The key role of community organisations in disaster recovery
14 February 2020 at 12:10 pm
The community service sector is committed to helping those impacted for as long as it takes to rebuild and protect communities into the future. But as work continues on-the-ground, the need for a federal government response that complements the efforts of the community sector is clear, writes Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie.
After months of catastrophic bushfires, years of drought, and floods and cyclones here again, the extraordinary scale of recent disasters is still unfolding. We know that people will not only need support now but in the weeks, months and years after, to rebuild their lives and recover from the trauma they experienced. Amid this devastation and sadness, community service organisations have been heartened by the generosity of the public who have responded to the bushfire crisis by volunteering to support affected communities and donating funds.
Community organisations play a key role in the recovery effort, with local people working extremely hard to deliver emergency support as quickly as possible. These organisations – many of which are on the front line of the recovery – include those providing immediate food and financial relief, neighborhood centres, family and relationship centres, community legal centres, and housing, homelessness and domestic and family violence services, among others.
One of the biggest challenges faced by many of these organisations is the need to plan and ensure funding for the medium- and longer-term needs of affected people and communities. There is shared recognition that efforts into the future must be staged and require engaging with people who have particular needs or who are most vulnerable; that listening to community feedback and supporting community-led recovery over the months and years ahead will be key; and that there must be proper recognition of the particular trauma experienced by Aboriginal people due to loss of and damage to country.
There is also strong, shared commitment to transparency and accountability in the disbursement of funds, as seen through many organisations’ regular updates online on the vital work they’re doing. Unlike many other sectors, the community sector has a proud history of transparency, which was demonstrated through our combined efforts calling for clear, open access to information about our organisations and how our funds are spent during the establishment of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.
As work continues on-the-ground, the need for a federal government response that complements and supports the efforts of the community sector is also clear. ACOSS has welcomed the creation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the National Bushfire Recovery Fund, along with a range of measures the federal government has taken to support people affected by these bushfires. However, there remain major gaps and weaknesses in our response systems which we must pull together to address. Government needs to provide more resourcing to ensure that local community organisations and leaders can drive recovery efforts, supported by government, charities and business.
It is vital for the federal government to play a direct role in providing adequate support to the thousands of people so badly affected, and we continue to call for an increase to the Disaster Recovery Payment for adults, which has not been increased in 14 years, and the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which at $40 a day is not enough for anyone to get by.
With food prices and regional unemployment expected to increase in the wake of the fires, it is even more important that the government finally increases Newstart, which hasn’t been increased in real terms in 25 years, by $95 a week and invests rapidly with other parts of government to drive condition of low income housing across the country. The federal government also needs to step up and provide emergency access to rent assistance for those affected; ensure affected people including volunteer firefighters are not subject to Centrelink job search requirements or debt recovery; and cover funeral costs for people who have lost their lives in a natural disaster.
Along with many others, we also continue to emphasise that the recent bushfires are unprecedented and are being made worse by climate change, and that our recovery must include urgent action to respond to the climate crisis. This means increasing our currently weak emissions reduction target and investing in more renewable energy. Investing in energy efficiency and disaster resilience for low income households, community organisations and small business. We must develop together the plan to drive a just transition for workers and communities. And phase out subsidies that prop up fossil fuels to fund a cleaner, healthier, fairer future. As a member of the Australian Climate Roundtable, ACOSS is committed to working with business, unions, farmers and environment groups to lead the changes we need to see. Governments must do their part to support and accelerate the change.
We are all too aware that extreme weather events will continue to hit communities, with people on lower incomes hit first and hardest. A determined collective response to both the climate crisis and its devastating effects is a major social justice issue. This national challenge is one that the community service sector is committed to travelling with those impacted for as long as it takes to rebuild and protect communities into the future.