The torrential rains and subsequent flooding that hit WA this month caused a considerable amount of damage in the Goldfields and it will be some time before repairs are completed.
Some of the northern shires in the region have already indicated to me that the cost of recovery works will be in the millions of dollars, while Ravensthorpe is looking at costs of up to $15 million to restore their damaged infrastructure.
The total damage bill will be substantial – the main priority at this time is to ensure we re-open the region’s roads and help the worst-affected areas to economic recovery.
The Federal and WA Governments will provide assistance through the jointly-funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA).
However, the rules around this funding are affecting the ability of local councils to complete road engineering work by using their own resources and this must be rectified.
Under the current structure of the NDRRA, councils are prohibited from using their own staff and earth moving equipment to undertake disaster recovery work by ‘day labour’ rules.
The Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, last week advised me that the Federal Government has formally offered the West Australian Government an exemption to the day labour rules.
This exemption would allow councils to utilise their own staff and equipment when undertaking disaster recovery works and seek reimbursement of those costs under the NDRRA.
If local governments are forced to use private contractors, the tender process will delay the beginning of recovery works and given the enormous amount of work to be completed, the high demand for contractors is likely to inflate costs.
Councils have also advised they can reduce the cost of repair work by up to 30 per cent if permitted to use their own resources, and in my view, this is the most responsible use of public funds.
I have spoken to numerous local governments in my electorate this week and the feedback was unanimous: the day labour restrictions are undoubtedly the greatest inhibitor to recovery efforts from natural disasters like this event.
Last week I formally wrote to the WA Minister for Emergency Services, Joe Francis, and requested the State Government take up this exemption.
I have also spoken with the Office of Emergency Management to find out how we can progress this as a matter of urgency.
My message to councils in the Goldfields is we are working on removing the restrictions around WANDRRA funding and I hope we will see a result in the very near future.
The most important thing for the Goldfields, and the State, is to repair the damaged infrastructure and minimise the long-term impacts of a once-in-a-lifetime weather event.