Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Northern Rivers: Floods

8:10 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I was in the Northern Rivers last month to listen to stories from the front lines from those affected by the floods in February 2022, and I was joined by Greens candidate for Richmond Mandy Nolan and Byron Bay local councillor Duncan Dey. I'm sad to report that, 18 months down the track, it is obvious that both the state and federal governments have failed to support residents in distress. Many homes remain unliveable and many more are still damaged, and people are still struggling and suffering. Housing programs such as the pods, which were meant to be temporary, are not only still utilised by residents but are, in fact, full. Due to high demand, pod villages in the Northern Rivers are currently at capacity, with long waiting lists. There's no certainty around how long this temporary accommodation will be needed and where the funding will come from to keep it going.

Climate disasters have a very deep and broad impact that crosses different sections of the community, and the effects vary depending on who you are. In my visit one cohort that greatly sticks out is women, in particular women over 50 and older single women. These women are often invisible to policymakers and decision-makers. Women have always had to fight for equality. We know that. Gender inequality is a structural and systemic issue, and the link between climate and inequality is pretty clear in the Northern Rivers and plays out in flood recovery as well. These are women already impacted by the gender pay gap. They have less super, limited earning capacity, inability to access a loan and limited savings, if any. These intersections of economic and gendered inequality are further exacerbated by the climate crisis. These women feel sandwiched between being on the front lines of this climate disaster and also having primary caring responsibilities such as looking after their parents, their children and, in many cases, their grandchildren as well.

When the floods came, they lost their possessions, including their cars. They were unable to get support to help with sandbagging or lifting furniture prior to the flooding. Many have moved from one rental accommodation to another many times over. So many impacted by the Northern Rivers floods are still not back in their homes, unable to return due to the damage caused by these floods. They told me about the hoops they have to jump through to get repairs done—the endless online forms or the exhausting appeals processes they've had to do for insurance companies, for instance.

Repairs aside, there's an even bigger problem they are contending with. In Mullumbimby especially, there is no pathway to adaptability and the structural changes needed for their homes should there be another climate disaster and another flood. For example, insurance companies may cover the damage caused by floodwaters, but there is no money for raising the house. Governments need to step in now and provide the funds so that homes can be raised before the next flood.

One woman, Noelle, whose house we visited to look at the flood damage, is still struggling to return to normal, and so is her community. She told us about the difficulties of navigating the insurance claim system, about the distress and trauma from this, about paying rates and perhaps even insurance for a home that they're unable to live in, about many women navigating health issues from menopause, breast cancer and anxiety to COVID while suffering from the flood impacts. They are calling on the federal government to step in and to invest in communities.

My Greens colleague in the NSW parliament, Tamara Smith, MP for Ballina, is calling on the NSW Labor government to step up and deliver the second tranche of funding that was initially promised to her community, because thousands are going without the buy-backs, without retrofits and without raises to their homes that they need to survive future extreme weather.

While communities are staring down the barrel of more devastation and climate-induced disasters, Labor governments are continuing to subsidise climate-wrecking oil and gas projects to the tune of billions of dollars, which will make future disasters even worse. But where is the funding and support for those who are being hit by the aftermath of these terrible decisions? How long will they have to wait? They are sick and tired of waiting. I implore you to listen to the community and women like Noelle. It is time to act now.