In having listened to the Mayor saying that Bushfire Recovery sessions are only for members of the community who were 'directly impacted' it was heartening to learn that Council was finally inviting input from those of us not directly impacted. It appears that we now have two classes of resident - those directly affected and those who were not. Either your house or business burnt down or it didn't. If your property did burn then join the queue to have one on one chats with a variety of agencies who have a wide variety of services, support and stuff they can offer. "Not burnt out... then sorry, there isn't much available to you. "Lost your business income? Then why not take out a business loan. We can sign you up now .... $50,000 or $500,000?" "Lost your job? No Problems, here is a NewStart form? Be sure to go and see the charities because they might have a voucher for food. "You need money for rego and rent and school fees? Nup, can't help. No fire, no help". "Do you want a voucher for coffee?. Got heaps of those." "So your house wasn't burnt but the house you were renting was burnt? Well that makes it messy because you aren't the home owner. Sure... we know they get a landlord's rental loss return plus they are insured and now they have their rates waived for two quarters and they weren't even here. But you just lost your things. Hope you had contents insurance? You didn't? Bugger, well go and see the charities. They have vouchers and clothes, toys and furniture. And register with these people over there because they have lists of places you can rent if you can afford it". So finally, on Tuesday the 25th of February, we hear from the Eurobodalla Mayor in a Face Book video that Eurobodalla Council now invites ALL of the community to send a letter describing their experiences, "ideas, information and views" to include in Council's report to NSW Bushfire Inquiry. Next thing, in my email inbox I receive the email below passed on from a friend, sent to them by Councillor Pat McGinlay "I am writing to you as I understand that you are among the community members who have raised the issue either publicly (or privately with me) whether our Council will conduct a review of the effectiveness of its own policies, procedures and processes and role for dealing with emergencies, such as we have all recently endured. (Sorry about the bcc format, but some may wish some privacy re their email contact details. Note please that I am also including Councillors and senior council staff in this communication.) This suggestion for a review was raised by Clr Mayne a week or so ago, also in briefings, but did not result in a consensus or any kind of sense of direction, perhaps due to the understandable overwhelming focus of many on vital recovery issues. At briefings today, post our council meeting, I again suggested conducting such a review and it gained a more positive general response, including strong support from the Mayor. In governance terms it does not require a Council Motion or resolution, but can be done by the GM under her delegated authority, which she has agreed to duly pursue. Many details are yet to be determined, including terms of reference, but the intent is to hold such a review within about 3 months, focusing I expect, (yet to be confirmed) on clearly defining Council’s role and responsibilities, establishing whether policies, procedures etc are adequate, what worked well during the fire emergency, and what could be improved, and determining how those improvements can be implemented to mitigate against the impacts of future emergency events. It was discussed and there was no dissent that the broader community would be invited to contribute submissions to this review, as indeed it can also do in regard to the broader review being conducted by the State Government. I trust this will help in the healing and recovery process of our community by providing assurance of intent by Council to learn for the future as well as providing an opportunity for community input into that learning. From the above email it appears that Mayor Liz Innes and her councillors have been painted into a very embarrassing corner and shown up by their Bega Valley Shire counterparts who have been exemplary in their management of community communication, inclusion and proactive pursuit of feedback. Yet reading between the lines of the email above it also heralds that the proposed review , delegated to the General Manager to determine terms of reference, might see the handling of this review mirror the process this Council does of all its public consultation - by way of Information kiosks, drop in sessions and inviting written submissions. All very one-on-one, all very hush hush and away from the public ear. Our Council, or tour councillors, appear to be reluctant to actually go face to face with their residents.
While Eurobodalla Council have been more than absent from any public conversation around the fires our southern neighbour, Bega Valley Shire Council, has been very proactive in going out to all of its towns and holding meetings to listen and learn from the community of the positives... and negatives that can be identified to help build a better response 'next time'.
All of these meetings have been facebook live streamed and also archived on Bega Council's website for those who could not attend, including a widely watched interview with Sth NSW Recovery Coordinator Dick Adams.
Bega's Mayor Kristy McBain has been at the forefront of ensuring her community is included in the conversation and given the opportunity to provide their voice. As yet our Eurobodalla Council has conducted NO public meetings nor did they intend to do so until this turn of attitude, no doubt brought on by the growing negative feedback and mounting public disdain over their reluctance to face the elephant in the room issues, and the public. Many now feel that to draw any comparison between Bega and Eurobodalla Councils in the way they have communicated with their community would be to compare a bright golden star with a dull bit of rock. In response to our Councils lack of any action and its deafening silence the Eurobodalla community have already organised and conducted their own community meetings (Tomakin, Sth Durras and Moruya) with a hope that what is discussed, learnt and considered is formally conveyed to the Council so that they might acknowledge the community contribution and possibly even include the community response in a Council submission to the NSW Bushfire enquiry. Here is just one observation that Council does NOT want to hear. There are so many more ...
The following is an excerpt from Sydney Mayor Clover Moore’s latest newsletter which talks about how the City of Sydney Council responded to the flood emergency in Sydney recently.
Recovering after last weekend’s storm
Over the weekend, the torrential storms caused a great deal of damage throughout the city.
A number of trees came down across our neighbourhood causing damage to homes and vehicles, and in Potts Point a gas pipe was ruptured causing a dangerous leak. On Sunday afternoon I visited the Rex Centre, where local residents and visitors were evacuated to, and City staff provided emergency provisions for those who could not return home. Many of our other community centres were open throughout the day as people looked for somewhere to take refuge.
We activated our emergency response protocol, and worked with state authorities to make sure all rough sleepers were offered emergency accommodation.
While the City of Sydney opened its community centres as refuges during this emergency, Eurobodalla Council’s well-equipped and wheelchair accessible community centres (e.g. Kyla Hall at Tuross Heads, Dr Mackay Centre in Moruya…) remained closed during the whole bushfire emergency, as did the Council offices. Why were these centres not opened for elderly, infirmed and/or disabled residents?
There is an extensive list of these community halls/centres on the Eurobodalla Council website including their capacity and facilities: https://www.esc.nsw.gov.au/living-in/facilities-parks-gardens/community-centres-and-halls
It is interesting to note that the evacuation centres at Batemans Bay (Hanging Rock Sports Stadium) and Moruya (Basketball Stadium) don’t have heating or cooling nor do they have wheelchair accessible toilets and on the first days of the emergency, when there was no power, the lift at Hanging Rock Sports Stadium was unable to operate so there was no wheelchair access to the evacuation centre itself. So where did these people go and how did they fare during the bushfires? (NOTE: The Beagle was NOT permitted access to Council's evacuation centres to photograph the toilets. Both Moruya and Narooma suffered a gastro outbreak and the number of operative pedestals was well below the minimum capacities set out in State Emergency Centre guidelines - basically they did not comply)
There are so many anecdotes of systematic failure to anticipate, prepare and proactively enact those things that are COUNCIL's responsibility. Yet this Council does not want them aired, like dirty laundry, and are now maneuvering to control the narrative, yet again. ****************************** For members of the community who were NOT 'directly impacted' such as those who are in business and suffered financial loss or those who lost their jobs, Council invites you to send a letter describing your experiences, ideas, information and views and also to make a submission to include in Council's report to NSW Bushfire Inquiry.
They also encourage individuals to make their own submissions to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.