Lisa Cornthwaite - 4 February 2020

Lisa Cornthwaite addressed the Council regarding the recent bushfires at the Public Access Session on 4 February 2020.

I live and work in Bodalla. My trade is production horticulture, with long stints in welfare and employment policy.

I have owned & operated several restaurants, worked with community organisations facilitating labour market programs & training, and been employed by federal, state and local governments across the country.

Since moving to Eurobodalla, our primary business continues as Micro Energy Systems, an electrical contracting company specialising in Renewable Energy.  We work hard to retain a local workforce of between 6-10 employees and work closely with the South coast Health & Sustainability Alliance to encourage the uptake of Renewables in our region.

This unique synergy between small business and a not for profit community group has seen very real and very practical on the ground achievements made; this partnership has led the way in securing grant funding for a number of community organisations to reduce their energy use and costs, quite a few of which are tenants of council owned buildings and as such have benefited from our collective efforts.

We have installed in excess of 1.5 megawatts of rooftop solar, implemented recycling of Solar Systems to assist those who cannot afford them, facilitated information and training sessions for residents and business of the community and for the last 4 years worked on a regime of promoting Electric Vehicles and the required Infrastructure for the Eurobodalla … to which we are still watering the seed.

On the weekends through the growing season I operate a market garden established to promote fresh LOCAL produce using a community cooperative approach. Members volunteer their time in the garden a day a week in return for free produce and Horticulture training.

We collaborate with other market gardeners in the area to sell our wares.

I also facilitate our community’s newsletter; the Bodalla Moos to encourage local cohesion and am a proud member of the Bodalla Rural Fire Service.

As I have no doubt you are already aware, the recent bushfire crisis highlighted several issues relating to the local community’s ability to deal with, and respond, to crisis situations.

I would like to offer a personal observation; it would appear to me that our collective ethos seems to lack the necessary imperative to develop a clear and fundamental plan to deal with the inevitable results of critical changes in our environment.

It’s as if we are reacting to events rather than anticipating and planning accordingly.

And when we do react, it is often evident that the value of our efforts and services are somewhat misplaced…it is like as if no one is ‘talking’ to each other.

In view of this I am hoping that my personal perspective, both as a resident and business, and as a distillation of my conversations with the local Bodalla community may assist the council in planning and implementing measures for the future.

How many of you are aware of the Food hub that was set up in the Bodalla Community Hall immediately following the fires that ripped through the area, directly effecting friends and community at Nerrigundah, Cadgee, Belowra, Reedy Creek, Cheese Factory Rd, Waincourt .. and later Ganons point, Horse island and Bumbo Road; fires which took the lives of 3 members of our community.

This was a hub that was set up and run by a dozen or so volunteers from the community, many of which were themselves, directly impacted by the fires.

The hub facilitated emergency response for close to 2 weeks until Council and Government assistance could mobilise.  This hub negotiated food, water, clothing, bedding, cooking and medical supplies from private interstate donations using private property, machinery and transport to receive and disperse them. The hub also provided emergency accommodation and access to information and services which later came online.

Our records show this grass roots hub provided immediate assistance to over 500 families, 15 community organisations and 5 fire stations directly after impact of the initial fire crisis.

There is no doubt the events during and post fire threats have traumatised us.

They have made me think about how we do things and more importantly how we could be doing things.

I have been particularly disturbed by the way in which issues raised by the community are being received; specifically, from my own recent experience it would appear that emotion has suppressed the ability to look at these issues raised with objectivity. Appreciating these are trying times for all of us, the last time I checked it is OK to have a personal opinion, it is OK to raise issues for resolution, it is OK for a community to anticipate their local council and governments have strategic planning in place resultant from community collaboration.

The last time I checked it is NOT OK to have these issues met with ‘raw, defensive and hostile responses’, or overt bullying and intimidation.

So, I have collated concerns from the community in which I live as best as I am able, into the following points.

These are the issues which I feel need to be addressed and those that I am hoping to secure Council assistance with.

  1. Communication; there was very little.
    No power, no phone network, no radio coms meant there was very little to no communication.  What was received much later down the track and is still being issued by Council and Government Departments assumes our communities have access to social media, power and phone networks; this has proven a dangerous assumption.

    Perhaps we could investigate the feasibility of utilising gsm, satellite-based networks as well as more traditional wireless infrastructure as a backup to existing technologies…although reliance on technology cannot be the only solution.

    Perhaps more achievable and more useful, would be for us all, including the Council, to learn how to talk effectively amongst ourselves.
  2. Backup and emergency power facility; there was none at any of the critical hubs in Bodalla including but not limited to the RFS, Bowling Club, Community Hall or fuel stations.  
    It took small business like ours to donate the supply & Installation of a backup genset changeover to the Bodalla RFS, the Tuross RFS and the Potato Point RFS; generators had to be loaned by members of the community and yet these are council owned assets.  

    The Club was initially used as a mustering point for members of our community to take refuge in, however no back up power meant no food, no water, no communications, no lights, no sewerage.  A passing tourist trapped by the fires loaned the club a small petrol generator which ran lights until it ran out of fuel, because no power also meant no fuel. 

    Rolling out appropriate backup and emergency power facilities is not a difficult proposition, and one which I would like to see funded by Council rather than relying on donations from small business already haemorrhaging financially as a result of the fire crisis.
  3. Water & Fuel supply; critically we ran out of potable water and water for fighting fires.
    Extended power failure meant we had no sewage pump out and no fuel.RFS appliances unable to reach Firecom in Moruya had to access fuel from private sources. Surely the use of our own water and gravity fed fuel at emergency depots in or nearby Bodalla is also achievable.

    I would also like to propose the investigation of feasibility for back up power to support the sewerage pump out infrastructure; for eg: a battery storage and dedicated inverter back up for each pump out facility that would allow our sewerage infrastructure to maintain operation over extended periods without power.
  4. Evacuation hub & 1st responders’ medical station; There was no ‘evacuation centre’ for Bodalla or outlying areas.  In hindsight this would seem to be a major oversight.  
    When roads are blocked and residents from these small communities unable to evacuate to major hubs located on the highway, Bodalla naturally becomes a focal point.  Proof of this is evident from recent events where the police, emergency services, RFS and the army have located centralised facilities in Bodalla.  

    We already have existing council facilities which could be adapted for this purpose. Facilities such as the tennis courts which could accommodate appropriate infrastructure for emergency use with backup power, water & coms.  
    A 1st responders’ medical station would also be a welcomed addition in a regional area like ours.   

    Alternatively, these facilities could be established at existing community hubs such as the Bowling Club, with a Memorandum of Understanding put in place between the Council and the Club for these facilities to initiate and operate during such times.  Again, these are all very much achievable.

I would like to emphasise here the logistics of emergency response requires that we have the appropriate infrastructure and facilities here at Bodalla, not just in the larger centres, which proved to be completely inaccessible to most constituents in the local area.

Lastly, I would like to extend our gratitude to the Council at large for their collective efforts and re-iterate my personal belief that there is no delineation between local government and constituents – we are one and need to face adversity together, constructively.

Having said this I can only hope that my family’s fears of reprisals, from representing our community here today, due to executive rancour is unwarranted.

I would ask that the Council take this not as a direct criticism, but as a contribution towards the collective efforts of both the grass roots community and those, elected and in paid employment to serve them.