More than three months after the first of two floods that engulfed large parts of the regional town of Lismore, the surrounding Northern Rivers region of New South Wales (NSW) and outlying areas of Sydney, thousands of residents remain effectively homeless and thousands more have been blocked from flood recovery grants.
Following the catastrophic floods of February 28 and March 30, during which many people had to rely on local volunteers for rescue, the state and federal governments belatedly and reluctantly promised various aid programs, mainly aimed at businesses, in an attempt to avoid widespread outrage over the lack of government rescue and recovery assistance.
Yet less than a third of requests for help have been approved so far, and many more have been turned down, sparking growing discontent in Lismore and elsewhere at the dismissive official response.
The Liberal-National Coalition government of NSW, backed by the parliamentary opposition Labor Party, has announced four different grant schemes for devastated households and businesses. More than 43,000 applications have been submitted to these programs, but only 27% have been approved, while 50% have been refused.
Worse still, government agency Resilience NSW, which was nowhere to be found during the floods, only approved around 330 disaster relief grants out of more than 2,440 applications. Similarly, the Rural Assistance Authority, which is supposed to help primary producers, processed just under half of the 3,200 grant applications it received and approved about 1,100.
Premier Dominic Perrottet’s NSW government has adamantly defended the record, saying it has more than 200 people working to process grant applications. “To put this into perspective for people, this is more than four times the number of grant applications we had following the Black Summer fires,” Flood Recovery Minister Steph Cooke said. .
However, the 2019-2020 bushfire disaster had similar results, with victims still homeless or struggling to rebuild more than two years later.
In a bid to cover its tracks, the government is now claiming that delays and rejections of flood grants are the result of fraudulent applications, even though these allegations only apply to a fraction of applications.
Of the 43,000 claims, 2,705 are believed to be under review for possible fraud, and only 530 claims have been referred to the police for investigation. Many of these can be honest mistakes, given the complex and confusing application processes.
There is a similar pattern of delay and obstruction by insurance companies. More than 216,000 claims had been filed by the end of May, at a potential cost of $4.3 billion. According to the Insurance Council of Australia, however, only around 20% of claims, totaling almost $1 billion, have been paid.
At a brief hearing in Lismore last week by a parliamentary inquiry into the floods, people talked about couch surfing, sleeping in vans or camping in homes with no walls or doors.
Marcus Bebb, formerly of South Lismore, explained that he and his family of five lived in a trailer at a fairground after losing their home. Rebuilding could take three years, and he was still waiting to hear the government’s position on home buyouts.
Lismore town center still remains a disaster area, with most shops closed, along with key educational and cultural institutions such as the town library, art gallery, TAFE college and historical museum. Debris still litters some streets.
Due to the protracted failure of governments, both Coalition and Labor, to address the threat of climate change, the whole region is at increasing risk of extreme weather events such as floods and fires, the dangers being greatest among its high proportion of the working class. , vulnerable and poor inhabitants.
The WSWS discussed these and other policy issues with locals last Saturday at the only shopping complex still open in Lismore, Goonellabah. Many commented on the hundreds of additional people now homeless in the area and the difficulties residents faced in filling out the complex forms and providing all the necessary documents to apply for government grants.
Glorz, a longtime resident, who is studying to be a teacher, said: “People have been on their own since the floods. It’s as if the governments wanted to get rid of them.
Asked about her views on the May 21 federal election and the new Labor government, Glorz agreed that the two main parties were defending the interests of big business. “It’s a two-party system, and nobody else had a chance,” she said. “I think the Australian people have been ripped off, workers have been ripped off and citizens in general have been ripped off.
Asked about the Socialist Equality Party’s fight for a socialist alternative, she commented: “The whole system must be abolished, the current government and everything. They are one body with many arms. All they talk about is themselves. A new system must be for the people and by the people.
Glorz condemned the persecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and was unconvinced the Labor government would do anything to free him. “This man stood up years ago and told us the truth and no one wanted to believe what was happening. He was imprisoned for telling the truth. He needs to be free because men like him are leaders of freedom of expression.
In the context of the US-led war against Russia in Ukraine, she added: “And it is a chain reaction to what is happening now. If you think back to what he [Assange] said years ago, and exposing years ago, it’s happening now.
“He’s exposed America, England and Australia for who they really are, and they don’t want that. They want him completely out of the picture. He’s got a lot more to show, and they don’t want that. don’t want that… Free Julian Assange!
Dany and Sandra, from the south coast of New South Wales, were visiting friends in Lismore. They stopped to express their support for Assange.
Danny explained: “He told the truth to the world. He revealed the secrets and showed the world. He revealed what the world did not know… If you tell the truth in this country today, you are penalized for it. America is the problem and Australia is too much in bed with Americans.
Sandra added: “He was just doing his job as a journalist. He supported journalistic integrity because he did not disclose his sources. It’s disgusting. There were never any charges against him. »
Danny chimed in, “People are starting to find out, and if they don’t stop, there’s going to be a revolution. People sacrifice themselves, with the cost of life and everything else, but governments don’t sacrifice.
Sandra asked, “What’s the point of sending money to Ukraine, like billions of dollars, to kill people?” They are therefore warmongers.
In its March 6 statement, “Australia Floods: An Indictment of Capitalism,” the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) explained:
“Every aspect of the flood crisis – from the lack of preparedness and warnings to people, to the lack of basic infrastructure and support services, and the lack of assistance offered to the hundreds of thousands of flood victims – is the direct result of the subordination of society to the dictates of private profit.
The declaration set out a series of key demands, including:
- A vast expansion of fee-based civilian emergency and health services to respond to crises such as fires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The creation of a national public insurance fund to compensate for individual losses and to ensure the reconstruction and reconstruction of communities.
These demands mean forming rank-and-file committees to fight for them, rejecting the dictates of the financial elite, and advancing the fight for a workers’ government to implement socialist measures.
As the statement explains: “The pressing social needs of the majority can and must be met by placing the banks, insurance companies, property developers and other corporate giants under working class ownership and under democratic control”.