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NT councils say lack of coastal cyclone shelters puts Indigenous communities at risk

By Jon Daly, Tuesday November 17, 2020 - 08:05 EDT
ABC licensed image
Several NT communities were evacuated by the defence force during Cyclone Trevor last year. - ABC licensed

Regional councils in the Northern Territory say a lack of funding and focus on building cyclone shelters is leaving coastal Aboriginal communities exposed to danger and displacement.



"At the moment, the NT Government is not taking this very seriously," Matthew Ryan, Mayor of West Arnhem Regional Council, said.

Councillor Ryan said he had been lobbying for a new cyclone shelter to be built in the remote Indigenous community of Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, for several years.

"The NT Government should listen to the community's voices, and as a council that advocates on behalf of the community, we are carrying this message from the community, we're not making this stuff up," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's just like talking to a brick wall sometimes."

The NT Government said it was committed to providing safe cyclone shelters for remote coastal communities and pointed to a $5.5 million cyclone shelter built in the East Arnhem Land community of Ramingining in 2018.



La Nina brings increased cyclone risk

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting an average to slightly-above-average number of tropical cyclones for the 2020–21 Australian tropical cyclone season, which runs from November to the end of April.

That outlook is largely driven by the La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Roper Gulf Regional Council Mayor Judy MacFarlane said some communities were not adequately prepared for the increased risk of cyclones this season.

"We have a number of communities on our coastline which could possibly be impacted hugely with more cyclones coming in," Councillor MacFarlane said.

Cr MacFarlane said a new cyclone shelter that could accommodate 600 people was supposed to have been built and opened in the town of Borroloola, 670 kilometres south-east of Katherine, by this month, but building works had not even started.

"We were notified of this funding nearly 12 months ago, and [the project] still hasn't commenced," she said.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated from Borroloola, Numbulwar and other coastal communities in March 2019 as category-four Cyclone Trevor made its way across the Gulf of Carpentaria.



When cyclones strike communities, the federal government jointly funds disaster response and recovery efforts with the governments of the affected states or territories.

When Cyclone Trevor hit, the cost of evacuating the affected communities was about $2.5 million, with another $2 million provided to evacuees in Personal Hardship and Distress Payments in the recovery phase, according to the NT Government.

Cr MacFarlane said mass evacuations of the scale seen during Cyclone Trevor were not only expensive, but were traumatic for locals left displaced and dispossessed in the cyclone's wake.

"The financial sense to me is to look at putting that money into solid building structures in coastal communities," she said.

Cr MacFarlane said there needed to be a clear "action plan" and timelines for cyclone infrastructure in remote coastal communities.

"We've got a lot of communities out there along the coast, a lot of people live there, and, in all honesty, I think the government should be putting the safety of these people first and foremost."

Cost blowout delays shelter project



After Cyclone Trevor, the NT Government initially comitted $2.5 million of funding for a multipurpose cyclone shelter and sports facility at Borroloola, fit for 600 people.

Cr MacFarlane said the project was being led by the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL) and was supposed to have been finished this month.

"My understanding is that once it was investigated, the costing blew way out of what the budget was and they've had to go back and redo the whole project, basically, and as yet it still hasn't started," she said.



A spokesperson for NT Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Minister Eva Lawler said the scope of the project changed following further consultation with the community to include an extra basketball court, which required additional funding.

DIPL is working with Roper Gulf Regional Council to add an extra $2.9 million to the grant to total $5.4 million of government funding for the project, according to the spokesperson.

"The $6.9 million Borroloola Cyclone Shelter project is jointly funded by the NT Government ($5.4 million) and the McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust," the spokesperson said.



The NT Government's 2020/21 Budget commits $2.5 million to the project, but it is not clear when the extra $2.9 million funding will be budgeted.

NT Infrastructure Minister Ms Lawler said construction was now expected to begin mid next year.

"Construction of the new cyclone shelter in Borroloola will create local jobs and provide safety for the community's residents during tropical storms for many years to come," Ms Lawler said in a statement.



Cr Ryan also wants to see some funding commitments from the NT Government for a shelter in Maningrida.

"The NT Government needs to start working on cyclone shelters where they're really needed," Cr Ryan said.

"At the moment, it has all gone to the wayside to be honest."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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