Australia has experienced a natural catastrophe “trigger event” that is transforming the approach to disaster resilience and recovery, the new head of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) says.
The national change started with the Black Summer bushfires in 2019, followed by later catastrophes and had been reinforced by the record-breaking floods in Queensland and NSW this year, NEMA Coordinator-General Brendan Moon said.
“This is our trigger event,” he told the Insurance Council of Australia annual conference. “You short change your community if you don’t make a serious attempt at reducing risk into the future.”
Mr Moon said the Federal Government had decided “enough is enough” in moving to take a “system-wide approach” with the establishment of NEMA, which brings together two agencies and which will work across governments and with the insurance and other sectors on resilience and mitigation.
Cyclone Yasi in 2011 had been the trigger event in Queensland, Mr Moon said, leading to the creation of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA), which he led prior to his appointment to NEMA in September.
QRA was seeing towns and regions in the past few years that had been repeatedly hit by disasters even before the catastrophe this year unfolded, he told the conference.
“We found our communities in a permanent state of recovery, reconstruction and declining ability to deal with those climatic events, and then the floods hit,” he said.
Lismore Mayor Stephen Krieg told the conference his goal is for the NSW regional city to become a model for others in the way it recovers following this year’s catastrophe, but lack of insurance availability is an issue, including for the shopping centre and the local cinema.
The Northern Rivers region has received $800 million in federal and state funding for home raising retrofitting and buy backs.
“We want to build back better in a way that the rest of the country can follow,” Mr Krieg said.
Federal Emergency Management Minister Murry Watt also told the conference the Government was shifting the focus towards resilience and had taken action in the Budget.
“As a country, we have to be better prepared for the next disaster, and then better prepared for the disaster after that – the human toll is too great, and the impact on communities is too large for us to fail,” Mr Watt said.
“I really do think that we can create a more resilient country, not only through mitigation but also through the protection of insurance cover.”