NORTH Queensland Councils have reached crisis point and will close some of the most popular tourist routes on Cape York if the government cannot commit to reimbursing day labour for disaster reconstruction works.
Despite the representatives of 19 regional councils meeting with Attorney General Nicola Roxon in Townsville on June 5, and having the matter go to a parliamentary committee last Tuesday, June 12, they are no closer to a resolution.
It also flies in the face of the government’s own Reconstruction Inspectorate, which said in February that “in some circumstances it could represent better value for money if councils were able to use their salaried workforce to undertake reconstruction work”.
Cook Shire Council is one of the most seriously impacted local government bodies and has asked Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch to table a document in parliament this week.
They are pleading for the government to allow the claiming of day labour costs through Natural Disaster Reconstruction and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA), outlining numerous facts and impacts in support including that;
· Council is currently spending $150,000 per day on flood damage works but payment of up to 20 per cent of these funds ($30,000 per day) for Council’s day labour is not eligible for reimbursement.
· Council has created a Business Unit that is eligible to undertake NDRRA works but issues with a long accreditation process mean claims cannot be processed.
· The Cook Shire workforce is already in position, working, fully trained-up and in possession of all local network knowledge and all necessary environmental permits.
· Council has gone out to full public tender and has demonstrated that they are at least 30 per cent cheaper than other suppliers.
· Council will be legally obliged to cease all NDRRA work in the very near future unless this issue is resolved.
· Council is responsible for the only access road that services the Aboriginal communities of Pormpuraaw, Lockhart River, Aurukun, Northern Peninsula Area and Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Councils, as well as the road to the Tip of Cape York – one of the most used tourist roads in Australia.
· Council will not be able to maintain this road in a serviceable condition and closures, in the interests of safety, will eventually occur meaning four wheel drive tour companies that operate out of Cairns as well as Cape communities will be adversely affected.
· The road network may not be re-opened after the next Wet as any subsequent damage will compound the cost to repair the road if/when undertaken, meaning agricultural, mining and pastoral industries will be isolated and will not be able to use the roads to access markets.
· If these works can’t be progressed more than 170 families may be affected, a disastrous impact for areas of Cooktown and the Cape with a low socio-economic population.
· Under the current interpretation of the guidelines a contractor from overseas is eligible to undertake NDRRA works whereas an Australian Council worker is not.
“Cook Shire is one of many councils who are affected by this ambiguity in the NDRRA guidelines and I commend them for their efforts in speaking up,” Mr Entsch said.
“Successive governments have never worked to ensure that these roads can withstand adverse weather conditions therefore there is a requirement for annual funding through the NDRRA to maintain accessibility on this road network.
“Meanwhile with a Wet Season coming up local councils have proven that they can do it much more effectively and cheaply but have been left in a situation where they have been forced to down tools.”
Mr Entsch said the government’s procrastination was yet another blow to families in regional and remote areas, many of whom have been negatively impacted by the recent ban on live cattle exports.
“As a means of supplementing their income they have provided machinery and expertise to work on affected sections of road, and have done so in a very cost effective and timely manner,” he explained. “This has become a critical part of their family income and it now looks like being lost.
“With this crucial work not being carried out, it will have a profound impact on some of our most disadvantaged communities.”
Mr Entsch said the government clearly has no understanding of this issue and continues to procrastinate, even when all of their own departmental advice confirms that they should continue to utilise the councils’ workforces.
“It is delay, after broken promise, after delay, and in the meantime more than 170 families’ livelihoods hang in limbo,” Mr Entsch ended. “It’s a disgrace.”