The Beagle editor,
The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) believes that few Australian politicians were as directly affected by the bushfire disaster than the Member for Bega, the Hon Andrew Constance MP.
At the height of this year’s bushfire disaster, Mr Constance joined hundreds of thousands of Australians defending their homes & those of their neighbours. The experience clearly impacted Mr Constance.
When 20 people perish & more than 9,000 buildings, including 2,500 homes are destroyed across NSW, this is truly an epic disaster.
For years the federal & state governments have been the standard-bearers of our version of a so-called “free market economy” which openly promotes government intervention on behalf of business, including a willingness to provide major funding, bestowing favourable commercial arrangements & even underwriting financial losses, highlighting the continuing growing influence of business over government.
While loudly boasting of their commitment to “smaller government” & reducing “red tape”, the NSW LNP government has all too often demonstrated its willingness to simply ignore normal democratic decision-making processes, replacing them with arbitrary decisions, more often free of any genuine public consultation or debate, amongst the latest of which is the unilateral decision by the Minister for Local Government to cancel local government elections next year.
So, how is it that only three months ago a senior Minister in the NSW Government was so touched by his direct experience with the bushfire crisis that he publicly challenged the way we respond to such events, citing the clear inability of governments to respond to the challenges of such disasters as good reason to reconsider the fundamental ways our society works; even including considering the introduction of a “basic income scheme”.
The BVSRRA was impressed with the sincerity of Mr Constance’s comments & subsequently called on him to initiate a change in the way that the NSW Government responds to such challenges, including to focus more directly on the immediate needs of disaster victims rather than the interests of business.
With the much-touted state government funded clean-up still some three months away, residents & ratepayers were reminded yet again of just how little has been happening with the bushfire recovery when the Mayor confirmed that many non-essential council employees were on annual leave, while council’s general manager confirmed that not a single cent of the bushfire assistance promised by the federal government since before Christmas had been received over the past 16 weeks.
And so it was that against that long empty space that the NSW Government last week finally managed to bring some much-needed hope & delight to a few of the many bushfire victims across NSW when it commenced delivering & installing 100 temporary portable housing units to some bushfire victims who have lost their homes.
The government’s initiative is reportedly being pursued with the support of WA mining billionaire, Twiggy Forrest’s, Minderoo Foundation at a reported cost of $5M.
While the BVSRRA is not suggesting for a moment that Mr Forrest’s generosity should be spurned, is this the best that that Gladys can manage after four months?
When Cyclone Tracy all but destroyed Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1974, it obliterated 10,000 of the city’s 12,000 homes & prompted an immediate evacuation order by authorities, which saw the population reduced from 45,000 to 10,000 in a week.
In the year following Tracy some 3,000 temporary demountable homes were built to house the essential reconstruction teams, with school & other public buildings provided for on a similar basis.
While all disasters are different & it is difficult to fairly compare the quality of responses to each, the fact that some 16 weeks into the NSW bushfire “recovery” & our state government has managed to find 100 temporary housing units for bushfire victims surely says it all.
It is abundantly clear that our governments have forgotten how to govern for the people they allegedly exist to serve, which explains the silence in response to Mr Constance’s challenge.
And while we commence week 16 of the “bushfire recovery”, we can only speculate as to the real impact of the disaster on the shire, as there is still no official information available on the number of disaster victims awaiting assistance with housing, employment or other needs across the shire.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association