“We’re Angry”: Lismore Residents Respond To Scott Morrison’s Tokenistic Flood Tour

"You have chosen to be in this position. Put your shoulders back and do more...It's really hard to be pleasant towards that man right now."

Lismore Floods

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Flood victims in Lismore say they’re feeling underwhelmed and helpless after Prime Minister Scott Morrison popped in on Wednesday.

On his first official duty since contracting COVID last week, Morrison touched down in the regional NSW town in the morning and was met with protestors concerned with the unaddressed link between the devastating floods and climate change where he was due to give a press conference.

Even the Mayor of Lismore said he was left feeling doubtful after Morrison’s appearance, and on the morning of the trip didn’t even know if he would be speaking to the Prime Minister at all.

Only a personal photographer accompanied Morrison after the media were banned from tagging along in a bid to prevent a repeat of his disastrous handshake photo-op blunder during the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

Time To Step Up

More than 3000 homes have been lost so far around the Northern Rivers as a record 14.37 metre water level engulfed the region.

Kymberlee Strow and her wife Sarah share a newly renovated house and cafe in Lismore, but both buildings have been wiped out in the last 11 days. They’ve lost most of their possessions to the water and subsequent mud, after their last small business was also damaged by the floods of 2017.

But it’s not just the financial loss of the building — she grieves the significance it holds as a place for people to come together, and its staple presence on the town’s main street.

When Junkee asked how the Prime Minister’s visit was received by the community, all she could do was laugh. “My boyfriend Scotty, him and I are having a long-distance relationship at the moment,” she joked. “We’re angry, we’re so upset at the lack of leadership.”

While on tour, Morrison announced his plans to ask the Governor-General on Friday to formally declare the floods a national emergency in both NSW and Queensland, as well as an extension of the Disaster Recovery Payment scheme for affected residents, according to the ABC.

But Strow said after so many exhausting days in Lismore, his gestures and words aren’t enough. “You could’ve gotten on the TV, on the radio, on social media and sent hope to this community that we were going to be looked after,” she addressed to Morrison.

“You have chosen to be in this position. Put your shoulders back and do more,” she said. “It’s really hard to be pleasant towards that man right now.”

Community Matters

Strow said that despite the experiences she and her neighbours have gone through, everyone is still opening their hearts to tackle the one-in-1000-year flood together.

“People have lost everything, and what they have left, they are giving to people who have less,” she said .”They have opened their houses to strangers, people looking after other people’s kids and animals, and stepping in to help clean.”

“The community effort has been nothing short of unbelievable…”

“Every single aspect of this disaster in every single town or community affected [is] completely horrific. It’s so overwhelming,” said Rachel Franks, a local resident who’s been helping with mutual aid efforts.

She told Junkee that while most of the damage has already been done, they’re all concerned with the aftermath and those still waiting for help in neighbouring towns. “We’re still worried about the communities behind Coraki and all the way out — many of them Aboriginal communities — that we haven’t even reached yet. They’ve been out there for [over] 10 days without comms or supplies.”

Meanwhile, a collective of flood crisis operations groups in the wider Northern Rivers area said the dozens of community coordinators and thousands of volunteers have been the backbone of recovery efforts, especially given how “there’s much work done already, and so much more to do”.

They said in a statement that they have seen on-ground supply drops, air rescues, evacuations via tinnies and four-wheel drives, welfare checks, supplies organised for evacuation centres, as helping respond to distress calls when SES and 000 couldn’t respond.

“The community effort has been nothing short of unbelievable and a true testament to what an agile and immediate community response looks like,” they said. “It’s been a massive flood event and so many of us are living with trauma and stories that will take days, weeks, months, and years to recover and rebuild.”

Next Steps Forward

As many continue to return home to assess and clean up the extensive damage, Lismore locals don’t want to hear any more words but need to see action from the Perrottet and Morrison governments. Despite their tireless efforts during the crisis, they continue to buckle up and get the job done, while they wait for well overdue support.

“The community needs funds, we need [more] army. Now volunteers have run out so there’s people emptying their houses alone because there’s no one around,” said Strow. “There’s already a housing crisis here, people need community housing that is safe and sustainable, so they can rebuild their lives.

“It’s really important for everyone to know that Lismore doesn’t sink. This will be rough, but with help, we’ll come out of the other side.”

Photo Credit: GetUp!/Twitter