Our News Section Editor, Zoe van der Merwe, sheds light on the ongoing struggle of Northern NSW residents to rebuild after the devastating floods of 2022.
In February of 2022, the small-town community of Lismore was one of many in the region affected by catastrophic floods. Ten months later, the impact of the flood devastation remains ongoing, with many frontline health providers still struggling to rebuild their businesses.
While the New South Wales government has rejected accusations of their dismissal of much needed financial aid over the course of the year, Lismore doctors have reiterated that lives are still at risk. 
Dr Nina Robertson, a general practitioner in a family-run Lismore medical clinic has stated, “there was no provision after the disaster for any kind of support for health care services in the community.”  As such, medical services, including Robertson’s, have been unable to provide adequate care for their community, leaving locals in the region without access to routine care.
Doctors have shown a growing concern for this impact on the region’s overall standard of living. With delayed diagnoses as well as extensive wait times for elective surgeries, the health and wellbeing of residents remain neglected.  Indeed, data on elective surgery lists showed more than 1,500 overdue surgeries in the Northern NSW Local Health District. 
Calls For Government Support
In September of 2022, the Australian Medical Association (“AMA”) called for the state government to provide $15 million in funding to frontline healthcare businesses, allowing them to remain accessible while undergoing repairs.  In response, NSW Regional Health Minister, Bronnie Taylor, stated that any investments made in primary healthcare was not the responsibility of the state but rather that of the federal government.  This back and forth between departments and shunning of responsibility has only caused more confusion, offering no tangible solution to the Lismore community and surrounding regions.
In October of 2022, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler insisted, “the Albanese Government is committed to restoring primary care services across Australia and recognises the particular hardships faced by service providers in flood affected regions.” 
Despite this, President of the AMA, Professor Steve Robson, stated on December 8, “there’s been absolutely no action at all, and it really is heartbreaking for all of the people around Lismore and increasingly people in areas that are subject to natural disasters right around the country.” 
Not Just Healthcare
Thousands of residents throughout the region have also remained without access to stable accommodation, with many still living in emergency housing. Despite the government aims to provide relief, residents have argued that the $350 million spent on temporary accommodation could have better been used to fund repairs. 
Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg revealed on December 28 that some residents were still “living in their cars.” He stated that they have presented to the Northern Rivers Reconstruction, 200 sites for potential development, however, many have remained unexamined. 
In a media release from the Federal Government, new planning initiatives in support of the Lismore flood rebuild, were finally unveiled. The initiatives aim to retrofit and relocate homes, reducing risk and increasing resilience during future flood events.  However, with planning pathways only coming into effect from February 2023 and no reference to healthcare services in the statement, residents needing urgent support still have no answers.
The lack of government clarity regarding the flood rebuild in Lismore has raised significant questions surrounding government response to natural disasters. Indeed, Dr Robertson said, “it’s not just about Lismore’s recovery, it is about what happens to other smaller communities like ours when the next natural disaster comes.” 
 Herbert, Bronwyn. “Lismore’s Flood-Affected Doctors Plead for Government Support 10 Months After Disaster.” ABC News, 19 Dec 2022, https://www.abc. net.au/news/2022-12-19/doctors-lismore-floods-health-services-lack-government-support/101787126.
 Ward, Mary. “Nine Months On, Lismore’s Health Services Still Unable to Rebuild.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Dec 2022, https://www.smh.com.au/ national/nsw/nine-months-on-lismore-s-health-services-still-unable-to-rebuild-20221209-p5c50b.html.
 “Healthcare After Lismore Floods and Hospital Capacity.” AMA, 8 Dec 2022, https://www.ama.com.au/media/healthcare-after-lismore-floods-and-hospital-capacity.
 “Thousands of Lismore residents remain in emergency accommodation.” Sky News, 27 Dec 2022, https://www.skynews.com.au/australia-news/thousands-of-lismore-residents-remain-in-emergency-accommodation/video/511a4f4195d4acb6a6005ee6a6744c8b.
 “Lismore Mayor Speaks on Flood-Affected Residents Still ‘Living in Cars’.” Sky News, 28 Dec 2022, https://www.skynews.com.au/australia-news/lismoremayor-speaks-on-floodaffected-residents-still-living-in-cars/video/c22672c5a001b1cae6ddf539ef0bbcee.
 “Lismore Flood Recovery Planning Package.” NSW Government, 16 Dec 2022, https://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/lismore-recovery-package.