The Treasurer offered much needed support for flood-affected communities in New South Wales and southeast Queensland. However, his ambition to deliver these communities “hope, work and the prospect of returning to a better life” will fall short unless he addresses a key underlying problem.
That is the phenomenon responsible for exacerbating natural disasters in Australia (like the ongoing floods in NSW and Queensland, and the Black Summer bushfires in the summer of 2019-20), namely climate change.
The Australian government has never undertaken a national risk assessment to understand how vulnerable Australia is to climate change. Nor has it come up with a National Adaptation Plan – so all it can do is lurch from one natural disaster to the next.
The Flood Package, to address the ongoing floods in NSW and Queensland, includes $245 million in disaster recovery payments to residents in flood-impacted areas, $150 million for significant infrastructure damage, and $150 million for recovery and post-disaster resilience measures in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. These allocations are dwarfed by the current bill of damage caused by the floods, estimated to be over $6 billion.
The Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants Program is receiving $116.4 million in additional funding over three years from 2021-22 to “provide increased support for community projects to assist with recovery and resilience”. This brings the total amount allocated to the program to $500 million. Pittance compared to the damage estimates that run up to $100 billion.
Natural disasters are increasing in number and impact, costing the Australian economy $38 billion per year. That figure is projected to rise to $73 billion per year by 2060 – and that’s in a low emissions scenario. Under the (more likely) high emissions scenario the annual cost increases to $94 billion, with climate change doubling the cost of coastal flooding and bushfires.
This mounting damage bill from climate change won’t surprise many. In fact, 82% of Australians recognise that climate change is likely to cause or is already causing more extreme weather events. But the government is failing to direct sufficient funding to responding or adapting. The Australia Institute has called for a levy on Australia’s fossil fuel exports to help pay for climate change-related natural disasters. Every dollar of the proposed National Climate Disaster Fund would go directly to paying the costs of climate related disasters that are ultimately being caused by these very exports. Three out of five (61%) Australians support this levy which forces those who profit from climate change (fossil fuel producers) to help cover the cost of the impacts.
There were a few smaller response measures including: $53 million over five years to recover and conserve koala populations and habitats; $10 million over two years for mental health support for first responders; and $95.6 million over 9 years for the Great Barrier Reef (to deal with things like run-off); and $84.5 million over 4 years from the Future Drought Fund to “improve the drought readiness and resilience of Australian farmers and communities”. Helpful but relatively small efforts in the face of a major, and long ignored problem.