ABE Presentation to Council 1st June 2021

This is a copy of the ABE paper accepted for presentation to the Eurobodalla Shire Council Public Access Session on Tuesday 1st June 2021

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address Council. I am
presenting as Co-convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community
forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. Over
the last few months, ABE has attended markets and other community
gatherings across the shire which has given us the opportunity to talk to the
community about what is important to them.

This presentation focuses on the issue of disaster preparedness and recovery
and the role of the community in these activities after the 2019-2020

Council’s response to the impacts of the “black summer” bushfires is outlined
in the Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Action Plan April 2020. The Plan states
that Eurobodalla recovery actions should be consistent with the NSW
Recovery Plan, which promotes a community–led recovery approach as
outlined in the following statement :.
Supporting self-help and strengthening the resources, capacity and resiliency
already present within individuals and communities are the keys to successful
recovery. Empowering communities to create their own solutions can improve
overall social cohesion, and this is critical to sustainable recovery
”(NSW Recovery Plan, page 14).

With this in mind, it is notable that the Eurobodalla Local Recovery Action
Committee does not include any community members, instead consisting of
16 members drawn exclusively from government agencies, businesses and
Council staff.

The NSW Recovery Plan also states that a Local Recovery Action Committee
can establish Local Community Consultation Groups to enable members of
the community, including people affected by the event and representatives
from local organisations, to provide input to the recovery process. However,
the Eurobodalla Recovery Plan makes no mention of any Community
Consultation Groups. Indeed, the word “consultation” occurs only once in the
Eurobodalla Plan, in relation to business. In addition, the words “community
” and “partnership” are also absent from the Eurobodalla Recovery Plan.
How can the Eurobodalla community have a direct voice in the recovery
process within such a structure?

The neighbouring Shoalhaven and Bega Valley areas were also badly
impacted by the 2019-20 fires and have developed their own recovery plans.
In contrast to the Eurobodalla, the Shoalhaven Recovery Action Plan
emphasises “community input”, stating that: “Community input is the best way
to inform Council and is the foundation of the Recovery Committee
information flow.
” In fact, the term “community input” is mentioned 4 times in
the Shoalhaven Recovery Action Plan, but nowhere in the Eurobodalla Plan.
Shoalhaven Council has also invited community members to join a working
group to develop a Community-led Resilience Plan for the Shoalhaven, noting
that “Community-led planning enables local residents to create stronger, more vibrant and resilient communities, better able to respond to local challenges
and opportunities.

In October 2020 the Shoalhaven Community Recovery Into Resilience Project
(RRP) was initiated. This is Shoalhaven Council’s organizational response to
the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements and the NSW
Independent Inquiry into the 2020 Bushfires
. It also identifies community-led
resilience as the foundation of a communities’ preparation for, response to,
and recovery from, disasters and environmental challenges.

Through the Shoalhaven Community RRP, Council aims to develop
partnerships with research and commercial providers to grow community
resilience. Shoalhaven Council plans to coordinate the growth of community-
led resilience and establish ‘Information Hubs’ by upgrading power and
communication reliability of facilities across the Shoalhaven. The plan is being
driven by Shoalhaven Council’s use of $2 million in BLER (Bushfire Local Economic Recovery ) funding to improve the resilience of power and communications infrastructure by the development of micro-grids in place of existing and fire-damaged power infrastructure, and delivering back-up communication connectivity through satellite digital communication.

The Bega Valley Local Recovery Action Plan is also focussed on community-
led recovery, and features a Communications and Community Engagement
Sub-committee as part of the Local Recovery Committee. This subcommittee
developed the Bega Valley Together (BVT) framework aimed at “creating a go
to” space and network for bushfire recovery, news, information and
community support. BVT is our commitment to community-led recovery; to
inform, assist, support and empower residents.
” Bega Valley ran town-hall-
style community meetings in all impacted localities, with meetings streamed
live online. This helped community members to engage on projects of high
community value and interest such as community hall rebuilds and the
greenshoots program to revegetate environmentally significant areas.
Opportunities for collaborative projects were identified and supported, and
Bega Valley Council staff were upskilled in community engagement and
collaboration within a recovery context. These projects were given practical
support by Bega Valley Council using $3 million in BLER funding to rebuild
and retrofit community halls in Kiah, Wandella and Tumbarumba impacted by
the Black Summer bushfires.

In contrast to these community-led and supported BLER projects, Eurobodalla
Council has chosen to allocate $5.25 million of BLER funding to a 10 year old
walking trail concept plan which has never been formally endorsed by
Council, and about which there has been no public consultation. This large
allocation ignores telecommunication weaknesses in the Eurobodalla (e.g.
South Durras) and significant emergency transportation and communication
issues (e.g. Araluen Road). While Shoalhaven and Bega Valley are allocating
their resources into building back better to enhance resilience after the fires,
Eurobodalla continues with a “Business As Usual” tourism development.

In addition, Bega Valley Shire has community involvement embedded in its
Disaster Relief Fund, established by means of an MOU in partnership with the
local community group Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast (SJA). The Bega Fund has tax deductibility status, and is managed by a Committee
co-chaired by Council and SJA. The management committee consists of 3
SJA representatives, 3 Bega Valley Council reps and 2 independent
community reps. This community-focussed management committee contrasts
with the Eurobodalla Shire Council Disaster Relief Fund, which is run in-house
by Council and managed by a committee composed of the Mayor, Deputy
Mayor, General Manager and 2 community representatives.

Another area of contrast between the recovery practices of this council and
our neighbouring councils is in the treatment of development fees for people
rebuilding their homes destroyed by the fires. Both Shoalhaven and Bega
Valley waive all Council development application fees, whereas Eurobodalla
Council requires applicants to pay their fees in full, after which they are
eligible for a rebate of “up to S1,000”, leaving many of these applicants
significantly out of pocket by thousands of dollars.

Today’s presentation by ABE has outlined several community-led approaches
that are being employed by neighbouring councils to facilitate community
engagement in developing and implementing disaster recovery and resilience
solutions. These are helping to deliver tangible community benefits in the
recovery process for our neighbouring shires. They are readily adaptable to
the Eurobodalla, and could be applied in our Shire to ensure that our disaster
preparedness and local recovery outcomes truly reflect the needs of our

Thank you for your attention.
Dr Brett Stevenson
Co-Convenor ABE