NSW floods inquiry proposes major resilience reforms

Report proposes 'self-funding' insurance model for export industries

An independent inquiry requested by the NSW Government into this year’s catastrophic floods has recommended land-use planning reforms and the creation of a new authority to drive mitigation and risk reduction.

Inquiry co-leaders Mary O’Kane and Mick Fuller make 28 recommendations, with all either supported by the State Government or supported in principle pending further work.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says the recommendations provide a blueprint for change and practical actions to ensure communities and government can prepare for floods in the future and recover faster.

“Work will start on implementing a number of the recommendations immediately, while other recommendations will require further work and be implemented in stages, with ongoing community consultation and engagement,” he said today.

The inquiry says much of NSW is prone to natural disasters and a central theme of the report is the need for a renewed and strengthened emphasis on sustained preparedness.

“Consequently, the report focuses strongly on being prepared for, and resilient to, flood and other natural disasters,” the executive summary says.

The inquiry recommends a new NSW Reconstruction Authority that would work with local governments on disaster adaptation plans.

It proposes planning instruments discouraging, and in many cases forbidding, development in disaster-likely areas and recommends “urgently commencing” a phased program to migrate people from the highest risk areas of the Lismore and other Northern Rivers floodplains. It flags land swaps and voluntary home purchases, with priority given to most vulnerable community members.

Resilience NSW, which has been criticised for its response to the floods, would be “reshaped” and become Recovery NSW to ensure a more streamlined agency focussed on the first 100 days post disaster.

The report says that the Government, as part of a “multi-pronged, decadal” strategy should encourage financial institutions and insurance companies to use pricing structures to incentivise construction of more safely-situated and resilient buildings.

The Government should also adopt a Disaster Cost Benefit Framework to enable a “more systematic prioritisation of investment options in risk mitigation before, during and immediately following a natural disaster event”, it says.

The framework would be used when looking at measures such as levees and dams, property modifications and finance-related options including a restructure or reduction of stamp duty, direct subsidies, government reinsurance pools or other possibilities.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) says it particularly welcomes recommendations on land use planning changes and the relocation of homes from the most flood-prone areas.

“The O’Kane-Fuller Inquiry sets out the risks posed by extreme weather at a regional and local level, and if its recommendations are properly implemented will significantly enhance the state’s capability to prepare for future events,” CEO Andrew Hall said.

“We commend the NSW Government on its willingness to listen to the experts, make the significant investments needed, and we look forward to working with the new Reconstruction Authority.”

The Government says further detail on the implementation of all 28 recommendations will be released later this year.

The inquiry report notes the risk that the impetus to make changes following catastrophes can fade as events recede into the past.

“It is the inquiry’s observation that it is not uncommon for the ‘long tail’ of disasters to enable a sort of ‘collective amnesia’, which in turn makes a collective volte-face possible – leaving behind those most affected,” it says.