The Australian Labor Party is pledging a whopping $200 million a year to go directly towards building robust disaster prevention mechanisms across Australia.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese reiterated nationwide calls that Australia should be working to mitigate the effects of natural disasters before they strike, rather than simply funnelling funds in the form of disaster relief payments.
The $200 million a year figure will pull from an existing Emergency Response Fund set up in 2019 by the incumbent Liberal government amidst Australia’s severe “Black Summer” bushfires.
“When there is a disaster, what tends to happen is that people then focus their attention, but we need to focus their attention when there’s not a disaster,” Albanese told ABC radio.
Over the last five decades, Australia has experienced the brunt of severe droughts, bushfires, cyclones, and flooding, of which the Black Summer bushfires had been the most damaging at an estimated cost of over $100 billion.
Most recently, the Queensland city of Maryborough CBD had to be evacuated over the weekend after floodwaters surged into the city through the stormwater drains after Cyclone Seth dumped torrential rain in parts of the state.
“We need to better prepare by investing in projects like flood levees and sea walls and evacuation centres and firebreaks,” Albanese said.
The Productivity Commission estimates 97 percent of all disaster funding is spent on post-incident cleanup, with just 3 percent spent on preparing for the future.
Albanese announcement comes after the current Morrison government announced in May 2021, that it would spend $600 million over six years for the Preparing Australia Program in reply to the recommendations of a royal commission into Australia’s financial response to natural disasters. This followed the creation of the $4 billion Emergency Relief Fund three years ago.
However, Albanese said he believed that the funding remained underutilised in preparation for future events.
“They have only spent $17 million, and there isn’t a single disaster readiness project that has been completed, not one,” he told Sunrise.
The announcement has been met with praise from the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), the peak body for all of the nation’s local governments.
ALGA President Linda Scott said the decision was vital in supporting local governments that otherwise had no financial means to prepare for serious events.
“Physical mitigation measures such as flood levees and stormwater catchments can be expensive, especially for small rural, coastal, and riverine councils with small ratepayer bases,” Scott said.
“If local governments are to reduce and manage the impacts of future natural disaster events on our communities, we need increased support and certainty of funding.”
Scott also said that new analysis had revealed the move would provide new jobs and stimulate the nation’s economic recovery.
“Independent analysis we’ve commissioned shows that a $200 million per year investment in disaster mitigation would create up to 1833 new jobs and add $280 million to our nation’s GDP,” she said.
The move was also welcomed by the Insurance Australia Group (IAG).
“Not only does investment in mitigation have the benefit of helping to protect lives, homes, businesses and critical infrastructure, it helps to reduce the extensive cost of recovering from these disasters,” IAG Managing Director and CEO Nick Hawkins said.
The billions in damages caused by the Black Summer bushfires included the destruction of thousands of homes and buildings.
“Today, across the country, we have communities suffering the impacts of cyclones, floods and bushfires. It’s critical that we continue to see focus and investment from all levels of government on identifying opportunities for protecting vulnerable communities and making it happen,” Hawkins said.