Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Tuesday morning defended the federal government’s response to catastrophic flooding in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, following accusations that its slow pace has left affected communities manage alone.
In recent days, communities dealing with the aftermath of the floods have taken to social media to highlight the lack of government assistance as debris has piled up on the streets of Lismore, Ballina and Mullimbimby in New South Wales.
Dutton told Seven’s ‘Sunrise’ that the SES had been “overwhelmed”, but said there were in fact Australian Defense Force personnel on the ground in the flood-affected areas.
“If you’re there you’ll be able to see them, there are 760 people,” Dutton said.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet told the ABC on Monday that difficult access to isolated flood areas meant emergency services had been unable to reach some communities, leaving them waiting days to be rescued and supplied with food and fuel.
“A lot of our communities here were isolated, we couldn’t get into them during the torrential conditions. We weren’t able to fly in some of those communities…and you have to prepare for the worst,” Perrottet said.
“The stories we’ve heard, the sense of abandonment that many people have felt in devastating circumstances is heartbreaking, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Dutton has now promised that the number of defense troops participating in flood recovery efforts will increase to 5,000 by the end of the week.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told a news conference on Tuesday that he was “not critical” of the ADF’s response to the floods and that the army was “doing its best as instructed”.
“But clearly there have been issues here with people being on the roofs of places for a long time, there needs to be an explanation,” Albanese said.
The pressure on state and federal authorities to defend the government’s response to the unprecedented natural disaster comes as insurers brace for one of the largest flood-related claims in the nation’s history.
The east coast flood damage bill is expected to top $2 billion, making it one of Australia’s costliest natural disasters.
Perrottet said Monday that at least 2,000 homes in New South Wales have been deemed uninhabitable. Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said the cost of repairing public infrastructure in the state would reach $500 million, with the cost of repairing damaged homes and businesses being around $936 million.
It is also part of a careful review of state and federal disaster preparedness plans, including funding for communities most at risk from natural disasters.
Perrottet admitted on ABC Radio National on Tuesday that the state’s response to natural disasters hasn’t improved since the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.
“It’s pretty clear to me that more can be done. For me today is not the time to take stock, it is the time to act,” said Perrottet.
The current flood crisis was “unprecedented” but NSW can expect similar disasters in the future, he said.
Last week, the federal government was forced to defend the use of its $4.8 billion emergency fund amid criticism that only a fraction has so far been spent before the week’s floods last.
The statements follow revelations by the ABC “7:30” that the federal government has delayed funding more than $150 million in flood mitigation projects sought by state and territory projects .
This included a ‘priority’ upgrade of Queensland’s flood early warning infrastructure.
State and territory governments across Australia have requested $217 million in funding for projects in the first cycle of the Federal Government’s National Flood Mitigation Infrastructure Project in 2020.
However, only one of the five projects proposed by the Queensland Government has been approved, with the flood warning infrastructure project not being among the approved projects.