or existence of the agency needs to be re-evaluated, Saffin said.
“I’ve had to work around them and work with a whole range of other agencies,” she said.
The agency was unprepared to respond and struggled to coordinate evacuation and recovery centres, some of which had no staff when residents arrived seeking help, Saffin said.
Lismore’s mayor, Steve Krieg, told the hearing Resilience NSW struggled with the concept that an evacuation centre would be a 24/7 operation.
“To have a public service come in and run an evacuation centre is a challenge because it’s almost treated like a nine-to-five job,” he said.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis told the hearing both the community and the agency were caught off guard by the scale of the flooding, which contributed to the shortfalls in the response.
He said there should have been more warning and the Bureau of Meteorology’s systems should be reviewed.
“With all its technology and science [it] should have determined that this was going to be a major flood,” Gulaptis said.
Krieg said the unpredicted scale of the floods lead to further strain.
“Instead of dealing with maybe 500 evacuees in Lismore we were dealing with 4,000,” he said.
People’s lives were being put at risk by cost-cutting at disaster agencies like the State Emergency Service and the Bureau of Meteorology, said Krieg, who claimed they were hanging up on locals attempting to warn them about river levels.
“The centralisation of these agencies is a real problem area, and we need to decentralise and have local knowledge in local areas.”
Lismore’s application for a $110,000 government grant to improve gauges and warning systems, including installing CCTV upstream to monitor river heights, was knocked back three days before the first flood hit in February, Krieg said.
Substantial damage to warning systems and gauges in the first flood meant there was no accurate warning for the second flood, he added.