Record floods in the Kimberley have highlighted long-standing bureaucratic headaches and delays surrounding disaster road repairs that ultimately put driver safety at risk, two local shires have warned.
Every year, the region's dirt roads are pounded by wet season storms with local shires able to apply for federal and state disaster relief funding to undertake repairs.
But two shires in the Kimberley say the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) application process is needlessly bureaucratic and plagued by delays, leaving flood-damaged roads that are already full of potholes to fall into further disrepair.
Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley chief executive Vernon Lawrence said the shire was still waiting on about $4 million in reimbursement from previous flood repair claims as a result of needless bureaucracy.
"We've got claims that are outstanding for items like a time sheet that didn't have the [right] numbers filled in, or a fuel docket where fuel was reimbursed, but the registration numbers of the trucks weren't available," he said.
"Claims are being held up for things like that … it's overly burdensome.
"Then you roll into another wet season, which adds another layer of complexity to it, so they merge disaster events."
The state and federal governments have acknowledged issues with the current system, with an independent review of disaster funding launched last week expected to report to the Commonwealth in April next year.
'A danger to everyone'
Neighbouring Shire of Derby-West Kimberley president Geoff Haerewa said last month's flooding disaster, which devastated cattle stations and communities in the Fitzroy Valley, helped press a strong case for the system to be improved.
"The proof will be in the pudding when it comes out, but at least we now have a disaster that has the nation's spotlight on it," he said.
"I know the state and federal ministers are now aligned in trying to change the way that the funding comes through … making the bureaucratic process a lot faster, a lot simpler, and we can get those roads done in a timely manner."
Mr Haerewa said if road repairs could not be undertaken in a timely manner, then driver safety was at risk.
"When you've got rough roads it's a danger to the drivers, it's a danger to the vehicles, it's a danger to everyone," he said.
Is the application worth it?
Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley, which has spent recent years lobbying for an easier system, is considering dropping an application for $11 million to repair flood damage to Kalumburu and Port Warrender roads.
The routes connect tourists, Indigenous residents, and pastoralists to a large part of the northern Kimberley, but Mr Lawrence said he had no confidence the shire would be reimbursed under the DRFA in a timely manner for the full cost.
"I can't take the risk of authorising someone to go out and spend five or six million dollars fairly quickly once the dry season comes," he said.
"I don't know where the cash is going to come from. I've got to pay wages. I've got to maintain the shire's finances on an even keel."
State government welcomes review
State Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said he welcomed the federal government's review into disaster recovery funding.
"I encourage shires and communities impacted by disasters to have their say on what did and didn't work in accessing recovery funding as part of the independent review," he said.
"This review is an important step forward in identifying what the state and Commonwealth can do to create a more efficient and simplified recovery funding model."
A Department of Fire and Emergency Services spokesperson said new disaster funding guidelines were put in place in 2018 following reports from the Productivity Commission and the National Audit Office.
"The owners of damaged public assets are required to provide more information about the damaged public asset, its condition prior to the natural disaster, and its function," they said.
"Additionally, specific qualifications are required for personnel approving the repair works to the public asset."
'Enter at your own risk'
Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley was separately trying to offload responsibility for Kalumburu and Port Warrender roads to the state government.
Mr Lawrence said that unless the disaster funding system could be improved, road users would continue to be disadvantaged.
"We've got an obligation to open up the road, but we'd have to put signs at the start of that road [that say], 'Enter at your own risk'," he said.
"We want a sensible, practical solution to getting these roads fixed as quickly as possible."