As floods sweep through many parts of our State yet again, my thoughts are with those members who have been affected and their communities.
The devastating effects of last week’s floods are being felt by many NSW residents who are now returning to their homes. Data released by the NSW Government indicates that, so far, 2,285 homes and businesses have been assessed for flood-related damage with 239 deemed uninhabitable and 973 in need of urgent repair.
While lawyers are not considered key first responders, they play a critical part in Australia’s disaster response. The Law Council of Australia (LCA) Lawyer Project Report considered the role lawyers play in the wake of natural disasters.
The LCA report quoted American law professor and author Daniel Farber who asserted lawyers are needed in disasters because they counsel and advocate for clients during challenging circumstances.
“Lawyers are in the business of solving problems, and disasters trigger an avalanche of personal, family, institutional, and economic problems,” wrote Farber.
Similarly, American lawyer and author David Lash noted that lawyers’ assistance following a natural disaster endures for months if not years into the future.
“After the headlines move on, the lawyers carry on,” Lash wrote in the Law Council report.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements recommended state and territory governments fast-track recovery programs to address the need for legal services in affected areas. The LCA also recommended creating sufficiently funded resource centres that allow lawyers to quickly establish a presence in affected communities. Another recommendation was for governments to provide affected communities with vouchers for free legal services.
The NSW Government has recently appointed two recovery coordinators, Dean Betts and Mel Gore, to oversee the clean-up and rebuilding efforts across the state.
Law Society of NSW President Joanne van der Plaat wrote in her weekly message to the profession that “I have witnessed first-hand the incredible kindness of our profession and the way in which we face adversity and setback”.
Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke said that these appointments are necessary to support flood-affected communities “in a timely and efficient way”.
“Our first priorities are to undertake rapid damage assessments of flooded homes and businesses, begin the mammoth task of cleaning up and ensure residents displaced by the flooding can access emergency accommodation,” Cooke said.
Face-to-face recovery centres are also being opened across Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley to provide support and advice.
Cooke said the best way people can support flood-affected communities is to donate through the online non-profit donation hub GIVIT.
“The NSW Government’s arrangement with GIVIT allows councils, local charities and community groups to tell us exactly what they need,” said Cooke.
“GIVIT then works to meet these needs through an online warehouse or by purchasing requested items locally using the donations,” she said.
Shane Fitzsimmons, the Resilience NSW Commissioner, encouraged people to donate to GIVIT and other established flood appeals.
“Donating through official channels makes a huge difference to effectively supporting flood-affected communities,” Fitzsimmons said in a statement.