Unearth the Voices of our Local Governments


Pre-floods in February 2022, we released a blog titled ‘It’s about people, stupid.’, where the opening paragraph was almost like the setup of a joke…

“An engineer, economist, and a grazier walk into a PUB after a flood, the debate starts, it’s about repairing roads, it’s about restoring phones, it’s about moving cattle, it’s about spending locally, it’s about……. Then, from the punter at the end of the bar; it’s about people, stupid.

Never a truer word can be spoken when we’re talking disaster recovery.

There is no greater test than the PUB test when it comes to public sentiment.”

But the topic of disaster recovery is not joke. The implications and consequences of getting it wrong are far too high on our people within communities. Which we see play out on the news all too often, including again right now around Sydney and other parts of NSW.

We, the Unearth team, have been talking about the need to put Recovery First and do appropriate planning under blue skies, because currently in the world of disaster recovery, there is also no simple formula, framework or approach that can deliver a community from a state of despair and disrepair to ‘normality’, whatever that ‘normality’ may be in their future.

Unearth Facilitate Workshop – Second National Action Plan

This is why when members of the Unearth Team, and our Intern (a High School Work Experience Student), attended the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) National General Assembly (NGA) in June, it was encouraging to hear the voices of councils on the importance of recovery, among other topics being raised.

Iain MacKenzie from the Unearth Team facilitated the ‘Workshop – Local Government Action to Reduce Disaster Risks’. This was part of the work we have been doing recently with the National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA), providing facilitation for both the Second National Action Plan cross sector panel sessions and workshops leading up to the session in Canberra.

The session panellists with Iain included Cr Darriea Turley AM, President of Local Government NSW and Broken Hill City Council Councillor, Cr Jack Dempsey, from Local Government Association of Queensland and Mayor of Bundaberg Regional Council, and Hannah Wandel, from NRRA.

Cr Turley opened the session highlighting the importance of the session and Hannah from NRRA provided an update on ‘Coordinating our approach to reducing disaster risks’, sharing the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework established a strategic foundation for reform.

  • It seeks to drive systemic change to how we manage risk.
  • It reflects a shift in emphasis from individual resilience to targeted system-wide intervention.
  • It recognises that while a shared responsibility, disaster risk is not often shared equally.

Hannah also gave an update on the extensive engagement that the NRRA have been having with all levels of Government, from conversations to online discovery sessions, webinars, face to face workshops, cross-sector leadership panel, survey, deep dives, and summit. This has truly provided the opportunity for people to be heard.

Unearth has been privileged to have supported the NRRA in some of these engagements, including this workshop, where Iain did a remarkable job in facilitating the discussion, getting input from everyone in the room, and encouraging attendees to share their experiences and stories. It was an incredibly valuable session and the feedback from the attendees was positive and appreciative of the opportunity for their voices to be heard.

What stood out for me… all stories, all pathways led back to the importance of protecting, supporting, and preparing our residents (people) in communities. After all, people are the heart of the community. And no two communities are exactly the same, so it is important to support them and their unique needs. It is about understand and respecting those differences.

Opportunities to speak directly with Mayors and Councillors

There are 537 councils within Australia and over half are regional, rural, or remote. The ALGA NGA was an opportunity for thousands of representatives (Mayors, Councillors, CEO’s, General Managers etc) of these councils to meet and attend sessions.

The sessions also included inspiring and heartfelt speeches by:

  • His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC
  • Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency Management
  • Zali Steggall OAM, Independent Federal Member, Warringah
  • Stan Grant, Australian Journalist and Author on Global Democracy
  • The Ukraine Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko
  • And many other sessions with local and overseas Mayors and Councillors

It was also an opportunity for the Unearth Team to meet with some of the Mayors and Councillors, including Cr Steve Krieg, Mayor for City of Lismore, Cr Ruth Robins and Cr Michael Regan, Mayor of Northern Beaches NSW. Each of these Councillors had been through heavy flooding in the past months that have challenged and tested their communities.

It reinforces our approach

Listening in some of the sessions and the comments from attendees of the ALGA NGA, it has cemented, for me, that we need to go beyond restore, repair, rebuild and replace, and re-think our disaster recover approach. It reinforces that the work we are doing in Unearth and our unique approach is exactly what is needed. Putting Recovery First and planning under blues skies (PUBS) is what is needed. Checking if councils can pass the PUBS test? And it is not about starting the discussion tomorrow… it is about starting today!

Because it is not about being able to recite what we have done but how we have made people feel.

Reach out to learn more about the PUBS test.

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