The ASU recently lodged a submission to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding with a focus on alerting the Inquiry to the critical role local government plays in both preventing natural disasters and managing them when they do occur. ASU members working for councils are amongst the first responders when the community is struck by disasters such as fire and flood.
The ASU knows about the major contribution which many of our members make in serving Australian communities in times of crisis. This includes workers employed in water and energy, social and community services as well as local government, whose skills and training are crucial in responding quickly and effectively in times of natural disaster.
Local councils are often tasked with setting up relief centres, particularly when disasters strike regional and rural areas where services are thinly distributed. Community services workers from other sectors often come in to staff these centres along with council workers to meet high demands. Utilities workers arrive to deal with damage to essential services, to restore them as quickly as possible.
These roles are often unacknowledged but critical in responding to various catastrophic events.
In order to continue to respond in times of catastrophic need, however, local councils need to maintain their facilities and equipment levels. Maintenance work carried out by councils, for example in road maintenance, plays a major role in creating the infrastructure to allow relief efforts to take place and also to avoid some disasters happening in the first place.
Often local government is the provider of resources to fight bushfires and tackle other emergencies, and it is not uncommon for the army, navy or civil defence organisations to call upon councils for assistance, in addition to requests from state and federal governments during times of emergency.
For these reasons, the ASU argues in our submission that local councils need certainty about funding and an improvement in arrangements to ensure there is adequate funding to maintain and extend services to the local communities in times of natural disaster.
“The recent Federal Budget stepped in to take certainty and funding away from councils, but the ASU knows that this cannot serve the community well, and in times of disaster, could merely add to the devastation faced by Australians,” said ASU Assistant National Secretary Greg McLean.
The ASU urges the Productivity Commission to look further in assessing what is necessary in the community to ensure we are best equipped to deal with the natural disasters that in Australia are an all too common occurrence. If they do, they will see the critical role played by local government and should make recommendations to bolster that role.
During the Productivity Commission Public Hearing on 27 October in Sydney, Greg McLean drew attention to the effectiveness of cross-industry support by various authorities in times of emergency. In addition he noted the assistance provided by councils from across state borders – whether it be the trucks from Essential Energy in New South Wales to help in electricity cyclone reconstruction in North Queensland to across the state support for bushfire restoration in New South Wales or city councils sending trucks and workers to Brisbane and other regions to clean up after the floods, to the cross border region help that happens every day.
“There were quite a substantial number of workers go from New South Wales into Queensland to help with local government recovery, even Sydney City Council and others sending up workers, plant and equipment to go up there and help with the clean-up of the debris laying in the streets and such.”
The transcripts from the Public Hearings can be found here: http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disaster-funding/public-hearings
ASU submission: Productivity Commission Inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding, 21 October 2014
Productivity Commission Inquiry home page: http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disaster-funding
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