Flood inquiry finds serious failures by agencies and calls for Resilience NSW to be scrapped

A scathing report into the devastating 2022 New South Wales floods has found government agencies including the SES “failed” in the “greatest time of need” and has recommended the lead recovery agency, Resilience NSW, be abolished.

The upper house inquiry into the deadly flooding events made 21 findings and 37 recommendations, including a call for the state government to finalise long-term housing plans for flood-affected residents in places like Lismore.

Thirteen people died in the floods between February and April 2022, according to the SES commissioner, Carlene York. More than 4,000 properties were deemed uninhabitable and more than 10,000 damaged.

Among the failures identified in the report was a clunky grants delivery process that “compounded the trauma” for flood-affected people who were asked to repeatedly relive the events and provide documentation that had washed away.

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It found the grant processes were “confusing and cumbersome” and the delayed rollout of assessors “was a missed opportunity to manage fraudulent claims”.

A separate independent inquiry into the disaster is also expected to recommend Resilience NSW be abolished and land buy-back schemes established. The findings of that review have been handed to the government more than a week ago but have yet to be released.

On Tuesday, the upper house inquiry found response agencies failed to coordinate between themselves and the state government. It said the agencies, as well as the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), were not prepared for the scale of the flooding.

“Some agencies were criticised for treating it as a nine to five business operation,” the report read.

The inquiry found the SES issued “out of date, inaccurate and confusing messages” and government agencies and telco providers failed to provide sufficient emergency communications.

It recommended the SES and the BoM look at integrating more local knowledge from communities and media into their work to improve their flood predictions and warnings.

It also found that a drop in the number of SES volunteers ahead of the floods had led to response issues and recommended the state government launch a recruitment drive before the next major natural disaster.

The Labor MP Walt Secord, who chaired the inquiry, said the focus had to be on “the enormous task of clean-up, restoration and reconstruction”.

“The NSW government must work with much greater urgency to secure temporary housing options as many continue to live in tents and cars near their homes,” he said.

“The committee also calls on the government to finalise its long-term housing options and ensure that it considers investing in supporting relocations, land swaps, and providing fair compensation for landowners who wish to relocate from severely flood-impacted areas.”

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The committee recommended a senior police officer with combat experience be charged with leading recovery efforts.

Separate to the parliamentary inquiry, the independent report by Prof Mary O’Kane, the chair of the Independent Planning Commission, and Mick Fuller, a former NSW police commissioner, is likely to include future disaster mitigation recommendations, including a possible land buy-back or swap scheme.

Guardian Australia understands it could be weeks before that report is released – a delay that has caused widespread frustration among Lismore residents.

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This comes as the federal government committed to a new disaster mitigation project.

The federal emergency management minister, Murray Watt, promised to honour spending commitments made in the dying days of the former Morrison government including to spend $200m annually on its Disaster Ready Fund, a revamp of the former government’s Emergency Response Fund.

In March the then emergency management minister, Bridget McKenzie, had announced $75m for each state in recovery and resilience work. McKenzie later announced a further $50m for 15 flood mitigation projects nationwide.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Watt said the new government was still finalising legislation to establish its new fund, but would follow through with the previous government’s commitments.