Op Ed - Long road to recovery after the headlines
As we've seen time and again, communities across the state pull together when disaster strikes. We saw it last week during the flooding across Victoria. Communities, emergency services, and council staff on the front lines are to be commended for their work in supporting those in need.
As the peak body for local councils, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has been heartened by the number of councils from unaffected regions pitching in and sending their staff to support exhausted and stretched councils in the north and west of the state.
Communities are also appreciative of the prompt funding response from the State Government, with announcements of food relief, a clean-up taskforce and grants for individuals, businesses, and primary producers.
The initial $500k to each affected council will allow the immediate deployment of their own resources to help make roads safe, clean up debris, and support communities as they begin the long road to recovery. We’re especially pleased the $165 million emergency road repair blitz will include locally managed roads.
The waiving of the State’s waste levy will also significantly assist communities in clean up works without unduly penalising local councils.
While these announcements have been a good start, the situation will continue to evolve rapidly in different parts of the state. Councils and communities in the middle of this know this is just the beginning.
The recovery process will last long beyond the headlines on the nightly news. Long term recovery will require the support of all three levels of government working together. While we would love for the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) issues to have bene resolved in time to react to the current flooding emergency, the many concerns the MAV has raised across the past four years have not been addressed.
The DRFA is a Commonwealth-led program, administered at the state level, which includes both state and federal governments funding activities to support the reinstatement of community assets after emergencies.
An effective DRFA is critical to council operations, as we are designed to spend every dollar we get each year on services and infrastructure for our communities. This means that in times of emergencies, we can continue to deliver these services, while DRFA provides the resources for us to rebuild our infrastructure, be that roads, bridges, playgrounds, sporting facilities or skateparks.
The current DRFA claims process is highly problematic. It is centred on proving the asset condition prior, rather than on the loss or damage. It is highly bureaucratic and wastes resources that would be better focused on supporting community recovery.
It takes an inordinate amount of time for a claim to be approved and provides no certainty to councils around approval – which would give them confidence to invest upfront in repair and restoration works. It hard not to conclude its broken beyond repair.
The DRFA needs a framework for councils to ‘build back better’. Can we learn from the 2022 floods, after being unable to learn from the 2010, 2011 and 2016 emergency events? Or will we continue to simply replace the same roads and bridges as they were pre-disaster.
Today, as you read this, one Victorian council is still waiting for significant reimbursement from the windstorm events of June 2021.
The MAV fears that without change, every flood affected council will be unable to get their infrastructure back up and working for years to come.
To build back better with infrastructure better designed for the next climate event, it is critical the DRFA works as it is intended: getting much needed funding to repair and rebuild community assets – through councils – quickly and efficiently.
The MAV and councils are all for accounting fairly and properly for what we spend, however rest assured we aren’t about to turn every gravel road into a four-lane highway. Rather we simply want to get what people had back functioning in a timely and cost-effective way.
With the current DRFA system costing between 20 and 30 cents of every dollar we claim – just to make the claim – it’s fair to ask who benefits for that cost? The short answer is not the ratepayer nor the taxpayer.
The initial response of the State Government to these floods has been an impressive one and it is to be applauded. The challenge now turns to ensuring communities remain supported in their recovery well beyond the headlines.
For further information, contact the MAV Strategic Communications on (03) 9667 5590.