Monday, April 22, 2024

Campaspe council raises concerns at flood inquiry hearing

Campaspe Shire Council’s Mayor, Rob Amos; Chief Executive Officer, Pauline Gordon and Director Emergency Management, Shannon Maynard yesterday presented at the Echuca public hearing for the Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria.

The Mayor also made a presentation as Chair of the Murray River Group of Councils, which is comprised of Campaspe, Gannawarra, Loddon, Mildura, Moira and Swan Hill councils.

“The October 2022 flood was the most traumatic and devastating event of its kind in living memory in Campaspe Shire,” said Mayor Amos.

“It is now incumbent upon all levels of government to do everything in their power to take heed of the lessons learned and work together in finding solutions and taking action to better prepare for, and mitigate against, the severity of any future flood events.”

(Photo: Campaspe Shire Council).

At the public hearing, Council’s presenters highlighted a raft of issues that hampered the various authorities’ efforts to effectively tackle the disaster.

Among these included:

  • a lack of role clarity and accountability, particularly in relation to the establishment of a temporary levee in Echuca;
  • challenges faced by Council with a lack of staff resources to support the many flood-impacted communities across the shire while also performing multiple roles for days without a break;
  • lack of data sharing by the Victorian Government;
  • government red tape and blockages hampering councils’ efforts to access funding needed to repair the extensive list of damaged infrastructure.

Lack of role clarity and accountability 

During the emergency, Council says there was a lack of clarity about the different roles and responsibilities between the Victorian Government’s Emergency Management Victoria, VICSES and Council.

“This lack of clarity not only led to confusion and misunderstanding in the community, but it also fuelled community angst and directed blame for decisions towards Campaspe Shire Council, when these decisions were made by other authorities. When these authorities were given the opportunity to take ownership of these decisions, they did not. For example, the decision to establish a temporary levee in Echuca, where it was located, and the size of the levee was not made by Campaspe Shire Council.”

“What is needed moving forward is an education campaign by all levels of government to inform the community of roles and responsibilities in times of emergency. Not so that blame can be apportioned but so that there is understanding by the community about who is responsible for what, and more communication and accountability by the government about the decisions they make as part of the emergency response effort.

“Further to this, there is a need for clear planning around temporary levees with broad communication so that there is wider community acceptance and understanding of temporary levees, when they would be required and who is responsible for their placement, and ultimate repatriation of the area post event,” the Council said in its inquiry submission.

Lack of resourcing – Council staff

More than 40% of Campaspe Shire Council staff were directly impacted by the flood. Those who could, showed up every day to support the community, many juggling multiple roles and working for days on end, fatigued and without adequate breaks, Council told the inquiry.

“While Victorian Government staff were rotated every five days as they should be, Council staff did not get a break. Because of the sheer scale of the event and the urgent and wide-ranging need to support residents in multiple communities across the shire, there were simply not enough Council staff to factor in shifts and breaks.”

“Despite the devastating impact of this event, Council continued to deliver normal services, including libraries, maternal child health, childcare, waste collection as well as many other services relied upon by our community,” Council said.

Data sharing

Council claims the Victorian Government would not share data gathered from impact assessments it had conducted with some residents, causing a raft of problems for Council and the community in terms of managing follow up processes, such as building matters and determining rates relief eligibility. 

It says no-one told the Council that the Valuer-General would use the impact assessment data for the valuation process. So, Council had to send teams back into Rochester to conduct another round of impact assessments with residents.

“This was extremely difficult to do because already traumatised people had to go through the same process they’d already gone through with the government. As most people were not living in their flood-impacted home in Rochester, when we called them they were suspicious of Council’s assessment teams. Most people did not understand why they had to repeat the information they’d already provided to the government, and some people thought our assessment teams were either potential scammers or looters,” the Council said.

Council is recommending the establishment of dedicated assessment teams who would gather information immediately following a disaster. The data gathered by these teams should be accessible to all approved agencies, including Council, it said.

Funding blockages, red tape and delays

The inquiry heard that bureaucratic blockages, red tape and delays in receiving funding put undue pressure on Council resources and budgetary processes.

“Each year, Council is trusted with many different streams of grant funding, such as the Roads to Recovery and Local Road and Community Infrastructure funding. These are granted to Council and given as lump sums to undertake works as determined by Council.”

“Campaspe Shire Council has raised this matter at both federal and state levels, and while there is some acknowledgement of the concerns and frustrations, more certainty is needed about whether requested funding to repair the full scope of damaged assets will be honoured and provided in a timely fashion.

“It’s vitally important that councils have clarity, certainty and consistency to address urgent flood-related needs and priorities while also continuing to deliver more than 100 different services to their communities every day,” the Council said.

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