Experts in the Media

Prof. Susan Harris Rimmer – The Guardian

Professor and Director of the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University

‘The lessons haven’t been learned’: who should lead Australia’s disaster recovery response?

Flood-ravaged communities say the burden shouldn’t be placed on them as the case mounts for a well-funded and trained network of first responders.

… Prof Susan Harris Rimmer, a researcher in climate justice at Griffith University, also said the investment should go to local first responders – after investment in mitigation efforts to reduce the risk in the first place.

“You should never bank on volunteers, but our system banks on volunteers,” she says. “People have got to understand that climate change changes the game. You can’t have people doing this kind of work for free on a voluntary basis. This stuff is actually predictable and bad and it’s gone up a notch and we need professional coordination.”

Harris Rimmer grew up in Lismore and helped her father evacuate from the city. She says Lismore will not recover without “massive government investment”.

“Those people aren’t going to be able to put that town back together by themselves no matter how strong a community they are,” she says. “This is a community I love, this is where I spent my high school years, in that school that everyone’s seen with the water up to the roof. And it’s not the people of Lismore’s fault that that happened to them.

“So where are we in that conversation then? Should they bear all the responsibility for living in Lismore in the first place, is that the way it works now?”

Research on disaster response shows that investment at a local community level is more effective than a top-down national approach, Harris Rimer says.

“You see these people who are left alone for days and days feeling justifiably angry, but if you don’t invest in first responders that’s what’s going to happen,” she says. “It takes time to deploy people from other places especially in an emergency so you need to have that localised first responder network really organised.”

But she says that a failure of government planning and investment means that there is no alternative but to use the ADF in disaster response when an emergency is bigger than can be managed by local networks alone.

“The defence force is the only one with decent funding,” she says. “They are so expensive to use, they’re not designed for these types of issues, and it’s not appropriate to use them. But we haven’t made decent plans.”…