IT WAS a full house at the Murwillumbah Services Club for the Flood Recovery Forum hosted by the Murwillumbah & District Business Chamber in conjunction with the NSW Chamber of Commerce this morning (Friday, April 7).
More than 200 people turned out to voice some of their experiences with expressions of anger including unanswered questions as well as acknowledging those who helped during one of the worst natural disasters in Tweed’s history.
The meeting attracted a range of speakers including O’Connors Transport owner Paul O’Connor and his wife Sue, South Murwillumbah Post Office owner Katherine Butterworth, Mayor Katie Milne, Euan Ferguson from the NSW Premier’s Office, Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors Warrick Le Hood and sporting great and NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley alongside local business owners and locals.
The meeting also included panel members who fielded questions including Member for Lismore Thomas George MP, Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot MP, Tweed Police Superintendent Wayne Starling , Council GM Troy Green and Chris Christosmos from the SES.
Mr O’Connor was invited to speak about the devastating impact to his trucking business which along with neighbouring businesses, in the southside industrial area, which were inundated by floodwaters and have a growing list of expensive resources damaged beyond repair.
Mr O’Connor said the company has eight sheds and is currently operating out of one 24-hours per day, with his staff putting in an enormous effort.
“Support from the staff and whole town has been amazing,” he said.
“I would like to acknowledge and thank the local council, teachers and all those helping to clear out our sheds.”
Mr O’Connor and his wife Sue were about to have their 70th anniversary when the flood hit them hard with questions looming over the company’s future.
“Couldn’t be prouder of the town and the people that have supported us here. Support the businesses in Murwillumbah,” Mrs O’Connor said.
O’Connor’s Transport lost millions-of-dollars in stock and its own equipment and truck damages also running into the millions, he said several businesses including Stone & Wood had already called Mr O’Connor to say they would replace the stock, essentially carrying the debt.
“Stone & Wood has been amazing and they sent several of their staff with food and help, it was such a big help and then they did it again the next day,” Mr O’Connor said.
Murwillumbah & District Business Chamber acting president Ilse Jaunberzins said Murwillumbah businesses are the “grid of Murwillumbah, the structure that holds the whole social fabric together”.
“The grid is micro to macro buisnesses, agriculture, arts, manufacturing, tourism commercial and service.
“Everyone in business in Murwillumbah has been affected – everyone.”
“We are at a critical point that businesses are at risk of closing,” she said.
“They need support from locals and continued support.”
South Murwillumbah Post Office owner Katherine Butterworth questioned the response from Tweed Shire Council as well as State and Federal local Police, and asked why the army was not called to assist.
“Why couldn’t more have been done when the businesses needed it most, why couldn’t the army have been called in to help,” Mrs Butterworth questioned.
Mrs Butterworth also criticised a Police patrolling vehicle who she said visited South Murwillumbah, after reports of looting, but the officer(s) “did not get out of their car”.
She did heap plenty of praise on on the broader emergency services response and on volunteers including the Mustangs and all the extra support from the community to help in the recovery.
Mayor Milne said Council was considering voluntary house purchasing and encouraged those wanting to move on to speak to council.
The meeting also raised criticism over low interest loans, which have been offered to a maximum of $130,000, and were encouraged by Councillor Pryce Allsop.
Cr Allsop said a small business could use the funds to ensure they recover strong and “they don’t have to use it all”.
The interest rate on the loan is free for a initial period followed by interest at around 1.5 per cent.
“All I’m saying is you can use the funds and when you can to recover and then give back what you don’t need,” he said.
Emotions were running high during the meeting and several questions angered some during the forum, although everyone agreed the community can recover.
The meeting also called for a rally to take place on Friday, April 14, to call on the government to provide greater assistance.
Federal member for Richmond Justine Elliot said she was going to put more pressure on the State Government to lift the disaster zone category to a Category C which would allow further support.
“We need to get this new category C listing to get the State Government to give what’s needed in the affected communities.”
Member for Lismore Thomas George said he disagreed with Mrs Elliot’s call for a Category C listing.
“I don’t think the category C listing is what is need as Justine suggested,” he said.
“Because it wont help unless the right assistance is directed to the right places,”
All politics aside, Blues Coach Laurie Daley attended the meeting, arriving early to meet with locals and fans and staying late.
Mr Daley gave an impassioned speech that he said compared to speeches he would give his players, and he also emphasised a committment to help where possible.
“As everyone knows the Blues are training in the Tweed Shire this May and I want you to know we’re going to do everything we can to help out as much as possible,” he said.
“One thing we always talk about in rugby league is an acronym called WIN, what’s important now and what’s important next.
“That’s what I give my advice for them to focus on for the whole 80 minutes.
“I want to say to you we’re in the community for the next two months.”
Mr Daley said people need to keep talking to each other especially men.
“You need to care for one another look out for one another, stick together and work hard and in five years time you’ll look back and know you fought back.
“I’ll be back in about two weeks time, but again make sure you look after one another and stick together.”
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