The NSW Flood Inquiry held an emotional meeting at Southern Cross University

David Kirkpatrick
By David Kirkpatrick
Updated May 4 2022 - 12:24am, first published May 3 2022 - 6:29am

The independent NSW Flood Inquiry hardly scratched the surface in an emotional yet respectful two-hour meeting at Southern Cross University on Tuesday night.

There were issues raised of communication breakdown, flawed flood information, contrasting and potentially dangerous advice, harrowing rescues, heartfelt tales of being cut-off, lost, neglected, ignored, of insurance companies not paying out, or flood relief not flowing quickly enough or in sufficient numbers.

The inquiry is being led by Professor Mary O'Kane AC and Michael Fuller APM and largely these two eminent people just sat back and listened.

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SCU hosted the first major meeting into the devastating floods which wreaked havoc on the region in the past two months. Picture: David Kirkpatrick

What quickly emerged was the sheer scale of the floods, which have wreaked havoc on the entire region and the response to date, which has been sadly lacking in many respects.

Newly elected Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg was among the first to speak and later summed up what was the first serious attempt to get to the bottom of the flood devastation, which has severely impacted the Northern Rivers.

"The inquiry is an important beginning of our recovery," he said.

"It is important that the community is heard and I think the public handled themselves brilliantly.

"I thought there were a lot of good suggestions, a lot of ideas and a lot of heartfelt stories and it has given the inquiry leaders a lot to go away and think about."

The sheer magnitude of the disaster and the response so far to date was brought into stark reality at Tuesday night's meeting.

"Everyone has essentially got an individual problem, so what is an issue for me is not an issue for my neighbour and that is the complexity of what we are dealing with it," Krieg said.

"I know the support is there from the State Government it is just making that flow through to the people that really need it and pretty quickly that is really important.

"For me it is important that the community can come together in a room and voice their opinions. It is important, it is part of the healing process and part of the grieving process."

Some institutions such as the Bureau of Meteorology and State Emergency Service copped criticism from some speakers.

The BOM's updates and warnings were "hopelessly and dangerously slow" and information about river heights and rainfall date was "just not coming through".

The SES's role in the February 28 disaster was also called into question by one speaker.

He said the SES had to "be open to major reflection" on its response.

He questioned why the SES has been "turning rescuers away when they were dangerously under prepared".

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"You do not push helpers away when something catastrophic happens," the speaker said.

The ADF and builders of the M1 motorway also copped flak from at least one speaker.

She said the Army had come to assist at her property between Woodburn and Evans Head only to beat a hasty retreat telling her it was "too dangerous".

The Inquiry is required to report to the Premier by September 30 and submissions can still be made via their website.

David Kirkpatrick

I'm a media professional with over 34 years of experience in public relations and journalism, including a decade setting Lismore's news agenda as the editor of The Northern Star. I have proven track record in growing audiences and improving engagement by delivering quality local stories for and about the Lismore community.