Natural Disaster Funding
|About this Item||Speakers||Page Mr Donald
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [5.55 p.m.]: I raise this evening the issue of natural disaster funding and the criteria used to assess that assistance. On Sunday 16 June this year a number of severe storms crossed the far north coast of New South Wales, striking the centre of Ocean Shores and some isolated surrounding areas. While the damage was not widespread, the winds were very strong and, because the storms travelled in what has been described as narrow strips, were very intense in the areas affected. It was surprising how much damage was done in a matter of minutes. Temperatures and humidity had been unusually high throughout the day, provoking the late afternoon wild weather.
In the Ocean Shores area there was roof damage to approximately 40 dwellings and significant tree and other vegetation damage on both private and public property. The local State Emergency Service [SES] branch obtained an emergency order that applied essentially to life-threatening situations—for example, trees that threatened to fall on houses or trees that had fallen on roads or downed powerlines. Some 114 jobs were completed under this emergency order, and I commend the Byron shire and the SES Byron local commander, Noel McAviney, for the wonderful job that he and his team of volunteers did in protecting life and property.
The funding situation is that the New South Wales Government pays the cost of all works done under an emergency order or when a natural disaster is officially declared. However, a problem arises in relation to funding other clean-up works. This is because the damage, while very severe, was not spread across a large area. Notwithstanding that this event was a natural disaster in that it was a disaster caused by natural phenomena, the full cost of the clean-up beyond the life-threatening situations covered by the emergency order must be borne entirely by local ratepayers via the council. A week and a half after the storm the clean-up is yet to be completed, with work still required along public roads, in parks and on fire trails where fallen trees must be removed.
Byron Shire Council has been working closely with the SES to clear the trees and other vegetation, but it is a mammoth task. As I said, while SES funding has been made available to clear trees and so on from roads and private property that threatened life, Byron Shire Council has been left to foot the bill for cleaning up public reserves and for re-establishing fire trails. This work is estimated to cost at least $20,000, possibly more. It appears that when the storm is geographically isolated it is difficult to have that area declared a natural disaster zone despite the fact that damage is substantial. Accordingly, the assistance that the State Government releases when a natural disaster is declared was not forthcoming in this instance. In other words, a natural disaster was not declared because the damage, while severe, was confined to the Ocean Shores area rather than spread across a broader region.
I believe consideration should be given to assessing areas eligible for natural disaster relief on an individual basis regardless of the size of the area affected. The reality is that genuine natural disasters occur in smaller geographical areas and the costs of the clean-up can be very expensive. The fundamental principle underpinning natural disaster assistance is that State and Federal governments are in a much better position to fund clean-ups than local ratepayers through the local council. Therefore, I think it is time to consider the circumstances in which natural disaster assistance is made available. The fact that a natural disaster is not spread across a local government area should not mean that it cannot be deemed a natural disaster. More consideration should be given to assessing each situation on its merits.
This clean-up will cost Byron Shire Council about $20,000. That may not seem a lot of money, but it is a substantial sum for a council that is struggling financially and it is money that could have been used to fund other worthy community projects, which now will not be offered. Therefore, I request that the State Government consider sympathetically reimbursing Byron Shire Council for the cost of the clean-up. I would also like the State Government to review the criteria it uses to provide natural disaster assistance. It should be more needs based and less rigid. The bottom line is that the event was a natural disaster, isolated but severe. In some cases funding will be much greater than it has been for Byron Shire Council. The State Government is in a much better position to provide assistance than local ratepayers. The criteria should be made more flexible so that natural disaster funding assistance is more needs based.