Depleted workforce and housing impact to remain severe challenges, BCCM tells 2022 NSW Floods Inquiry

20 May 2022

  • Shortage of workers hampers Northern Rivers flood recovery
  • BCCM and CA call for a co-operative labour pool model to attract and retain workers
  • Entire suburbs of co-operative housing could address local and worker needs
  • A National Co-operative Disaster Recovery Centre of Excellence would build community resilience

The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) and the Northern Rivers Co-operatives Alliance (CA) today issued a joint call for workforce renewal and housing needs to be prioritised in flood-ravaged areas of the North Coast.

The BCCM and CA today lodged their submission to the independent expert inquiry into the preparation for, causes of, response to and recovery from the 2022 catastrophic flood event across the state.

In March, the NSW Government engaged Professor Mary O’Kane AC and Michael Fuller APM to lead the inquiry, with submissions closing today.

BCCM CEO Melina Morrison said:  “Globally, there has been recognition that effective disaster preparedness and recovery is achieved by putting affected people at the centre.  This means ensuring risks are understood and managed locally and the recovery is community-led and locally informed.”

Co-operatives and mutuals are embedded in the NSW communities that were impacted by the floods. In the Northern Rivers there are more than 30 co-ops and mutuals operating across agriculture, fisheries, banking, housing, health, retail, media and community services.

CA members have identified workforce and housing as two key regional challenges for longer-term recovery and resilience in the Northern Rivers.

A key BCCM and CA recommendation to the inquiry is that a co-operative labour pool model be developed to attract and retain the workforce needed in the region’s key industries.

“It’s clear there’s been a significant strain on the workforce in the region through the bushfires, COVID and floods, hampering the ability of the local economy to rebuild,” said Ms Morrison. “A co-operative labour pool structure could build on such successful examples as New Zealand’s Seasonal Solutions Co-op.”

Ms Morrison said a substantial hurdle in retaining and attracting the necessary workforce was the housing situation.

“With thousands of dwellings rendered uninhabitable, local people are struggling to find accommodation and it’s also proved very difficult to get in outside workers,” said Ms Morrison.  “That’s why there needs to be some lateral thinking on this.”

“We urge this inquiry to consider a co-operative shared equity or Community Land Trust solution for efficient construction and affordable and secure tenure of new housing in non-flood prone areas,” she said.

“The land is there, and entire suburbs can be built and managed as co-operatives, such as the New York City examples of Co-op City or Rochdale Village,” Ms Morrison added.

CA member The Casino Food Co-op is actively considering this option with land it has available.

The BCCM and CA also recommended the Government work with them to form a National Co-operative Disaster Recovery Centre of Excellence.

As a partnership between Government and the co-operative movement, the Centre would foster better prepared local Councils and communities.

“It could ensure the development of research, good practice guidelines and training resources for Councils and communities where they were most needed,” said Ms Morrison.

“If it was based in Lismore, say, it would be at the epicentre of the most recent disaster and be able to more effectively support a stronger co-operative movement with the resources, experience and know-how to face the next similar event.”

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