A convoy of motorhomes headed to NSW’s flood-ravaged northern rivers region on Friday, in a welcome first step towards the urgent task of housing for the thousands of displaced people.
“To me, the top priorities here are getting the clean-up done, getting people into homes and getting financial support out for those who need it,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told the Nine Network as he laid out his priorities to assist battered region.
The first of 120 motorhomes left Sydney on Friday, bound for NSW’s north, where flooding has destroyed thousands of homes and left thousands more unliveable.
“The recent extreme weather has devastated these communities and we are doing everything we can to make sure people have a safe place to stay,” Minister for Communities and Families Natasha Maclaren-Jones said.
The motorhomes are being driven by NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers. The first 20 are headed to Casino, and were expected to arrive late on Friday.
Others will be sent to Lismore and surrounds, where some of the worst flood damage has occurred.
Some 1200 flood victims have received emergency accommodation after 5500 homes were assessed as damaged, about half of those uninhabitable.
The motorhomes are part of a $551 million housing support package for 25,000 households, jointly funded by the state and federal government.
The package includes:
- $285 million for temporary housing, including a $248 million 16-week rental support scheme
- $10 million for 120 motorhomes; 20 to arrive on Sunday
- $20 million for temporary ‘pod’ housing
- $4.5 million for long-term housing
- $2.5 million to hire recreation camps
- $150,000 for the Australian Red Cross to provide housing through Airbnb and Stayz.
Some $90 million has been set aside for the clean-up across 28 local government areas.
Asked if he had urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare the northern rivers region a natural disaster zone sooner, Mr Perrottet said it was “only relevant to co-ordination at a Commonwealth level”.
“In NSW, we set up our state emergency operation centre immediately,” he said.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese questioned why it had taken Mr Morrison – “days and days into this disaster” – to declare a national emergency.
Mr Morrison’s declaration came when he visited Lismore on Wednesday, 10 days after the floods hit.
“The parliament gave the Prime Minister and the government powers to do that after the experience of the bushfires,” he told the ABC from Lismore on Friday.
“Why is it that it took the Prime Minister to have a visit for that to occur?”
Mr Albanese said flood-affected Ballina residents had told him they were traumatised and having difficulty accessing government support.
“What we need when there is a natural disaster is people on the ground, face-to-face, providing people with that support,” he said.
Telstra announced it will provide $250,000 worth of $10,000 grants to community groups in northern NSW and southern Queensland to support the recovery.
The company said in a separate statement it had repaired about 90 per cent of mobile base stations, restored service to 95 per cent of isolated communities and 75 per cent of landlines.
Meanwhile, commuters face ongoing delays after this week’s wild weather caused extensive damage to the rail network across greater Sydney.
There had been landslips in Pymble, Casula and Emu Plains, and a sinkhole in Leura, with work taking place at more than 100 sites, Sydney Trains CEO Matt Longland said.
Flood levels on the Hawkesbury River began to recede on Friday morning. They were at moderate river heights at North Richmond, Windsor, Sackville and Lower Portland, and minor heights at Wisemans Ferry.
Looking ahead, showers and thunderstorms are forecast for inland NSW this weekend as a trough deepens over the west, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Friday. Rainfall is expected on the coast.