It was great catching up with so many of you at the recent Floodplain Management Australia (FMA) conference and to hear of the advances which are being made on so many fronts.
I was particularly pleased to see the Bureau of Meteorology and NSW SES working with local communities to develop tailored flood warning systems, which is something we at Molino Stewart have been advocating for many years. Community input into flood warning system design is vital if the warnings are to convey the information which communities want to know, through the communication channels which communities use, to trigger actions that communities are able to take. The Tumbulgum Flood Warning and Response Service, which won the FMA NRMA Insurance Floodplain Risk Management Project of the Year this year, is a good example of that principle being put into practice. I am hoping to see more community-driven flood warning systems and products in the future.
I was also impressed by the highly commended project which was Brisbane City Council’s Flood Resilient Homes Program. This program is paying for the retrofitting or raising of existing houses to reduce damages from overland flooding where this is a more expeditious and less costly option than drainage infrastructure upgrades. In fact, speaking to some of the Brisbane City Council engineers who were on my table at the formal conference dinner, I learned that in some locations it is simply physically impossible to significantly reduce overland flooding through drainage works. With a budget of about $5m per year the project is not cheap, but it demonstrates what local government can achieve when it is of sufficient size to have the critical mass and economies of scale to make something like this work.
We also report this month on the huge boost that the Federal Government has given to disaster recovery in the 2019-20 Budget, including specific funding measures to deal with the recent floods in northern Queensland. It has recognised not only the direct costs of the flooding but the indirect and intangible impacts such as disrupted access to finance, medical care and schooling. It has also allocated funding for a program to deal with the mental health issues arising from natural disasters. These are all to be applauded but it is extremely disappointing that the Natural Disaster Resilience Program remains static at $26.1m per annum which is what it was 10 years ago and means it has reduced by 20% in real terms. The yawning gap between mitigation funding and recovery funding is widening year by year yet study after study shows that the return on investment from mitigation funding is far greater than that from money spent on recovery.
Furthermore, there are several reports which suggest that the flood impacts from climate change will be worse than formerly forecast and that a radical rethink is needed on how to respond to these changes. Even on current forecasts, Australian insurers and banks are suggesting in their risk reports that many properties will become uninsurable or unable to be financed in the not too distant future. This was a message also spelled out loud and clear at the FMA conference by keynote speaker Sarah Barker.
All levels of government need to be investing in disaster resilience for current and future climate scenarios. The present model of forking out for disaster recovery after each event is financially unsustainable in the long term, particularly if the costs escalate with climate change.