As the Bureau of Meteorology confirms that La Niña conditions are now active, Australia needs to prepare itself for a potential summer of flooding not experienced since the devastating 2010-11 season. Yet the October Federal budget has kept the Natural Disaster Resilience Program at 2009 levels which is a 20% reduction in investment in real terms. To be fair, the Treasurer did state in his budget speech that further funding would be announced in response to the findings of the National Natural Disaster Arrangements Royal Commission.
But why wait? Currently 97% of disaster funding is spent on clean-up and recovery, compared to 3% on resilience and mitigation. Five years ago, the Productivity Commission recommended that this imbalance needed to be redressed. This month we report that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority warns we will have to spend $3.5 billion a year to prepare for climate-related disasters now to avoid paying 11 times more in post-disaster response. The current $21 million investment by the Federal Government, even when it is matched by State and Local governments, falls well short of that mark.
The Royal Commission’s report made a total of 80 recommendations and while many are specific to bushfire, a large number are applicable to all hazards, including floods. Not only does it recommend better understanding of the risks, better emergency planning for credible events and improved community education but it strongly recommends that the risk exposure of individual properties be communicated to individuals. While many individuals and elected officials don’t like to hear or don’t want to believe such information, continuing to hide or ignore it only magnifies disasters when they occur. There is also a strong emphasis on improved land use planning and building resilience for natural hazards.
It will be interesting to see how the Federal Government and other levels of government respond to these recommendations. The Commissioners’ report says, “support is one thing – action is another”. Action only happens when funds are available. Are today’s governments prepared to properly invest in risk reduction or will the escalating costs of disaster recovery be continued to be passed on to tomorrow’s governments, communities, businesses and individuals? The coming days are likely to be revealing.