LONG-overdue disaster recovery works must get underway on Cape York as soon as possible with the mayors of 19 communities pinning high hopes on a meeting with the Attorney-General next week.
As reported in April, Mayors and CEOs of the Regional Organisation of Councils of Cape York and Torres Shire (ROCCY) have serious concerns with a change to the interpretation of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangement policy, which restricts them from tendering for works even when they have staff and equipment ready and available.
ROCCY first contacted the office of Attorney-General Nicola Roxon on March 27 seeking an urgent meeting and were fully prepared to travel to a city of Ms Roxon’s choice.
However after numerous phone calls, ROCCY CEO Kym Jerome said that the Ms Roxon’s office only last week confirmed that she could meet the group in Townsville this Tuesday, June 5.
Ms Jerome said that the delay in starting vital works had left some councils in “dire straits”.
The road to Kowanyama is again closed due to its poor state, tourists are being turned away daily, shortages in fuel mean that Kowanyama cannot supply fuel to travellers, and food and other essentials are in short supply until alternate delivery can be provided.
The situation is a result of the Federal Government micro-managing the Reconstruction Authority, withdrawing any decision-making abilities and no longer recognising a long-used delivery mechanism enshrined in the NDRRA policy.
The ROCCY membership has undertaken a rigorous analysis of delivery costs on the Cape and found that the best value for taxpayers was for local authorities to undertake or manage the work themselves, using a combination of local private contractors and internal staff.
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said he recognised the urgency of the situation, with a limited timeframe for works before the start of the next wet season.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous they’ve come in and moved the goalposts without consideration of the impacts on remote area communities,” he said.
“The councils now have to tender this work out nationally or internationally and apparently it doesn’t matter that they’ve been encouraged to develop a skilled workforce and place machinery on the ground. It’s obvious that this is not going to work in remote areas like Cape York and would be a total waste of money.”
Most affected are the feeder access roads from numerous Indigenous Cape York communities onto the Peninsula Development Road, of which Cook Shire Council has the largest network.
“It is becoming a major issue because the annual post-wet season work is delayed, limited food and supplies are getting in and contractors are trying to meet housing contract deadlines in the Indigenous communities and can’t get equipment and materials there,” Mr Entsch said.
This situation has the potential to affect the ability of Cape York businesses to meet needs during the much-awaited tourist season, and could even break some businesses, Ms Jerome said.
“It will also have a profound impact on councils and their ability to continue to maintain sections of their workforce, and it’s totally avoidable,” Mr Entsch added.
It is hoped that after next week’s meeting, the Attorney-General will understand how vital it is that something is done about the situation.
“They have to find a way for Cape Councils to be able to proceed with the work and in terms of the labour; it is the most economical way for taxpayer funds to be used to fix the damage caused by natural disasters,” Ms Jerome ended.