December 7, 2022

Australia: Residents abandoned by government during flood crisis

As residents of Lismore and surrounding areas of northern New South Wales (NSW) begin to clean up and salvage belongings from their homes damaged by floods and storms, anger and frustration are mounting at the pitiful official response to the disaster.

Flooded Newmarket Road, Wilston, Brisbane [WSWS Media]

While the weather on Australia’s east coast today was not as extreme as expected, heavy rain is expected to continue over the weekend and into next week, including in areas already devastated by floods. With rivers and dams overflowing, continued downpours mean the danger is far from over.

More than four days after large parts of Lismore, including the whole of the CBD, were inundated by floodwaters, thousands of residents are still without power, telephones and internet service, while food , drinking water and fuel are desperately lacking. Evacuation centers are overcrowded, raising the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak amid rising infections across the state.

From the start, almost all aspects of emergency response have been left to the local working population. In Lismore, dozens of ordinary people showed up with their own boats, and many more joined the rescue operation, bravely going from house to house to evacuate trapped residents.

The sense of complete abandonment by states and federal governments has grown throughout the current crisis as public assistance has failed to materialize.

Brigitte Boll wrote on Facebook: “Milk, water, groceries, basics, everything is needed right now. Where is the help from the federal government? No one to see.

Lyn Moore wrote, “Where is the state and federal aid to get food etc. in these areas. I know the highways are flooded, but can’t they bring in army vehicles? »

The first deployment of 70 Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel to help with the rescue and recovery effort only took place on Wednesday, with another 170 only sent today.

That the military was sent in, as it is now in response to almost every disaster, is the result of decades of cuts to civilian emergency services, leaving the ADF, with its ever-expanding budget, as the only labor available. It also aims to normalize the presence of the military on national soil, in conditions of widespread hostility to inequality and social crisis that will be exacerbated by the floods.

Holly Lovegrove wrote on Facebook yesterday: ‘There were some ADF men working on Terania St today but they said they were only doing other ADF’s houses which is really disappointing.

Lovegrove pointed to the stark contrast between the pitiful official response and the heroic, sacrificial actions of ordinary people. She wrote: “Fiji/Samoan men seem to do more heavy work than our paid government services. Are there any services that are not run by volunteers? »

Lovegrove was referring to a group of slaughterhouse workers who played a major role in rescue and recovery efforts, including rescuing 60 residents of an aged care facility on Monday. They only recently arrived from Fiji under the Pacific Labor Scheme, which provides companies with cheap labor from poor countries, while denying workers basic citizenship rights.

Sally Purcell wrote on Twitter: “So much was left to private citizens when it was so clear that Lismore, this very flood-prone town, was in grave danger. The Federal and NSW governments have once again demonstrated their incompetence and shown how little they care about people.

Lismore flood victims are struggling to register for the federal government’s pitiful one-time $1,000 per adult and $400 per child disaster payment. Severely limited phone and internet access is preventing many flood victims from accessing online services and, according to social media, yesterday a single Services Australia worker was dispatched to manually manage thousands of claims.

In the nearby town of Coraki, hundreds of people were stranded in an evacuation center on Wednesday as the town ran out of food and bottled water. Some have resorted to siphoning gasoline from their cars for use in private boats to rescue survivors trapped on the roof of their homes. A State Emergency Service (SES) boat with supplies did not arrive in the city until late afternoon.

The Casino central business district was flooded for the first time in the city’s history, with 330 homes reported as flooded.

In Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, the situation is not much better. Primary responsibility for the cleanup was given to a “mud army” of more than 10,000 volunteers who responded to a call from the city council.

There, too, residents expressed anger at the dismal response and preparedness of the state’s Labor government.

Brisbane Corso resident Nigel Bean told the Mail-Mail he was not informed of the progress of the floods until late Saturday evening. “Somebody has to be put on the spot and asked, ‘please explain, what’s wrong?'” Bean said. “How the hell can we be in a metropolitan mega-city that just won the 2032 Olympics and can’t even prevent, predict, or communicate flooding in the CBD?”

SEQWater was forced to defend its decision not to start releasing water from Wivenhoe Dam last Tuesday when the Bureau of Meteorology had originally forecast heavy rain. Flood mitigation releases did not begin for three days. The public water authority was found guilty of negligence by a court in 2019 for contributing to the flooding of at least 20,000 Brisbane homes in 2011.

According to a new report from Deloitte Access Economics, only 3% of public funds allocated to disaster relief are invested in preparedness and mitigation. As victims of floods, bushfires and other disasters attest, very little of this money ends up in the hands of those who have lost their homes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that the federal government has provided $17 billion in disaster relief over the past three years. This included $13 billion for the COVID-19 Disaster Payout and Pandemic Leave.

Two-thirds of the $1.5 billion spent following the 2019 floods in Queensland went to establish a new AgRebuild loan scheme. In fact, between July 2019 and June 2021, only 64 loans were approved nationwide for flood-affected farms and agribusinesses, totaling $185 million.

A federal emergency response fund created in 2019 and funded by a $4 billion cut in research funding has “committed” just $150 million for disaster mitigation, while earning more than $800 million in interest.

Emergency Response Minister Bridget McKenzie yesterday dismissed any notion of federal responsibility for the disaster, proclaiming ‘we don’t own the bulldozers’ and that they relied on states and territories for disaster mitigation floods, including dikes, because “they were too expensive. ”

National Recovery and Resilience Agency chief Shane Stone hit back at criticism of the official response, blaming flood victims for their plight. Stone told Nine Diaries: “You have people who want to live among the gum trees, what do you think will happen? Their house falls into the river and they say it’s the government’s fault.

The reality is that over the decades, successive governments have opened up vast tracts of land on the floodplains for residential development as demanded by property developers. With housing prices rising rapidly while wages stagnated or fell, more and more working-class families were forced to move to these low-lying areas.

The inability of state and federal, Labor and Liberal-National governments to respond to this crisis, before, during or after, is not an aberration, but a direct product of the capitalist system, in which the health and lives of workers are entirely subordinated to the profit interests of big business.