Time to Rethink Disaster Relief Legislation

In the midst of the tragedy of the floods in Queensland and Victoria there emerges an opportunity for the Federal Parliament to fix Australia’s outdates and inefficient flood risk legislation. As it now stands the Federal government plays only a minor role in managing Australia’s flood risk. The states have responsibility for managing flood risk, and they have kicked the can down to local councils. Local councils do not implement a uniform standard of what constitutes a flood, what is considered risk-worthy, nor what is regarded as appropriate protection. It is, in short, a shambles.

It’s not like Australia is Bangladesh. We don’t have floods constantly threatening, but when it does flood, it is a monster. According to the Australian Bureau of Metereology since Federation there have been 11 REALLY BIG floods. In years past government has stepped in after the fact to offer compensation, but there is no forward looking by parliaments or councils. Thus we have the stories from Tawoomba and elsewhere of flood insurance that doesn’t live up to expectations.

In the US the Federal Emergency Management Administration manages the flood insurance program. The program ensures 1) uniform application of rules, 2) guarantees payment for those who have flood insurance, and 3) provides transparent administrative appeal. Mortgage holders who own property in zones deemed to be a flood risk are required by Federal legislation to purchase flood insurance. The premiums for flood insurance are set at the federal level, but the insurance is purchased through private providers.

Closer to home New Zealand manages insuring the risk of damage from earthquake and flood through the Earthquake Commission. According to their website it “insures against damage caused by earthquake, natural landslip, volcanic eruption, hydrothermal activity, tsunami; in the case of residential land, a storm or flood; or fire caused by any of these.” NZ insurers collect fees for earthquake insurance and coverage is capped at $100,000 per insured property.

The floods in Australia, as shocking as they were, have historical antecedents. Why not stop kicking the can down the road and develop rules and funds to cover the economic loss threatened by flood?