House debates

Wednesday, 26 October 2022


Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:24 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak on the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. In this year's election, Labor made a commitment to improving Australia's disaster readiness by investing up to $200 million a year on natural disaster resilience and mitigation initiatives, as recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2015. With this bill, we are taking a significant step in delivering on that promise.

In May 2022, former Governor of Queensland Paul de Jersey did an independent report in response to a recommendation decision that was made by the Brisbane City Council. It's just one demonstration, in a capital city, of the impact that disasters can have on our country. Twenty thousand homes in Brisbane, in 177 suburbs, were impacted by riverine, creek and overland flow from flooding in 2022. That is an astonishing number—177 suburbs in Brisbane. Mr Deputy Speaker, just imagine the impact on the tens and tens of thousands of people. Brisbane City Council took away 60,000 tonnes of flood impacted belongings after the flood. Three thousand streets had kerbside collection, engaged in by the Brisbane City Council workers. In the Brisbane and Ipswich areas there have been close to 20 major floods since 1840; in my lifetime, in 1974, 2011, 2013 and 2022.

Natural disasters are devastating. They're unpredictable, and, tragically, in this country they're inevitable. The full impact of any disaster, particularly the economic impacts, is not felt straightaway. The recovery is a very complex process and takes years. Assistance in relation to disasters is not just what the state or federal government or a council can do at the time. While great community organisations help out enormously, it takes a very long time. So any assistance to communities, whether they are in capital cities, like Brisbane, or regional areas, like mine—Ipswich and the Somerset region—is timely and important, and it is critical to our flood resilience.

In 1974, when it was a child, my parents' house was eight feet underneath the water. It took us years and years to recover. There were 74,000 people living in Ipswich, and 1,500 homes were inundated. In 2011, when 170,000 people were living in Ipswich—it's close to 250,000 now—3,000 homes were inundated. Hundreds of businesses were destroyed. In the Somerset region, in that flood, 470 properties were inundated. Over 700 streets in Ipswich in 2011 were inundated. The impact is enormous. This is something that affects communities, individuals and families, so it's particularly important that we get disaster resilience correct in this country.

In 2011, the cost in my electorate of Blair alone was estimated to be more than a billion dollars. For a period during the last Labor government I had the responsibility, under the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, of being in charge, from the Commonwealth point of view, of recovery after those 2011 floods. The impacts I saw as I travelled around Queensland were simply astonishing.

This legislation has been warmly welcomed. The Local Government Association has said:

Millions of Australians will … benefit from our new Government's $200 million per year Disaster Ready Fund, that will help protect high-risk communities from fires, cyclones and floods.

It has been supported by the Insurance Council of Australia, who commented that they had long called for the level of investment in resilience measures to be increased and they warmly welcomed the announcement by the then Labor federal opposition.

There's a lot of work to be done in this space. As Australians in Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria continue to clean up, our hearts go out to them. Not only have people been impacted through the loss of jobs, homes and businesses; people have died. Many people have died in my community since those floods in 1974 that I recalled being in as a child.

The amendments in this bill change the name of the former government's emergency response fund to the Disaster Ready Fund, allow $200 million to be debited from the DRF for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction, and allow the minister to adjust that maximum disbursement amount by a disallowable legislative instrument. I think that's a sensible move, to be honest with you. It will facilitate the transfer of responsibility for fund expenditure to the new National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and streamline administrative arrangements in this space.

Under the DRF $1 billion has been set aside over the next five years to mitigate potential disaster loss and damage. This is a fundamental program that is critical across Australian communities. The specific focus of this particular expenditure in the fund will help Australians deal with future catastrophic weather events. It's vital we invest in these communities. It's vital we reduce harm, loss of life, property loss, the impact on farms and businesses, the impact on economic productivity. It's critical we do this.

The previous government put aside $4 billion. But to not spend it on any disaster resilience program is just astonishing. It acted almost like an interest bearing deposit that grew up to $800 million but didn't spend any money. It's simply astonishing to me that they did that in 2019. The purpose was to spend part of this money and for this to be like a future fund but it never happened and it's quite extraordinary that they didn't do so. I think it's an absolute dereliction of responsibility by the previous government.

We're going to put these monies to work to keep Australians safe and to keep properties safe and reduce the cost of repair from natural disasters. I recall after the 2011 floods Deloitte Access Economics saying that if we spent $250 million we could save $12 billion, with respect to the cost to the taxpayer—of recovery from floods and natural disasters as well. So this is really important. Committing this money not only mitigates damage and saves lives but we know that every dollar spent saves at least $2—but up to $11—in recovery costs.

We're dedicating the DRF to natural disaster resilience and risk reduction. There will be a clear distinction in terms of different funding sources for recovery and resilience. The government will honour previous ERF commitments announced, including recovery elements. As part of what we're doing here, it's important to note that the recovery efforts will continue on the ground for those rural communities and the country towns and cities that are, tragically, being affected currently. Arrangements are always in place and dealt with regardless of who is in power at a federal level. This particular bill is dealing with one fund. In times of difficulty politics should be set aside to deal with disasters in a way that the people expect.

My region has been smashed by floods. It has been the greatest tragedy I've seen in my time in federal parliament, seeing how my community has been impacted and the loss of life, the damage, how people have been affected. When I see the pain that they experience it takes me back to my childhood.

In last night's budget I was pleased to see the $4 million that we allocated to Ipswich showgrounds in Blair. This delivers on a key election commitment that I announced with the Minister for Emergency Management earlier this year. It comes as a result of the initiative of the Ipswich Show Society. This includes $2.5 million for general upgrades as part of the stage three redevelopment of the showgrounds, an important step towards the Ipswich Show Society's ambitious plan for an Ipswich events and exhibition centre. But more importantly $1.5 million will be allocated for the DRF to improve amenities which will be utilised by a new emergency relief centre during disasters. This is our major location as an evacuation centre in Ipswich. It's commissioned and run by the show society. They do a mighty job. During the most recent floods in 2022 the council offices, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and many communitarians with great heart acted to assist hundreds of people who were impacted by the floods. These upgrades will include toilets, showers and privacy for locals as part of a purpose-built emergency relief centre for use by the entire region as emergencies strike. Ipswich is the fastest-growing city in Queensland and it needs adequate infrastructure to support the community. This is an absolutely critical piece of infrastructure to future-proof Ipswich against the impact of devastating natural disasters. Just last week, I met with representatives from the Ipswich Show Society, Darren Zanow and Denise Hanley, to discuss their plans for the showground's upgrade. I know they'll be delighted with the news coming out of the budget. The project will help my local community better prepare for floods and natural disasters.

I'm also pleased to see $3 million in the budget to support Ipswich City Council with flood recovery and resilience projects along the Bremer River and its tributaries. I also saw the council's commitment during the last federal campaign, and beforehand, to look at the creeks and tributaries into the Bremer River, which backlog and flood, such as the Bundamba Creek, the Mihi Creek, the Deebing Creek, the Woogaroo Creek and a whole range of other creeks. Last week, I had the Minister for Water and the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, up to Ipswich, where she met with the mayor and deputy mayor of Ipswich as well as council officers and stakeholders, who are doing a lot of work in relation to cleaning up the Bremer River and the like. This $3 million will go towards geoscience, flood gauging, revegetation and eradicating noxious weeds in the area. It will also look at issues in relation to PFAS and other issues. It's really critical because we know the Bundamba Creek and other creeks flood. We've seen the impact on schools and sporting clubs, such as the Ipswich Knights Soccer Club, the Ipswich Men's Shed, Brassall state primary school and Ipswich State High School, all as a result of these creeks backlogging and the water coming back through the Bremer River. I've got the Somerset Dam and the Wivenhoe Dam, the main water supply, in my electorate. So I'm pleased to see this $3 million partnering with the $1 million Ipswich City Council will contribute towards flood resilience and recovery as part of Labor's urban rivers project as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to meet with Ipswich homeowner Dirk de Vos, together with the Speaker, the member for Oxley, the Queensland Deputy Premier, Steven Miles, and the mayor of Ipswich. Dirk's home in Goodna was affected by the February floods and will now be bought back thanks to $740 million under the Resilient Homes Fund, a joint initiative delivered through the Commonwealth and state disaster recovery arrangements I referred to. Dirk and his family are leaving the member for Oxley's electorate. They are moving to Fernvale, a great country town in my electorate in the Somerset region. They're going to start a new life and they're looking forward to a bright future without fear of rising floodwaters. Dirk and his family have been through the floods twice.

As well as Dirk, I understand that dozens of Ipswich homeowners are now accepting offers for voluntary buybacks, with more to follow in coming months. I'm advised that a further 60 flood impacted homes in Ipswich have now been identified to proceed to independent property valuation as part of the program. This is a great outcome for those homeowners, and I commend the Ipswich City Council and the Queensland Labor government. This is a nation-leading program. I know it has bipartisan support, and I appreciate that. I want to thank the minister, the Palaszczuk Labor government and the Ipswich City Council for their efforts in working together to support these local residents.

So many people in my local area had their homes ravaged by the floods earlier this year. We can't stop the floods from occurring, but with proactive initiatives like this and the DRF we can take steps to reduce their impact. I have worked tirelessly, whether under this government, the previous government or the National Insurance Affordability Initiative that I announced with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard in February 2013, to improve flood resilience in Ipswich. Whether it was the bunt that we see near Thagoona, the flood issues and road infrastructure issues in and around Redbank Plains and Redbank Plains Road or the sandbagging equipment I got for the Ipswich City Council and the local SES, I worked hard in those areas because I know the impact that floods and natural disasters have on my community. I applaud Senator Watt, the relevant minister, for the work he's doing in this space. This is critical work for my community. If ever a bill were going to impact my community in a positive and beneficial way, it's this particular piece of legislation. I want to thank him very much for his commitment to the people of Ipswich and Somerset as well.

12:40 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I concur with the concerns of the member for Page about this particular bill, the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. The member for Page has been to hell and back and arrived there again with the floods in Lismore. He has led magnificently in trying times. But it's not just the member for Page who has led; it's particularly the first responders in his community and the ordinary, average, everyday Australians in that community who have risen magnificently to the challenges that they've confronted to do what they can to save lives and livelihoods. They have been a wonderful exemplar of what being a true Australian is in times of hardship.

Lismore has been absolutely smashed by floodwaters and, as we speak, is confronting the grim reality of rising waters again. But it's not just in the Northern Rivers and, indeed, that area of Australia. Inland New South Wales and the eastern states are currently very concerned about not just the flooding occurring at the moment but also what the weather could hold in coming days, weeks and months.

I'm concerned that this particular bill is a little bit like a skit, in one sense, out of the 1979 classic Monty Python's Life Of Brian. What we're doing is changing the Emergency Response Fund to the Disaster Ready Fund. It reminds me of the change of the popular people's front to the people's popular front, and poor old Graham Chapman, acting as Brian, didn't know which group to join or which group not to join—he certainly didn't want to be a splitter. People who are sandbagging their house or preparing their business to be as resilient as it can be to protect themselves against rising floodwaters don't care whether it's the ERF or the DRF. They just want to know that this government, this parliament and this nation have their backs. I'm not quite sure whether changing an acronym, changing a name, is something that they are really all that concerned about.

As we speak, people in my electorate are very, very worried, particularly in the northern part of the electorate in and around Forbes, where the Lachlan River is once again causing hurt and hardship to those central-western New South Wales communities of Forbes and West Wyalong. The rising Lachlan has broken its banks on all too many occasions in recent years—indeed, six times in the last 12 years: 2010, 2012, 2016, last year and twice this year. We had then Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet there in November last year. We had the current Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, Premier Perrottet, the New South Wales emergency services minister—she's also the flood recovery minister—Steph Cooke, who's from the neighbouring electorate of Cootamundra and the federal emergency management minister, Senator Murray Watt, there last Monday. I very much appreciated their visit and, most importantly, so did the locals. The state of the roads in and around Forbes and the Riverina and in and around New South Wales and Victoria is just shocking at the moment. I'm sure Tasmania is pretty bad too, with potholes brought about by relentless rain. When you're a council with a low rate base and not much ability to increase due to rate pegging in New South Wales, it is tough to get the funds to provide not just a bit of asphalt thrown in a pothole but the maintenance, the upkeep, the improvement, the betterment of those roads, completely rebuilding the roads in some cases. It used to be $1 million a kilometre. I'm sure it will be even more than that with the current state of the roads.

Whilst I appreciate that the New South Wales government has provided a $50 million package to do just that, I can remember the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program that I put in place when I was Deputy Prime Minister. Although it could have gone to community infrastructure and some councils chose to do just that, it was around $55 million for my electorate alone, so $50 million is a great start but is not going to patch every hole in the flood-affected areas of New South Wales by any stretch. But it is a good start.

This particular bill does change the name, which when you are up to your knees in water doesn't really make much difference. It is former coalition government policy with a new name. No additional money is being directed to natural disaster events. There are no new projects until after July 2023. The difficulty there is that people generally have a cynicism about politics and politicians, and this bill doesn't help that, particularly when our people, particularly our country people, have been smashed so badly by so many natural disasters and particularly now with the floods. There's no transparency about how the funds will be distributed. Indeed, there's no definition of what constitutes a mitigation or disaster prevention project. The minister refers to activities, with river gauges and rain modelling and examples, but these are activities of government agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology.

Whilst I'm on the Bureau of Meteorology, could you imagine the condemnation that would have been rained down—pun not intended—upon the then Coalition government had, at the time of a flood, the bureau decided to change its messaging as far as wanting to be called the Bureau rather than the BoM? The minister would have been hauled before Senate estimates. They would have been pilloried in the public. There would have been a rush of condemnation by the media. Labor would have been calling for the minister's head. But we move on.

Minister Watt refers to consultation guidelines to be held with stakeholders. Who are those stakeholders? It's a fair enough question. What are the guidelines? It's a reasonable request. Now, the bill doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2023, so any potential inquiry probably needs to and should go into this. I appreciate that the bill has been referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for inquiry. That won't delay its implementation. I appreciate that the reporting date has been set as 16 November and submissions have closed. I get all that. But we do need to query the intent. We do need to query the provisions within this bill, and that's what the member for Page rightly does with the amendment that he quite reasonably has put forward.

I want to talk a little about some things that have been said in relation to the politicisation of some of these natural disasters, which has been unfortunate. Minister Watt claimed on Twitter in March:

The level of denial about the Lismore floods among Morrison's Ministers is astounding. None of them are here and they have no idea how absent their Govt is.

The then emergency management minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, had visited several times. I will pay credit to her and give her her due. She had been there. She had been working, not just with the local member, Kevin Hogan, but with local stakeholders. She met local people. Then Prime Minister Morrison visited, and he made a national emergency declaration on March 11. As I said before, the member for Page stood up when it counted—he always does, but particularly so in this crisis. I wouldn't want to, as Minister Watt did, politicise that situation. He shouldn't have done it. It wasn't true, and that's unfortunate.

The Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022 doesn't—

Audio for the segment from 12:50:42 to 12:51:48 was unavailable at the time of publication .

The project would raise the Wyangala Dam wall by 10 metres to 95 metres. That would add 650 gigalitres of extra capacity to help flood mitigation. Six-hundred and fifty gigalitres is a lot of water. It's more than what's in Sydney Harbour. Not only would it help flood mitigation; it would also help agriculture. If it's good enough for the New South Wales state government to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres to help those people in the shadow of that huge piece of water infrastructure, then it's good enough for them to also to do the costings and the business plan for Wyangala Dam. They need to get on with that quick smart.

I know that the member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke, is very much an advocate for it. I know that the local mayors, whether it's Phyllis Miller at Forbes, Bill West at Cowra, certainly Brian Monaghan at West Wyalong—I mean, West Wyalong had the Newell Highway cut off for six weeks in the 2016 flood. That's six weeks where one of the greatest arterial corridors of commerce in New South Wales was cut off by the Lachlan River's waters. I drove to Forbes only the other day, and the water was lapping up either side of the Newell Highway. It's quite a sight to see, but it could be avoided, potentially, if Wyangala Dam were to be increased.

I know the state government wanted a $325 million loan, as part of $650 million towards that projects. Well, they got it. Then they wanted a grant, and we gave them a grant. Then they came back to the then federal government and said it's going to cost a lot more. We said: 'Okay. So be it. Let's do the costings.' Whether it cost $1 billion or $2 billion, let's get the costings and let's work out what this is going to save. Forbes used to be flooded once every seven years, and those figures go back to 1887. They've been flooded six times in 12 years. Do the maths. Do the figures. They don't deserve to have their town sandbagged all the time in readiness for the next flood, which, potentially, could be next week, next year, the year after—probably all of those. And here we are talking about changing an acronym. It's Life Of Brian stuff; it really is.

The member for Page has genuine concerns. He's made an amendment. I concur with what he has put forward. We need to be disaster ready—yes, we do need to be ready. We were, as the coalition government. We put in place plans for funding and priorities. Does this build on those? Not really. It just changes the name. It doesn't provide any new funding. We need genuine action. We need legislation that's going to have meaningful actions so that people who are sandbagging their homes and those genuine heroes, such as those in the SES and other first-responder organisations, the volunteers, don't get too cynical about politics and politicians.

12:55 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

These remarks are important at this time of natural disaster in our nation and for us in the Territory as well as we begin the cyclone season that could potentially see 11 cyclones. At the outset I want to acknowledge all the community groups, first responders, the families helping families and the mates helping mates around our country at this distressing time. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. However, we as a federal government also understand that you need a lot more than just thoughts and prayers. You need action and you need a supportive federal government working cooperatively with the states and territories and local government at this time.

With a sense of pride I contribute to this debate on the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. The Albanese government has started delivering on its promise to create the new Disaster Ready Fund to help our communities all around the nation prepare for natural disasters. Despite the member for Riverina's admiral defence of one of his local members, it also has to be said that over the past decade we saw from those opposite a failure to really help Australians prepare for floods, fires and storms.

It's hard to think that we had a $5 billion fund sitting there ready to go and yet it did not spend a cent since its establishment in early 2019. While that fund was sitting there untouched it was accruing millions of dollars of interest, and that interest could have been spent to help those Australians who had been battered by floods and fires to rebuild their lives and protect their communities. I think it's fair to say that those opposite could have done more. We need to learn from that, and we are.

When they as a federal government did belatedly start offering assistance they too often started playing some political games with the states, particularly if they weren't from their political organisation. That is unfortunate. Dividing people and not showing national leadership at a time of crisis are I think partially responsible for the decision the Australian people made in May this year.

As so many Australians are experiencing now, floods or even having water creeping towards your home is devastating for people and for communities. We reflect on our experience in the Northern Territory. With the Katherine River in the Northern Territory there have been seven notable floods in the last 100 years. My wife, Kate, was in Katherine for the 2006 floods. She described it as a feeling of creeping dread. That's what so many families feel. I heard on morning TV the other day someone around Echuca talk about that creeping dread as the floodwaters crept closer to their house.

It was a big one though in Katherine in late January 1998. A tropical cyclone developed in the Gulf of Carpentaria. As I said, the Territory is entering the cyclone season. There were three days of steady rain over that Australia Day period in 1998. Four people died and thousands of people were evacuated. Our Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Watt, previously said about the arrangements of the former coalition federal government:

It is unconscionable that communities have been left at risk while money is available to keep them safe.

I don't want to make a partisan point here, but I do want to thank the minister for coming to Darwin recently. We spent some time with the NT disaster response people at the centre, and I also want to acknowledge the people at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, who were part of the Northern Territory's response apparatus to natural disasters both on homeland and in our region.

The natural disaster funds should be used to help communities prepare for disasters. We don't need to be told that they're going to be more frequent. We know that climate change and the La Nina weather systems—a third one of which is forming—mean that we're going to have more floods. We're already dealing with a really wet country across our nation. Down the whole east coast and beyond, the ground is absolutely full with water, and we're expecting, as I said, an unusually early start to the cyclone season. We've had a lot of rain already; there's going to be a pause this week, but there's more rain coming after that. A number of our remote communities have to evacuate every year as those storms approach.

Many Top Enders also carry the scars of Cyclone Tracy, which honourable members would be aware of. But honourable members might not be aware that, almost 50 years ago, when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin, at least 71 people died. All Territorians worry about the future. So I'm delighted that this Disaster Ready Fund bill will lead to real action in terms of both mitigation and support for those who will inevitably be affected by worsening weather events. This fund will provide up to $200 million per year to invest in mitigation projects like flood levees, which are really needed in places like Katherine; cyclone shelters, which are needed throughout the north; and fire breaks and evacuation centres in the Northern Territory and around Australia.

Our government will not repeat the mistakes of former governments. With the communities, we will prepare for natural disasters. We'll protect lives and livelihoods, and we'll hopefully then see much lower damage from floods, fires and cyclones. I will note that, in order to deliver security for natural disaster impacted communities, the government will also honour the 2022-23 Emergency Response Fund commitments that were announced by the former government. That includes $150 million for the New South Wales Northern Rivers region, which is being hammered once again, and $50 million for the Coastal and Estuarine Risk Mitigation Program. It's appropriate that they are honoured.

My heart goes out to the people of Lismore and the Northern Rivers area. They've had an incredibly tough time, and they're still recovering from previous flood events. I want to acknowledge all of them, no matter what side of politics they're on. I also particularly want to acknowledge the work of Janelle Saffin, the former member for Page, who is now a New South Wales member of parliament. She's been working with her community through an incredibly difficult period. Our thoughts as Territorians are with the people of the Northern Rivers and all around the country where they're facing disaster. We've seen the devastating consequences of not being prepared when natural disasters hit, such as in the Black Summer bushfires and the recent floods. As I said, we know there's more to come. We want Australians to be as protected as possible to weather those storms, and I'm proud to be associated with this bill.

Sitting suspended from 13 : 03 to 16 : 04

4:04 pm

Photo of Aaron VioliAaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate of Casey we know quite a bit about emergency response and disaster resilience. We have experienced more than our fair share of bushfires, storms and other natural disasters. The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria caused widespread devastation and the greatest loss of life from fire in Casey in known history. One hundred and seventy three people tragically lost their lives, 414 were injured, more than a million wild and domesticated animals were lost and 450,000 hectares of land were burnt. More than 19,000 CFA members worked tirelessly, not just in the immediate emergency, but for weeks and months, to finally extinguish the last blaze. And many thousands of Victorians and millions of Australians came together to support those affected, including in my electorate of Casey, for the weeks, months and years of our physical and psychological recovery.

As Australians become more urbanised the fringes of cities encroach further into the bush and it is here in the frontier zone between bush and city that bushfires do much of their damage. It was in this edge environment, in my local communities of Healesville and Yarra Glen, that the Black Saturday bushfires inflicted the damage that made them some of the most destructive in Australian history. We cannot only measure the destruction in loss of property or even loss of life, from experience I can confirm that the devastation is much greater. The profound loss of life and injury to family and friends is accompanied by the loss of homes and the memories they contain, businesses that have been lovingly run for generations, the complete alteration of familiar landscapes and the sense of foreboding that such a disaster could happen again. I saw how this affected my family, my friends and my community as the fire ravaged regions of Casey. Doctors and psychologists reported a rise in suicides among bushfire survivors, along with alcohol and drug abuse and addictive behaviour such as gambling.

The importance of the Emergency Response Fund, now to be called the Disaster Ready Fund, cannot be denied. This bill essentially repurposes the Emergency Response Fund, turning it into an ongoing source of funding for natural disasters, resilience and risk reduction—to be known as the Disaster Ready Fund. This bill is little more than a change in acronym, as it will continue to be managed by the Future Fund Management Agency within the Department of Finance.

The Emergency Response Fund was set up by the coalition government in 2019 as an investment fund intended to grow over time to maximise the Commonwealth's capacity to support states and territories as they respond to major natural disasters into the future. Under previous legislation the government could access up to $50 million for pre-disaster resilience measures and up to $150 million for emergency response and recovery each financial year. The government made an election commitment to revamp the fund to spend $200 million annually on disaster prevention and resilience. It allows the DRF to provide up to $200 million per financial year for these initiatives.

In my first speech, I spoke of my commitment to making sure the effects of natural disasters are minimised due to effective resilience planning and preparation. This bill will ensure the coalition's promise, and my personal promise to my community, and will continue to support them through the tough times. One such recent example was on the night of 9 December 2021. Families hunkered down in their living rooms across the Dandenong Ranges as ferocious winds roared and the crash of trees breaking and falling thundered around them. Even houses that weren't hit by the gigantic trees falling shook with the impact. It was a genuine miracle that nobody was killed. In that one terrifying night 177 properties were damaged, 76 of which were deemed uninhabitable; thousands of trees fell across roads and power lines, trapping many in the Dandenongs; power was cut to more than 6,500 homes, including my own for 12 days; while phone and internet services also went down across the Dandenong Ranges and surrounding towns. Townships such as Kalorama, Monbulk and Mount Dandenong were hardest hit, with 373 hectares of the Dandenong Ranges impacted.

More than a year later there are still many who have not been able to rebuild or who have run into financial or practical obstacles preventing them from returning to their homes. I've met with many of these constituents and it's heartbreaking to hear their stories. They are trapped in this situation; they aren't able to move forward. One community example is the Mount Dandenong Preschool, which has been operating out of the Olinda Primary School as the preschool's old site remains unrepaired and condemned since the storm. The trauma for the children, parents and staff is ongoing because they are regularly seeing it covered in tarpaulin and fallen trees as they drive past.

As the local mayor, Jim Child, said recently, 'It was a crisis that tested us beyond belief, but people in this region are resilient and we know how to look after each other.' This is clear when you see the community groups that responded out of such tragedy and loss. New community bonds rose in the form of Rescue Logs and Treasuring Our Trees, two organisations that are taking those fallen trees to create new habitats for schools so that the children in those primary schools across Casey can have a new environment to play in, but also help them to recover from the trauma that they've experienced. Many more community organisations banded together at the time and have banded together since then.

Effective emergency management is as much about planning and preparation as it is about response, clean-up and recovery. In Casey, we unfortunately have extensive experience with emergencies. But as is often the case in Australia, amazing people come together to build resilience, to protect their families, their businesses and their communities. The local Yarra Ranges council have led this emergency response in Casey. They've developed a new program called the Yarra Ranges resilience project to protect our communities by increasing disaster preparedness, risk management, recovery and future resilience. I am very proud to say that the previous coalition government committed $10 million to this plan so as to increase our community's ability to mitigate, avoid, withstand and recover from the effects of bushfires, floods and storms. This project is going to be delivered by council in partnership with other levels of government recovery departments along with local businesses and communities. This project is one that is dear to my heart. One of the first meetings I had when I was successful in becoming the member for Casey was to meet with the Yarra Ranges council about this important area and to get an update on this project that is making a difference, and will continue to make a difference, in the lives of our residents.

The Yarra Ranges resilience project includes proactive tree management and clean-up. It includes plant based resilience planning and buildings. It's about establishing an emergency relief network and evacuation plans. This one in particular is really important for our communities, because we know—we experienced it during Black Saturday; we experienced it during the June storms—given the location of our towns and some of the roads that are one-way in and one-way out, those communities cannot rely on emergency services responses outside of their own town. It is so important that they have plans if the emergency comes, but also relief networks that allow them to evacuate, if they have that opportunity, before the risk is there.

It also allows for a resilient energy precinct. We're running a program with Monash University in Monbulk to have a microgrid and to have the energy there to be self-sufficient, which is so important. We saw it in June when these communities were without power and they were also without access. Emergency services couldn't get in; no-one could get out. We're talking about 100 metres of road completely blocked by trees. It took significant time to get through, and it's no-one's fault other than the reality dealing with the disaster that we had. This project will allow those communities to have the power they need at that time. Crucially, bushfire risk assessments will be done throughout the Dandenong Ranges and Casey because there is a significant and dangerous bushfire risk there.

Obviously, the coalition supports programs that effectively promote disaster resilience and risk reduction, although I do have a few concerns as I look through this legislation. I've not been able to see any information around how the funds will be distributed or any clear definition of what constitutes a mitigation or disaster-prevention project. It is very important that we have that clarity so that the money we're investing on behalf of our residents and taxpayers will make a tangible difference to our communities.

I note that the Minister for Emergency Management referred to activities such as river gauges and rain modelling as examples, but these are activities of the Bureau of Meteorology, the BoM, not something I would expect the DRF to undertake or fund. Minister Watt has also mentioned that there will be guidelines and consultations to be held with stakeholders but cannot say who the stakeholders are or even what the guidelines will look like. Again, while this fund, this money, is needed and is crucial, it is so important that we get it right, that we engage at the community level. We in the electorate of Casey know that the community understand their needs better than anyone. We have to engage, like we have through the Yarra Ranges resilience project, with the right stakeholders.

We've all seen the devastating floods inundating northern Victoria over the last week. In Casey last week we had minor flooding. We were fortunate; we managed to avoid the worst of the damage. Unfortunately, the clubrooms at the Yarra Glen Cricket Club were damaged and will need to undergo repairs. Just last night, my home town of Lilydale and the towns of Upwey and Belgrave experienced flash flooding, with between 60 and 65 millimetres of rain hitting those towns in about 30 minutes. The local SES received calls from 12 people trapped in their cars after driving through floodwaters. It's another example of how even in our urban areas the risk of flood is very real. Power was cut to thousands of homes. The main street literally looked like a river. We were lucky not to see any loss of life, but there will be a huge clean-up. I've spoken to businesses and residents, and I stand by their side and look forward to getting home on Friday to see them and support them. We need to help those businesses, which have already had significant challenges in the last two years. I send my heartfelt condolences to those impacted, including my own staff, who were impacted but were back at work today to support the residents and constituents of Casey. As I said, I'm very much looking forward to getting home and supporting them.

The government, as we know, needs to be ready and prepared to act when significant events occur. We still don't know what the long-term impacts will be for not only Victoria but the wider community—the impacts on food prices and long-term recovery. When we talk about food prices, it's important to note that it's always our most vulnerable who suffer. We need to make sure that we're protecting life, protecting property and protecting our agricultural bowls. In Casey last week we were fortunate. I spoke to a farmer the day after the floods hit. He'd been up all night defending his property by removing water with pumps, trying to do what he could. He was lucky. He said there was a gap of 30 centimetres, after which the banks of the river would have been breached. If that river had breached, his farm and many others in the Yarra Valley would have been destroyed. We saw heartbreaking footage from Rochester and other towns, where farmers were about to pick their crops. It impacts them and the wider community, but it also impacts our most vulnerable through increased prices.

Just to be clear: this bill doesn't provide additional money. I'll always support additional money for natural disaster events, and I hope that the government continue to recognise the urgency and importance of real action, because that is something that needs to be bipartisan. I look forward to supporting this bill and continuing to support the residents of Casey and the nation as we continue to struggle with these natural disasters.

4:19 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think I need to correct some of the comments that were made by the member preceding me. With all due respect, there has been no sense of urgency from the previous government in dealing with disasters, and that's why the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022 is so important. There are many in this place who've experienced disaster in the last couple of years. In my community there've been four declared natural disasters in 2½ years plus additional floods, because some of those were double floods. The sense of urgency in how the previous government managed its funds was completely lacking.

Let's be clear: there was $4 billion of funding set aside to help deal with natural disasters and make communities more resilient. Not a cent was spent, and it earned $700 million in interest. My community and I sat there, watching this fund get richer and richer without investments in our community. It even goes back to just before the Black Summer, when the retired fire chiefs from around the country were warning about the circumstances we were facing, using their decades of experience. They were ignored by the previous Prime Minister and the previous government.

This is a crucial piece of legislation that will turn something that was just sitting there, not even being used, into something that can make a real difference. Goodness knows so many of our communities really need a difference to be made.

This commitment is really about an injection of up to $1 billion over the next five years to mitigate potential disaster loss and damage, and it really is coming at a critical time. We know that right now there are people in the midst of floods or under threat from floods. Quite frankly, we're going to see the threat of floods for at least the rest of this year in so many parts of the country, including in the Hawkesbury, where my constituents have struggled to deal with the cumulative effects, knowing that there were things that could have been done over the last years. There were evacuation routes that could have been made. There were roads that could be made resilient.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 16:22 to 16:3 7

This fund is going to be a crucial part of our ability to prepare for and reduce the impact of disasters that we know are going to be on the increase. We know that the weather will become wilder—we're seeing it before our very eyes—and it is beyond time that there was decent investment.

This $1 billion over the next five years will allow people right across the country to start putting in place some of the things we need. For the Hawkesbury it might be things like evacuation routes, rebuilding the roads, putting in levies and doing the sorts of sensible things that are shown to deliver benefits. In the Blue Mountains, where the bushfires ravaged the countryside and the wilderness, a range of things can be done to help ensure people are safer in those sorts of circumstances. I look forward to working with both the NSW government and my local councils, as well as the community and community organisations, in identifying the very best things to do—the things that will provide in a very sensible way immediate benefits and potential benefits in a disaster.

One of the things I'm very proud of that we are going to be delivering in the context of disaster preparedness is upgrades to the North Richmond Community Centre so that it is much more suited to being an evacuation or recovery centre. Birgit and her board there have seen the possibility and the need for improvements for a very long time and have spent a long time working with council to try and get those improvements. I'm really pleased that $2.5 million of Commonwealth funding will now go to that centre. That was in last night's budget, so it's wonderful to see that that money is going to be available for upgrades.

When the Hawkesbury gets warnings of floods, there's not always easy access for people to cross rivers that might already be flooded. On the North Richmond side there's very little infrastructure. We don't have an ambulance station, we don't have a fire station and we don't have a hospital. There is very poor infrastructure. But what has happened in the past is that services have based themselves in various locations, including at the North Richmond Community Centre, even if it's just for them to be able to sleep and recover between their shifts. This community centre has already been delivering services in a building that is completely inadequate—an old kitchen, toilets that come from when it was first built. It's not suitable for anybody who needs some sort of disability access, so $2.5 million will go a long way to helping them create a place that is not only welcoming but also safe for people, if they need to evacuate their own homes. Sharon Stevens, who volunteered in the 2021 floods and has been there helping people, appreciates first-hand how inadequate the kitchen area is. This might all seem like relatively small stuff, but, when you are evacuated from your home, when you don't know how long it's going to be before you can get back there, when there is the threat of a dam spilling or a river flooding, then you need somewhere where you can have the basic comforts of being able to go to the bathroom, have a shower, get some sleep and have some food. I want to thank everybody at North Richmond Community Centre for the work they have done through bushfires and through floods, and I'm so proud that we're going be able to create a better facility there for community use.

One of the big areas where we need to become more resilient is our roads. Across the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains, in fact, everybody who has had rain damage will say, 'It's our area too.' But I'm going to talk about my community and the challenges that they are facing in repairing the roads. A lot of the responsibility falls on council. Unfortunately, councils are just not equipped to deal with the size of the problem they are facing. In the Hawkesbury, they've estimated around $190 million of road damage. That includes damage that occurred initially in 2021. In fact, it was even before that in the 2020 flood, which came right after the bushfires. Small damage, not repaired adequately, became bigger damage in the 2021 floods and has now blown out. It is a huge job down at Cornwallis. Roads that got completely washed away in 2021 are still not repaired, like Greens Road in Lower Portland. With these sorts of roads—and the latest on the list as Settlers Road in Lower MacDonald—its really frustrating to only be able to replace the road to the standard that it was.

That's why I'm very pleased to see the decision that we've made to ensure people are disaster ready by allowing them to build back better. This has been a real sticking point, and there is now more than $500 million from the Australian and New South Wales governments that has been set aside for this. In my area, they are entitled to apply for some of the $200 million of the Infrastructure Betterment Fund to help recovery efforts focused on rebuilding damaged and destroyed infrastructure in a more resilient way. That makes sense to all of us; you don't just build it back to the standard it was, because guess what? In the next flood it's going to wash away again. We have roads that suffered that extreme heat during the Black Summer Bushfires, and then they had extraordinary rain. So across the electorate the seals on the roads have just disappeared. This betterment fund gives both the Hawkesbury council and the Blue Mountains council an opportunity to identify places where they can build back better. It's what they've been asking for. They have both had very good meetings with the minister for local government, and I'm very pleased that we can show we have been listening to the needs that they have.

When I talk about roads, I have mentioned the Hawkesbury and the $190 million that they have identified. Of course, that will be available under the existing joint arrangements. There are already joint arrangements, but I'm pretty sure that, over time, we're going to be able to do better with those, so that it is a smoother process. Right now, it feels like there is a bit of a blockage. The money is there and waiting, but there is a process councils have to go through. They have to have enough people to help them do the paperwork and the essential things they need. I look forward to us, over time, being able to support them even better, so that they can access that funding and don't have to sit around saying, 'There's a problem with the money at a state level,' let alone any subsequent issues. At this point, what councils are telling me is that they are waiting on the states. The states seem to indicate that they're waiting on councils to go through a process. These are some of the things that I hope we can get in and streamline. It's worth us getting involved to streamline these processes and have discussions about it—how can we help to make this better?

When we talk about roads, the Blue Mountains—I don't want to say they're equally impacted because their damage bill, including repair of roads and 66 landslides, exceeds $400 million. This is an area where it's the storms that've done it and that has led to flooding. What both councils are finding is that every time it rains they get set back. They're struggling to get contractors who have the availability when they need it because when it stops raining everybody wants them. I understand the materials are an ongoing challenge. Even though they fixed 7,000 square metres of local roads in the Blue Mountains, which is the same amount they did in the entire previous financial year—and they've done that just in a month post floods and storms—there is still a huge amount to do.

To put the challenge that the Blue Mountains faces into perspective, the mayor says that council staff are in the process of implementing 10 years worth of roadworks in 12 months just to get back to where we were. The mayor says that councils right across eastern Australia are experiencing similar issues. These are the things that our fund has the opportunity to head off at the pass. We've got an opportunity to invest so that there is much greater resilience in what we do.

There's another area where this fund can really make a difference and that is on the cumulative toll that disasters take on infrastructure. I will give one example of what some of the farmers and land owners in my Hawkesbury community are finding now. They're saying that after two years of rain and floods fences are now rotting, and that's not just a panel here and a panel there but the foundations of their buildings are becoming unstable. There has been a cumulative process. It isn't only the big community assets that we need to be thinking about; we need to be thinking about what we can do to help people make their own assets more resilient. That when we give them funding to rebuild their homes after a flood, we make sure they're able to make their homes more resilient.

I am very much looking forward to bringing my community together. There's a group of people who have been through successive floods and they've learnt from those floods. They have learnt how to redo their kitchens so that there is less damage to repair next time—with hard surfaces, not replacing gyprock with gyprock but using better materials. I had organised to bring them together, with help from the experts from Suncorp who also have a lot expertise in this area. But, ironically, a flood meant that no-one's head was in a place to think about rebuilding. People were just thinking about getting through the next few hours. So I look forward to bringing my community together in the new year to be able to share their experiences. It isn't just governments who have the answers on this; it's the people who have experienced it time and time again who were learning, rather than repeating the same mistakes. My Hawkesbury community knows we can learn from each other. Although I will be grateful to have the Suncorp building experts there too, with the work they've done, particularly in Queensland, around cyclones and flood resistant homes. But there's a lot we can do for ourselves.

I absolutely welcome that, finally, we're going to get to see this significant fund being used, and put to good use, rather than having it sit languishing as it has done for years. I remember that when we first voted for this fund we supported the government on this fund even though they took money away from university assets to do it. But we said, 'This is needed and it's needed now.' That was years ago and not a cent has been spent. It has earnt interest but that has not helped my community. I am very pleased to see tangible action from the Albanese government.

4:49 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the amendment moved by the member for Page to the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. I would like to start by acknowledging what he's been through with his community over the last few years, particularly with the town of Lismore. I lived for a couple of years in Alstonville, which is not far from Lismore, so I know the area very well. Lismore has been absolutely belted a couple of times in a row, and it's been really tough for that community. Lives, livelihoods and infrastructure have suffered enormous damage.

The member for Page has been an exemplary leader and supporter to his community through all those challenges, and we wish the best for the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales in the recovery that they are going through. I never thought I'd say this as a South Australian—because we should never complain about the rain—but, if more rain could fall on the other side of the Great Dividing Range for the next few months, I think both the people of Lismore and the people of Adelaide would appreciate it in equal measure.

The amendment that he's has moved is absolutely coming from a place of very deep experience. I know other members have had experiences of natural disasters in their electorates in recent times, but certainly the member for Page would have to be at the top of the list of local members who have been dealing with the enormous impact of natural disasters within their communities over the last 12 months. We send him best wishes and congratulate him on what he's done for his community. I certainly support the amendment he's moved to this second reading question.

The second thing I want to say is that the great thing about this parliament is that it brings together people from every corner of this nation. There are not too many countries in the world that have such geographic diversity as Australia. To have tropical forests, snow, deserts and everything in between within one country is almost unique. Except for maybe the United States, I can't think of any other country that has that great variety of geography. Of course, we have an unbelievably varied climate associated with that.

As a member from metropolitan Adelaide, I don't have a lot of great or direct experience in the impact of and the recovery from things like hurricanes or tropical cyclones, but we equally have our own types of natural disasters in South Australia that aren't necessarily felt in other places. Drought is one that shouldn't be forgotten when we're having this discussion. While some natural disasters occur in great instancy, a drought is one of the most consistent natural disasters that we have in this country. It has enormous impacts that are completely akin to the types of things felt by communities as a result of other natural disasters such as floods and the like.

In my own electorate, we've certainly had serious rain events in the years gone by. My electorate is in the Torrens catchment, and we have had flash flood events that have led us to develop local plans to better manage the impact of short, significant rain events that come through the hills facing the Mount Lofty Ranges and that have caused a lot of damage to property in years gone by. We also have the Brown Hill Creek catchment, which comes out of the Mitcham hills.

Councils, including from my electorate, have worked together really well to develop plans that need to be invested in to deal with the risks of once-in-10-year, once-in-50-year, once-in-100-year or—as we now talk of—once-in-1,000-year events. We've undertaken some projects in that Brown Hill Creek catchment, but there's a lot of work to be done to complete that project for the residents not just of my electorate but of a number of other electorates in Adelaide so that they can deal with the risk of a once-in-100-year event, which could cause a lot of significant property damage. And there is always the risk of worse, including loss of life, when these sorts of weather events occur. Obviously I'm very happy to support the next iteration of this fund that helps communities like my own invest in the sort of resilience projects needed to prepare communities and mitigate the risks of these very significant natural disasters and weather events. We are certainly seeing some significant ones at the moment. They are of course on the rainfall side of things.

I mentioned at the start of my remarks that of course in South Australia we should never complain about the rain. These serious weather and flooding events have been a terrible misfortune for communities in the Murray-Darling Basin catchment, in northern New South Wales, particularly Moree, and in the recent month in Victoria at Shepparton, Echuca and other towns along the tributary rivers and now of course the Murray itself. Coming into South Australia there are some significant flooding risks in the Riverland in South Australia at Renmark and the like. Of course, whilst we hope there is not significant damage to communities and to agricultural production and other economic activity, it is pleasing to see such significant flows that are breaking records when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly within South Australia. I think we're at almost 80,000 megalitres a day crossing the border. We have a good chance of breaking records that go back to the early 1990s.

Audio for the segment from 16:56:20 to 16:56:48 was unavailable at the time of publication.

It does underscore that we are always going to be dealing with unpredictable weather patterns, the risk of bushfires and droughts, which, unfortunately, will return. It is a certainty that we will have droughts to contend with in the future, despite what we're experiencing right now on the other side of the coin.

This does put in place an ability for the Commonwealth to invest in a whole range of measures that will help local communities better prepare for these events.

Audio for the segment from 16:57:25 to 16:57:40 was unavai lable at the time of publication.

I think it's not until next financial year that any new decisions related to this mechanism will be entered into. We don't have the details about what they might be, but we do know that the announcements and commitments we have made to significantly impacted communities are going to be honoured by the new government.

This is an area that we should be working together in. I'm pleased that the coalition is supporting this bill. I respect and support the member for Page's second reading amendment, for the reasons I outlined at the beginning of my contribution. Nonetheless, I think that when it comes to supporting our communities to deal with these significant events that they are going to face in the future we should be doing it with a sense of unity. I anticipate that this will be supported through the parliament without dissent. With those comments I commend the bill to the House.

4:58 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today as the member for Eden-Monaro to update communities about election commitments, particularly the Disaster Ready Fund, which will help our communities prepare for future natural disasters. As Mayor of the Bega Valley Shire Council during the Tathra fires, the Yankees Gap fire and the Black Summer bushfires and as the local member now watching over the recovery, the experience of leading my communities really drives me to demand a strengthened disaster management response in regional Australia. The Disaster Ready Fund seeks to curb the devastating impacts of natural disasters by investing in important disaster prevention projects. Our communities deserve a better, more coordinated approach. The Albanese government is committed to recovery, but it is committed, more importantly, to preparedness, to resilience and to mitigation in our communities.

I'm relieved this bill, the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022, will transform the former government's Emergency Response Fund into a dedicated, ongoing source of funding for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction initiatives. This government, through the Disaster Ready Fund, will provide up to $200 million per year to invest in mitigation projects like firebreaks, flood levees, cyclone shelters and evacuation centres around the country. When I travel through my communities across Eden-Monaro—from Batlow to Cobargo, from Braidwood to Kiah—I know from listening to locals who are still struggling with the hurdles and the mental toll of recovery that an ongoing funding source for disaster resilience and risk reduction is going to be much appreciated.

My heart really does go out to everyone affected by recent floods—to those who've lost loved ones and those who've lost their homes, their possessions and their livelihoods. Over the last few weeks, I've spoken with mayors from disaster impacted councils in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. They've talked about the devastating toll taken on communities: the impacts on communities who are facing the loss of loved ones, the mental toll and the tiredness that some communities are facing after multiple floods in the space of only a few months. A one-in-a-hundred-years flood takes a toll on the community at any given stage, but especially when they've received four one-in-a-hundred-years floods in the last two years. The compounding, cumulative impact of those floods, mentally, physically and financially, is really tough.

Mayors have told me that rebuilding roads is going to be difficult and complex. They've told me that some of their recreational assets are no longer covered by insurance. They've told us that accessing supplies is incredibly difficult. We know that when disaster hits in more than one area at any given time there is a stretch on our contractors. They actually lose competitive advantage, because they no longer have multiple contractors bidding to rebuild a road; they might be left with one. The recovery is going to take time in a lot of these areas. I know, nearly three years on from the Black Summer bushfires—Eden-Monaro lost over a thousand homes—that the memories are still very real. We know that there are a lot of people who are still waking up with deep and lasting trauma from that time.

We're not strangers to natural disasters in this country. For anyone who's grown up outside any of our major cities, extreme weather events are part of life. But what we've seen with devastating floods, and what we saw with the Black Summer bushfires, is that these disasters are intensifying and they are causing more damage than ever. We can't stop natural disasters but we can prepare for and prevent the worst. And we could and should learn from the past. I recently met with the Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council—an amazing organisation—on the importance of cultural burning practices. In the lead-up to the Tathra fires in March 2018, this group of individuals did cultural burning on part of their land outside Tathra. It is the only parcel of land that was not burnt during the Tathra fires. We need to listen to communities, we need to strengthen coordination and we need to invest in disaster prevention projects to ensure we're ready for what is to come next.

Over three years, the former Morrison government's Emergency Response Fund didn't complete a single mitigation project. They failed to release a cent in recovery funding. We know it earned them $800 million in interest, though. It did leave us dangerously unprepared for the increasing natural disasters which we are seeing now. We know that we have to prepare for natural disasters, because we want to be able to protect lives and livelihoods and lower the cost of damage in our communities. Additional funding for natural disaster recovery efforts will also continue with this government. It will continue through Commonwealth and state government disaster recovery funding arrangements, so refocusing this fund to deal with mitigation and resilience is not going to stop the recovery process. But we do know that every dollar spent in mitigation will save up to $11 in recovery funds. I'm really proud to be part of a government that is implementing the Disaster Ready Fund. This builds on last night's announcement that an additional $3 billion will be set aside for disaster recovery. We know that, although we have experienced a number of floods this year, there will probably be many more to come over this summer, and this government is already preparing for that.

I'm incredibly proud that this government has put in place a special envoy for natural disaster as well. Our relevant minister, Minister Murray Watt, is doing an amazing job in responding to communities, getting assistant out fast, mobilising ADF support, getting dollars out the door to communities most impacted and standing shoulder to shoulder with local governments to say, 'We will be there to support you and we know how important community recovery is.' The establishment of the Special Envoy for Disaster Recovery adds further to that commitment, because we are seeing more and more disasters happen across the country and we need to make sure that we are prioritising those communities most impacted in their darkest days.

The creation of our new single agency the National Emergency Management Agency is also a step in the right direction to streamline not only response but recovery. For far too long when we have seen natural disasters occur in this country we have tried to reinvent the wheel for recovery processes. I am incredibly proud that this government has listened to communities that have been through natural disasters and said, 'We have heard you, we want to streamline the process and we want to make it easier for you.' Local governments told the former government time and time again that they needed to make it easier for local governments to apply for funding, to get it out the door quick and to make a simple acquittal process. We are now a government listening to that sector and saying, 'We will work on that with you.'

Our communities that have been through significant disaster can't change it. We can't change what we went through, but we do want to know that our lived experience counts for something. The change in policy by the government shows that we were listening. It shows that we were prepared to make a change for the betterment of communities right across this country, with simple things like actually implementing recommendations from the royal commission into the Black Summer bushfires the government has committed to.

This government, as part of its election, also committed to dealing with mobile phone blackspots along transport corridors, especially those that we know are going to be impacted by natural disasters time and time again. I am incredibly proud that I am part of a government that has said to communities, 'We have heard you.' We ask you to look at a phone and an app that tells you when fires are coming. We ask you to follow weather reports. We ask you to heed the warnings. But sometimes, when you are leaving an area, you can't access those because we don't have any mobile phone service. There was no resilience in our telecommunications network and so when mains electricity went out our telephone communication died. This government is writing those wrongs. This government is implementing recommendations from that bushfire royal commission. The government are listening to communities because, for us, all communities matter, especially those that have been through significant trauma from natural disasters.

Again, I want to say to all of those flood impacted communities across three states at the moment—New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania—that we are with you. We know that it is taking a toll not only on your communities but on your livelihoods. We know that agriculture is significantly impacted across the country. We know that it is going to take time to get the recovery right, and we are with you each and every step of the way.

5:09 pm

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022, but also to identify some implementation concerns to be considered which partially align with the amendment proposed by the member for Page.

I'm pleased that the Australian government is recognising the impact of climate change on the frequency of extreme weather events, and acknowledging that pre-disaster mitigation is essential in moderating the severity of post-disaster recovery. Natural disasters in Australia have devastating financial and social impacts on individuals, families, local communities, businesses and governments. Australia's 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires were the worst on record, burning through 24 million hectares of land, claiming lives, and destroying homes and livelihoods. The subsequent Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in 2020 recognised the contribution of climate change to that event, and that the 2019-20 bushfire season may have provided only a glimpse of the types of events that Australia may face in the future.

The floods in South-East Queensland and New South Wales at the beginning of this year were Australia's worst recorded flood disasters. Damage from the floods cost more than $1½ billion and, as of 8 March, $282 million in disaster payments had been paid to flood victims, but it still wasn't enough. Right now the east coast is experiencing continued significant flooding, with more expected to come. Climate change is here and we are seeing the devastating effects.

I commend the government for acknowledging that Australia's disaster resilience response needs specific funding, and acknowledge that this is a Productivity Commission recommendation in its report into natural disasters which is supported by local government and disaster relief bodies. But this will only be the start. A recent Deloitte report said:

… natural disasters cost the Australian economy $38 billion per year on average, representing—


2% of Australia's … (GDP) in 2020. Even under a low emissions scenario—whereby timely action will see emissions start to fall and reach zero by 2100—this cost will rise to at least $73 billion annually by 2060 …

This puts the current $200 million commitment into perspective. This report suggests that scaling up investments in both physical resilience, such as infrastructure, and community resilience, such as preparedness programs, will be required to reduce the significant anticipated costs from natural disasters, even under a low-emissions future.

We need to improve coordination and targeting of investments to avoid the impacts on some of the most vulnerable areas in Australia. The $200 million commitment represents 0.5 per cent of the annual cost of natural disasters. It will need to be allocated carefully to create the most impact for the investment, and the amount committed will need to be scaled up commensurate with impact. I note that the funding limit will be reviewed every five years. I urge the government to review this more regularly given the scale of the impact. But it's a good start, and I look forward to watching this space closely and holding government to account.

I also commend the government for committing $50 million this year for the Coastal and Estuarine Risk Mitigation Program to reduce the impacts of natural disasters and coastal hazards such as storm surges and coastal inundation. But this commitment finishes at the end of this financial year and the effects of climate change continue to destroy our dune ecosystems. We need to do more to protect these coastal areas. Protecting our coastline is essential for Australia's quest to build resilience and prepare for natural disasters. I urge the government to make an ongoing allocation for Coastcare to be funded from the Disaster Ready Fund.

In my electorate of Curtin there are more than 15 kilometres of coastline stretching from Leighton Beach in the south to Trigg Beach in the north. The estimated cost to government of managing the 55 identified erosion hot spots could be $110 million over the next five years. So much of this work is being done by passionate community volunteers. Along the stretch in my electorate we have a number of very active Coastcare groups, including Cottesloe Coastcare, Cambridge Coastcare and Stirling Natural Environment Coastcare. These groups are made up of passionate members who care about our community and our environment. I've visited them and seen firsthand the effects of climate change on our dunes and beaches, and the work they're trying to do to counter that impact.

While applications for the Coastal and Estuarine Risk Mitigation Program have already closed, I spoke with Cottesloe Coastcare about how funding our coastline would protect our natural habitat and assist our community. Since 1996, Cottesloe Coastcare has raised funds for fencing to protect fragile sand dunes and to build access walkways to the beach. But the bulk of Cottesloe Coastcare's work is revegetation to increase foredune physical resilience and to improve biodiversity. Volunteers hand-remove invasive environmental weeds, collect seeds of local plant species and restore areas, planting, hand-weeding and watering about 100,000 plants in total. More than half of Cottesloe's degraded coastal dune system has been restored by these efforts.

Cottesloe Coastcare has raised funding in excess of $300,000 over 25 years for dune restoration projects, which has been matched by the town of Cottesloe, but so much more could be done. I asked Cottesloe what they could do with federal government grants if the Coastal and Estuarine Risk Mitigation Program were an ongoing program. A grant of $100,000 would fund two years of on-the-ground activity, allowing revegetation of a hectare of degraded coastal land. It's estimated that five to seven hectares of degraded coastal dunes remain on Cottesloe's foreshore. A grant of a million dollars would allow the rapid completion of the restoration of Cottesloe's foredunes to nearly original condition, providing physical stability. This work adds to the beauty and amenity of the dunes, but, importantly, it also allows nature to protect itself from natural disasters. Dune vegetation is the best protection against erosion. We need a sustainable, equitable and efficient funding model to enable the implementation of coastal hazard risk planning. It needs to be part of the Disaster Ready Fund.

I'd also like to raise some concerns that the bill does not include any details about how this new resilience fund will be allocated, and it seems to confer broad ministerial powers on how to allocate funds, without any parliamentary oversight. The bill does not include any details about how projects competing for disaster mitigation funding will be prioritised. I have no doubt there will be disaster mitigation projects proposed all over the country that greatly exceed $200 million. The varied examples of eligible projects presented by my fellow members show the challenges in defining disaster mitigation. I assume that projects will need to be prioritised according to the value of the mitigation benefit. But is this a financial value, a property value, a life value? And what criteria will be used, and who will make these decisions? The lack of clarity about prioritisation criteria and eligibility criteria will create challenges and potentially produce suboptimal outcomes.

In conclusion, I support this bill, given that it addresses the specific need to fund disaster resilience efforts, but I strongly urge the government to, firstly, include coastal hazard management in the funding allocated to the Disaster Ready Fund; secondly, review the quantum of the Disaster Ready Fund, given that it represents only 0.5 per cent of the annual cost to the country of natural disasters; and, thirdly, commit to transparency in relation to the allocation of the Disaster Ready Fund, on both the definition of disaster mitigation and the criteria that will be used to prioritise projects.

5:17 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

As we speak today in this place, once again communities are sandbagged, houses are under water, crops are ruined and families are grieving. Lismore residents have had to face the risk of being flooded for the third time this year. Communities across New South Wales and Victoria have been dramatically affected. Residents of Maribyrnong in Melbourne are cleaning up—if they've even been able to get back into their homes. And we were warned. We've been warned for years, and we've not listened. For that, we are culpable.

I truly hope this legislation is a turning point for common sense, pragmatism, action and taking note of expert advice, because we knew that climate change would mean natural disasters of greater severity and frequency. Our own experts have reams of data on this and the advice we need. I recently witnessed the extraordinary air-monitoring work and greenhouse- and carbon-emission modelling at the CSIRO in Aspendale, just on the fringe of the electorate of Goldstein, for example. For decades, governments have neither listened nor heard the warnings. Climate policy has been politicised and weaponised. Talking about climate change during so-called natural disasters has been dismissed. Apparently, it hasn't been the right time. Ordinary Australians across the country have paid the price for this wilful blindness.

In many ways, community concern about this inaction has put me here to make this speech today. Few Australians—city or country, coastal or inland, urban or rural—remain untouched by the impacts of our changing climate. People in Goldstein and elsewhere want action, real changes to reduce carbon emissions, but unfortunately, due to our tardy actions, the impact of climate change will be baked in for some time. And we already know what that looks like: houses under water, properties burnt out, flora and fauna unlikely to recover, biodiversity reduced, our future prosperity at risk. Methane is growing exponentially, in part, due to increasing rotting vegetation and increased rain and flooding in the tropics, for example.

So far, properties in some places in North Queensland have been rendered uninsurable, and, as I said, Lismore and parts of Brisbane have been underwater twice or more in the past year. The Black Summer of 2020-21 cost lives, ruined futures and destroyed houses, fences and livestock. Two years on, some of the affected people are still living in tents. Urban areas like Goldstein also see an impact, particularly in the form of increasingly severe erosion on the shores of Melbourne's beautiful bay as more severe storm activity occurs with ever-increasing frequency.

This is something we can now expect, plan for and risk manage—indeed, we must. Yet management remains fragmented: multiple departments, stakeholders and levels of governments work at cross-purposes or remain unaware of what the other is doing. Wheels are reinvented, money is wasted and responsibility is not taken. Half the time, no-one even knows whose responsibility the particular issue is. In Goldstein and along Port Phillip Bay, 60-plus organisations have a stake in bayside management. Dozens of community organisations, councils, state government departments and more tell me they want support to become more cohesive. This is a facilitation role that the federal government can play, helped through this kind of funding in the Disaster Ready Fund.

The previous government barely talked the talk on this subject, let alone walked the walk, declaring disaster response to be largely a state responsibility. After the horrifying Black Summer—a disaster we were warned about, by the way—it took too much time to deploy the military to assist. Former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins told me it would happen months before it did. Again, we were warned. Over and over again, we have seen flood and fire victims struggle to get access to relief assistance and their government benefits.

The old Emergency Response Fund had $4.8 billion in the kitty, but it was not responsive. The emergency was that people in need couldn't get what they needed when they needed it. People in distress didn't get the money they needed. All it did was earn the government interest on the money allocated. With this legislation, we must do much better. We must prepare vulnerable communities for the acts of nature that appear inevitable, and we can no longer say that we didn't know.

The Bureau of Meteorology is warning us that we are in for another La Nina summer. Many parts of Australia are already sodden in ways they have not been for decades, and we don't have much time. This $200 million, the amount for disaster resilience and risk reduction, needs to be actively deployed expeditiously to have maximum impact, and, realistically, it is just a start. It's time to improve coordination, planning and cooperation. The Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines must be used to ensure this money is spent well, expeditiously and, most importantly, where it's most immediately needed.

But we're also at the point where we need to become more realistic and more strategic about what's ahead. Part of that is about managing risk. How we will do that and with what kind of emergency workforce is something we must also begin to consider. While our Defence Force has always jumped to the task, dragging our forces away from training and deployment every time we have a disaster is not a long-term solution, with more frequent disasters predicted. We must consider developing a national disaster response force, with training and resources to match, if we are to manage the challenges we know are coming—just like we must take seriously giving vulnerable communities the tools for resilience. The events of the last year, in particular, have demonstrated that we have no more time to wait.

This legislation is a step in the right direction, but the money versus the cost of the damage is just a drop in the warming ocean. It's a reminder, too, of how much more there is to be done.

5:24 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, can I offer our thoughts to those communities that are once again afflicted by flooding and are dealing with the consequences. I want to pay tribute to and thank the volunteers, council workers, emergency personnel and community who are on the ground doing incredible work, day and night, in preparing for the flooding disasters that we're seeing and in cleaning up. We've already seen that the new National Emergency Management Agency has had to work collaboratively with all levels of community and government affected by these floods that we're experiencing at the moment.

It turns out that the climate scientists were right! They've been warning for some decades now that we will experience an increase in the severity of weather events—particularly, in Australia, around flooding associated with increased rainfall and bushfires associated with the summer months—and that's exactly what is playing out. Unfortunately, many communities and many individual households and businesses have experienced that in having to deal with the flooding.

We all know that there is a cost associated with climate change. The previous government and those opposite have denied that. They've said that there's no cost associated with climate change—that you can get on with removing emissions trading schemes and with trying to remove the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and all these organisations that were devoted to encouraging an increase in renewables and a reduction in emissions so Australia did its bit to tackle climate change. They said that there was no cost; we didn't have to worry about it. But the economists and the climate scientists were saying, 'There will be a cost associated with climate change, and the longer you kick the can down the road, the more the cost will be.' Well, guess what, Madam Deputy Speaker? Communities that are afflicted by flooding at the moment are feeling that cost right now. Australians over the last decade have been feeling that cost, particularly during the bushfires—we've still got people living in temporary housing—and during the floods that we saw earlier this year, particularly around the Lismore area, where people still haven't been able to rebuild their homes. That is the cost of climate change, and that cost is only going to grow.

The Insurance Council of Australia last year estimated that the cost of natural disasters in Australia over the 2019-2020 period was $5.19 billion. That cost is going to grow. They expect that every year the average cost of natural disasters in Australia will be $18.2 billion, growing to $39 billion by 2050. The cost of climate change is going to be felt by Australians and it's going to grow. It will be principally felt through individuals', families' and companies' insurance premiums. Think about the notion of insurance. You are costing in a risk. You are looking at what the risk is going to be and factoring in a cost to insure people for that. What we've seen is that the risk is going to increase. That is the cost of climate change. It's going to feel its way into all of our insurance policies, not just those of people who are living in flood-prone areas or areas increasingly in danger of cyclones and bushfires. Each year, that cost is going to grow.

The Productivity Commission have had a look at this issue, and they've said that historically in Australia what we've done as a government and as a people is overinvest in post-disaster recovery and underinvest in mitigation. We all know you can't stop the weather. You can't stop the fact that we're probably going to have many more floods, bushfires and cyclones in the north of Australia, but what you can do is prepare communities to ensure that you reduce the risk of those extreme weather events doing damage and thereby reduce the cost to communities and the flow-on costs to people's insurance policies into the future. That is exactly what this bill is about.

The approach of the previous government, when it came to their Emergency Response Fund, was that all of the money associated with it was spent on post-disaster recovery—on clean-up—rather than on mitigation, and anything that wasn't spent was invested in markets to earn interest. What's the point of that when you have an increasing risk of damage associated with climate change and you are not spending the money allocated to the fund that has been specifically allocated to ensure that the government invests in mitigation infrastructure? We have seen that underinvestment and we have seen the damage that's been done to communities where we know there are natural floodplains, where we know there is the risk of flooding and where we know there is the risk of cyclones.

The former government had to play catch-up, and they played catch-up in a number of ways. There's the cyclone reinsurance pool in the north of Australia. Time will tell whether that will work, but it is a $10 billion guarantee backed by the government because insurers are pulling out of that market because they know that the risk is too high. You can't insure against something that's almost a certainty. Then we had the disastrous approach with the Emergency Response Fund and not investing in mitigation infrastructure.

The Albanese Labor government accepts that climate change is occurring. We accept the advice of climate scientists and economists who say that the costs associated with climate change are going to grow unless we invest in mitigation infrastructure, and that is exactly what this bill does. It ensures that the government establishes the Disaster Ready Fund, investing up to $200 million a year, matched by the states and territories, in disaster risk reduction and mitigation. The CSIRO has found that, for every dollar spent reducing disaster risk, it will save between $2 and $11 on disaster recovery and reconstruction.

The new government is also committing $38.3 million over four years, from 2022-23, for Disaster Relief Australia, a veteran led group doing wonderful work, so that they can scale-up their organisational capacity and operations, providing a significant increase of close to 5,000 additional volunteers to their existing disaster volunteer workforce by covering the uplift costs associated with recruitment, deployment, equipment and training.

This government's approach will be in complete contrast to the climate change denial and the lack of investment in mitigation infrastructure from the previous government. Instead of spending money solely on clean-up and recovery, this government will support communities when that occurs but also will invest up to $200 million a year in mitigation infrastructure to future-proof communities and individual families and businesses.

We're talking about things like building levees. I was fortunate to go to Roma in Central Queensland a few years ago. They had problems with flooding in the past. The river there would overflow quite regularly and inundate houses and businesses. Insurers were pulling out of that market because the risk was too great and they didn't want to lose money on what was becoming an ever-increasingly risky proposition. So the Gillard government, with the Campbell Newman government in Queensland, co-invested in the building of a levee. The levee has made a fundamental difference to the risk of flooding in Roma but also to insurance premiums. That risk is now mitigated, insurers are moving back into that market and households and businesses are able to access insurance at a reasonable cost. That is a classic example of governments working at state and federal levels to build mitigation infrastructure, to protect communities from the risk of climate change and to ensure that that money is being wisely invested.

That is exactly what this fund is about. It's about building those levees. It's about building those culverts. It's about providing the opportunity for people that live in fire-prone areas to future-proof their homes to ensure that they can reduce the risk of the monumental damage associated with bushfires.

There is also some great work going on in the north of Australia through the university sector up in Cairns and Townsville. They are developing homes that will be cyclone-proof into the future because they know that the risk is going to grow and grow and that that will have a cost for households and businesses through their insurance policies. This is something that the government in Australia should've been doing a decade ago. But we had that wasted opportunity under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments, where the denial of climate change and the fact that they put all of this on the back burner and kicked the can down the road meant that the climate scientists and the economists were right that the longer you delay the greater the cost. Communities are now feeling that cost. And governments, particularly the federal government, have had to intervene in markets—particularly in the north of Australia with the cyclone reinsurance pool—and back insurers to ensure that the risk is reduced and that you can have insurance maintained in those markets. If there had been some foresight by the government and some planning then potentially they wouldn't have had to do that. But because this government ignored the advice of those experts and kicked the can down the road we've now got those significant costs that are being undertaken and, unfortunately, those costs are going to grow and grow and grow.

The increasing threat of severe weather is likely to increase. The risk of damage, particularly to critical infrastructure, is going to grow. That's why Australia needs a Disaster Ready Fund, so that we are building that mitigation infrastructure to reduce those impacts—particularly of cyclone, flood and bushfires—on communities, households and businesses into the future. It demonstrates that this government takes the threat of climate change seriously and will do whatever it takes to ensure that we can, where possible, protect communities and the livelihoods of Australians.

5:36 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022, noting that it implements an essential election commitment by Labor at the last election, an election commitment that was well received by our communities in McEwen. The implementation of this policy will see a vast improvement in our disaster readiness by investing up to $200 million every year to build resilience and prepare for and reduce the risk from future natural disasters.

We are acting where the last government failed abysmally. Who could forget the billions of dollars apparently committed to the former government's Emergency Response Fund sitting in the bank earning interest but doing absolutely nothing for communities suffering through disaster. In three years the ERF did not complete a single mitigation project or release one cent in recovery funding. Instead it earnt the government $800 million, taking it to nearly $5 billion all up, but nothing to show for it—not at thing. At least they were consistent over there—all announcement, no delivery. I can assure you that Labor will deliver.

There is an urgency in getting this done as we have seen the devastation caused by the recent flooding happening along the east coast of Australia. Communities like the ones I have, and the ones that you have as a neighbouring MP, are suffering through the impacts. But what's been really great is we've had a government that's been responsive and is getting there and helping.

We have no doubt that some of the effects of the recent flood events could've been mitigated if the last lot had done their jobs and protected local communities with the fund they created but never used. But no-one is surprised they couldn't get their act together. Labor is moving quickly to put this bill through so we can not only manage the recovery but also look forward to the future.

This is a matter that is incredibly important for our electorate of McEwen and for me personally having seen the impacts of these recent flooding events that have happened across our electorate. We are doing our best to support those that have been affected. I was able to get to one of the worst hit communities in the electorate last week, Darraweit Guim. Darraweit Guim, as I know you are aware, is as a small hamlet that has both Deep Creek and Boyd Creek running through it. While the community has withstood many flood incidents from either one of the two creeks over the past 30 years, this was different. This time both creeks flooded and it was nothing like the community had seen before. It was described by Viki Spedding, a Darraweit Guim local, to my team as, 'So big and fast and loud that it had a real fury to it.' Other residents talked about the roaring water that came past and through their homes. While these times can be incredibly traumatic and stressful for residents and their families, we can see the community embody the best of the Australian spirit.

In Darraweit Guim two-thirds of the community had been impacted, with the local primary school flooded and many properties becoming unsalvageable. One particular property will remain in my memory: Joanne and Neville Wests's home, which was scarred with water and debris marks that were almost six foot above the ground. Outside their beautiful weatherboard home they had gardens, but inside was where you really saw the impacts of the floods. Doors and walls were bowed from the rush of the flood. Mud and debris were strewn amongst their belongings and family possessions that can never be replaced. The family were quick to thank everyone who helped, especially the Wallan football club, whose young men arrived armed with brooms and shovels to clear the thick mud that was left behind.

Another example is how the local community gathered to protect the only business in Darraweit Guim, which is of course Darraweit Valley Cider. The community came together to protect the blossoms for next year's crop. Marc Serafino credited local volunteers in the Star Weekly and saidthatthe community volunteers 'came in and took all the debris off'. What could have been a job that would have taken weeks was done in two days. That gives them a chance to have the next crop come through and lessens the impacts that they are facing in their business. I did note today that they're talking about reopening next week. That is the strength and resilience of the people I represent throughout our region. Despite the devastation in the region, Darraweit Valley Cider is going on. Marc and Jenny's resilience is second to none.

Examples of this kind of community spirit really spurred me on when I had to fight to make sure that the residents of Darraweit Guim were able to receive all the funding available to other flood affected communities. It was in stark contrast to what we saw previously, because the Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, and the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten, worked with me to make sure that this community could receive the support they needed. We should acknowledge and give real credit to Viki Spedding and Christine Craik for their dedicated efforts in helping the community navigate assistance from federal, state and council resources. Businesses and residents received the funding incredibly quickly. Darraweit Valley Cider said that they received federal funding within 15 minutes of entering their claim. That is the speed it happened.

I think back to the time of the 2014 Kilmore fires. The previous government—and it was Minister Keenan at the time, and I had very strong words with him in the parliament—didn't even set up an agency to help us. The communities were left for dead. I remember his words clearly to me, 'Sorry, we only contacted government members.' That was the way communities were treated under the former mess called the LNP government.

From Ash Wednesday to Black Saturday, through floods and storms we have seen the worse of what our environment has to offer. Our communities know that we can do better at protecting ourselves from these disasters and bouncing back from them, but they need support to do that. This government is committed to reducing the trauma, damage and loss of life we see all too often during natural disasters. It is involving communities in that work.

Recently in Nillumbik shire where I was pleased, along with my good friend and neighbour the member for Jagajaga, to announce a disaster risk reduction program that will help our communities be better prepared. The Victorian and federal governments have invested in the Nillumbik community connectors program. The cornerstone of this project is the Nillumbik community connectors program, which includes a series of workshops and skill-building activities that will empower local community members to identify risks relating to storms, heatwaves and other disasters. Participants will co-design a community led plan that includes triggers for when and how council should share information before, during and after heatwaves, storms and other emergencies. The community connectors will be able to represent the ideas and suggestions of the local community for how these disaster risks can be reduced. These projects and initiatives will be supported by council and agencies. The program will foster community ownership and leadership of place based disaster risk reduction efforts. What a great community based program that will be.

In addition to that we announced funding for an emergency management exercise. This will culminate in a storm scenario. It will involve council and emergency management agencies, including the Nillumbik Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee and the Nillumbik community connectors. This will build upon the improved connections and capabilities developed through the project while strengthening collaboration between community, council and the agencies in all phases of emergency planning, preparedness, response and recovery. The exercise will be key to building disaster-resilient communities that are aware of local risks and invest in preparedness and risk mitigation. There are two great initiatives there in Nillumbik that are the sort of investment we need right across electorate and the country. No doubt that is why investing up to $200 million per year on resilience projects was recommended by the Productivity Commission in the 2015 report into national disaster funding and is supported by insurers, local governments and disaster relief bodies.

This investment in resilience will go a long way to underpinning the good work already being done in our community not only to protect lives and property but also to reduce the impact on taxpayers when it comes to the aftermath of disaster. It's the approach of the fence at the top of the hill rather than the ambulance at the bottom. It will also ensure that the National Emergency Management Agency has the appropriate powers and arrangements in place to administer payments for the DRF.

I know how much support a program like this has in the communities across our electorates, and I was also pleased to see that it is supported by ALGA and the Insurance Council of Australia. Labor is going to deliver on this commitment. I know our communities will benefit greatly from this program because it's so important and we've been through it, but we only get through it because we work together and we stick fast and stick strong. One of the great things that you see when you go through things like Ash Wednesday, Black Saturday, the Kilmore fires and the Macedon storms we had last year and this year—these ever-increasing and increasingly severe storms and the impacts they have—is the way that our community bands together. It doesn't matter if it's, rain, hail, sleet or snow; people will be there helping. The one thing that has always been missing is a federal government that's actually committed to addressing problems caused by climate change and make sure that risk mitigation was in place. That's why it's so important that we get this through and get it through very quickly. That's why I will be supporting this bill and commend it to the House.

5:47 pm

Photo of Max Chandler-MatherMax Chandler-Mather (Griffith, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is in the middle of shocking climate-fuelled natural disasters, in particular the terrible floods affecting so much of this country at the moment—indeed, floods that deeply affected my electorate of Griffith earlier this year. We know it's only going to get worse as the globe continues to heat up with the expansion of coal and gas that is driving this climate crisis. Of course, with more fires, floods and storms to come with ever greater frequency as a result of climate change, the Greens welcome any money spent on mitigation of natural disasters.

But let's put this into context. The Insurance Council of Australia has said that, just for coastal protection, we need an extra $30 billion of large-scale investment over the next 50 years. That's $600 million a year. Compare it to the $40 billion spent on fossil fuel subsidies in the budget or the fact there is literally extra in the budget to open up the Beetaloo gas basin, which will produce many more times the emissions of Adani, further driving the climate crisis. It actually includes an extra $1.9 billion to facilitate the export of that gas from the Northern Territory.

We know that the expansion of coal and gas mining is driving the climate disaster, so why is the government doling out billions of dollars that will literally accelerate the climate crisis while only giving $200 million to mitigate the consequences of that crisis? Let's be clear about the impacts of labour's plan to expand coal and gas mining. We know the scientists have told us that 95 per cent of Australia's coal has to stay in the ground to avoid dangerous global warming. Climate change means more of our rainfall coming the form of intense downpours, more moisture in the atmosphere and more energy for storms, all of which ramp up the risk of flooding.

Under 2½ degrees of warning, the most devastating cyclones are projected to occur twice as often as they are today. The number of people suffering extreme droughts across the world could double in less than 80 years. By 2030, fire seasons could be three months longer in areas already exposed to wildfires. In Western Australia, for example, this would add up to three months of days with high wildfire potential. In 2019 we saw what a devastating effect bushfires can have on Australia.

Australia will already experience—this is already locked in on the heating that's already going to happen—one-in-50-year storm surges every year by the year 2050 no matter what we do. The frustrating thing is that this bill provides no new money for dealing with natural disasters. It simply shuffles a little bit of extra cash into disaster preparations at the cost of funding for recovery. When the next flood, bushfire or cyclone hits, that clean-up money will have to come from somewhere else.

The $200 million for climate disaster mitigation and $40 billion to accelerate climate change really demonstrate the broken priorities of this budget. What's worse is that ultimately it will be ordinary people who will pay for the expansion of coal and gas, the fuelling of the climate crisis and the more frequent natural disasters that will follow, not the coal and gas corporations that are driving this crisis. It will be ordinary people who will pay through higher insurance premiums and higher grocery bills if floods disrupt food production and drive up prices. They will pay to clean up. They will pay through the emotional devastation that comes with the loss of homes, communities and sometimes, tragically, loved ones.

Indeed, I saw firsthand in Brisbane from the floods this year the devastating effect disasters can have on local communities. As we mobilised our volunteers to help clean up after the devastation, it struck me how deeply unfair it was that, while all this was happening, coal and gas corporations were reporting record profits. It was deeply frustrating in particular because I spoke to people like single mums who were having to sleep on couches because they couldn't afford the rent for a new place after their old place had flooded. Meanwhile, people like Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer were recording record profits. So many families who lost everything, families who did not have insurance, were forced to sleep on the couches of friends. They did it incredibly tough.

It really should be the coal and gas corporations that pay. If we properly tax coal and gas as we phase them out over the next 10 years, we could build a sovereign wealth fund of hundreds of billions of dollars. Norway—like other countries around the world—have properly taxed their resource industry and now have a sovereign wealth fund of over $1 trillion. Imagine what we could do. In that way we could mitigate natural disasters by finally tackling climate change, phasing out coal and gas and investing tens of billions of dollars in protecting our communities from the natural disasters we already know are to come.

Sitting suspended from 17 : 52 to 17 : 54

5:54 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today is a really exciting day, and I'm so pleased to be able to add my support to the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. My electorate of Gilmore, on the New South Wales South Coast, knows a thing or two about disasters. We have had multiple droughts, bushfires and floods, all in the last few years. The bushfires were nothing short of horrific. They burned most of my electorate, destroying hundreds of homes and millions of animals, and devastating the environment and lives. We are still dealing with the aftermath of those bushfires today. People are still without homes, and they are still dealing with the trauma. The environment is still in recovery. Sometimes it is hard to see a silver lining, but, in this instance, I do like to think that the positive to our devastating experience is this Disaster Ready Fund.

In the weeks following the bushfires in early 2020, I took Labor's entire shadow cabinet to Batemans Bay so that they could see firsthand what had happened. I brought along Warren Sharpe, the then director of infrastructure at Eurobodalla Shire Council, to share his experience and thoughts on a way forward. Warren was a steady presence throughout the bushfires. He led and guided council's response and spent countless hours at the makeshift emergency operations centre. He lived and breathed what was happening around him. His speech to the shadow cabinet that day was emotive, raw and real. Many of the shadow ministers who were present that day have told me what an impact Warren's speech had on them and that it stayed with them. Many of those shadow ministers are now ministers in this government. Warren recently retired from council, an incredible loss for all of the Eurobodalla. I want to sincerely thank him for his years of hard work and advocacy, particularly in the disaster management space. You're an asset to our community, Warren, and you will be missed. I wish him all the best.

I also want to make special mention here of the Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Murray Watt. Murray is an absolutely fabulous emergency management minister and a great friend. What has made him a great minister is being on the ground listening to people impacted by so many natural disasters around the country for years. He knows his stuff. He's been there, and he is really passionate about it. The minister visited the South Coast in the wake of those bushfires on many occasions. He travelled with me through Conjola Park, one of the hardest hit areas of the Shoalhaven, very soon after the bushfires. As we drove down one particular street, we saw a group of people sitting on a picnic table out the front of what used to be their home, looking out over the blackened forest to the lake—an eerie sight. We stopped to hear their stories. Murray listened intently, as he did everywhere he went, to the owners of the bait shop in Burrill Lake. They were afraid their business wouldn't make it.

I want to thank everyone in our community who shared their stories with me and with the many shadow ministers who visited the South Coast over the last few years, because now we have this legislation. The stories we heard about the woeful state of the Eurobodalla emergency operations centre, being run out of a hall in Moruya and off tables from Bunnings, mean that we will now, through last night's budget, deliver funding for a new emergency operations precinct for the Eurobodalla, a dedicated precinct for all our emergency services to be based in one place in Moruya, with fit-for-purpose buildings, fit-for-purpose equipment and no tables from Bunnings.

I started calling for this after my very first visit to the Moruya emergency operations centre during the bushfires. The Shoalhaven has one of these precincts already. I have spent countless hours there since my election due to bushfires, floods and more. It was mind-boggling to me that the Eurobodalla didn't have a facility anywhere near that one in comparison. I could see the difference it could make and how badly it was needed. I walked out of that hall that very first day and vowed to get them a proper EOC. Thanks to the Albanese government, now they will have one. It is really exciting.

One of the other things that happened during the bushfires that has really stayed with local people is the loss of telecommunications and the loss of power. It left us all in an incredibly vulnerable and dangerous position. So, as part of the Disaster Ready Fund, we will spend $750,000 to fireproof the Mount Wandera transmission tower, something that Warren Sharpe advocated strongly for because it would make sure that local people don't lose telecommunications in an emergency. Mount Wandera is the main telecommunications infrastructure for the whole of the Eurobodalla, so this is a hugely important project.

Another fabulous local advocate, Trevor Daly from the Durras Community Association, shared his community's harrowing experience with me, with the now Minister for Emergency Management and with the now Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Durras has one road in and one road out. They lost power, they lost telecommunications and it was terrifying. Trevor wanted an NBN cable put underground so that it wouldn't be vulnerable to disasters. He also wanted the power poles that line the road into the town from the highway to be upgraded from timber to composite poles so that they could withstand fire. So, as part of the Disaster Ready Fund, we will spend $221,000 to do this. It doesn't sound like much in the scheme of a $1 billion fund, but it is so important for this community.

Many people may also have heard the stories about hundreds of people stranded on the Princes Highway as they tried to escape the bushfires. One other thing the South Coast is famous for—and it's no compliment—is our infamous mobile black spots. Many of those people stranded also didn't have mobile phone reception. Just imagine being in the middle of nowhere, with no mobile phone, stuck and knowing a bushfire is coming. It was horrifying. It was terrifying. And it should never have happened.

So we are working to make sure it doesn't happen again. As part of the budget announced last night, we will spend $5 million to fix the mobile black spots along the Princes Highway, from Ulladulla to Tuross Head in my electorate and right down to Eden in the wonderful member for Eden-Monaro's electorate. We will also spend another $3 million to fix mobile black spots in Jamberoo, Kangaroo Valley, Worrigee and Lilli Pilli. Making sure people can stay connected is one of my top priorities.

We must be more resilient; we must be better prepared. We won't let a dollar go to waste. These are the things that this Disaster Ready Fund can do—the difference that we can make now as the Albanese government. This is a $1 billion fund to mitigate potential disaster loss and damage. It is critical. It will save lives. It will make sure that our devastating experience during the bushfires hasn't all been in vain. I listened to the stories from our community. The trauma our community experienced and continues to experience because we weren't well-enough prepared cannot be overstated. It has had a lasting impact that can never be erased.

Along with everyone in our community, I too lived the traumatic experience that was the 2019-2020 bushfires. I've been right there on the ground with our community every day since as we try and recover. I've heard so many stories of tragedy, of resilience and of fantastic community spirit. It brought us together—bound us together in a way that is hard to describe. It was a shared lived experience. Listening to these stories, you cannot help but be moved into action. I took those stories back to the shadow ministry. They listened and they acted, and now the Albanese government has put real steps in place to build a better future. It will make a tangible difference in Gilmore and on the South Coast. It will make a tangible difference across the country. I am proud to be a part of that.

Thank you to absolutely everyone who contributed to this. I commend the bill to the House.

6:03 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. We know climate change is real for Australia and the rest of the world but in particular for us as we are a continent incredibly exposed. There are immediate and deepening risks to our natural environment, economy and way of life. I welcome the government's initiative in shifting disaster and emergency spending from reactive recovery to adaptation and mitigation measures. We need to start being a more preventative policymaking institution here. The governments of the day need to start focusing on the long, long-term planning that is required to tackle a challenge like global warming.

This bill changes the name of the Emergency Response Fund to the Disaster Ready Fund. It's sad to think that we have to be ready for disasters, but it certainly is a more preventative approach. It allows up to $200 million per annum to be debited from the Disaster Ready Fund for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction, allows the responsible ministers to adjust the maximum disbursement amount via a disallowable legislative instrument, facilitates the transfer of responsibility for fund expenditure to the National Emergency Management Agency, and streamlines administrative arrangements in relation to transfers from the fund. They're all quite administrative aspects, but, when we are trying to build resilience for communities to ensure they are ready for disasters, it is important that these processes are streamlined and not unnecessarily bureaucratic.

I welcome the commitment to proactively spend the money set aside in the fund. Mitigation and adaptation projects will tangibly benefit Australians by lessening the impact of extreme weather events brought on by the climate crisis. The recent floods across much of the east coast of Australia, less than two years after the devastating 2019-20 bushfires, are a reminder of those risks and the devastating impacts they have on our communities.

It was clear during the royal commission into our response to the bushfires that there had been warnings that had not been heard and heeded, and that there were aspects of preparation that could have been attended to that may well have mitigated the extent of some of the disaster for some communities. So it is really important that we shift towards a more preventative approach to policy.

We have to talk about the health risks of unmitigated climate change, which really cannot be understated. The WHO has classified climate change as a defining issue for public health in the 21st century. It's essential that we address these challenges head-on and do our best to mitigate the risks of climate change before they occur rather than spending so much, primarily on recovery, after disasters have already occurred.

There is absolutely no sense in hiding behind statements that these are 'one-in-1,000-year floods' or that these are 'unprecedented events'. The reality is that, as the science and so much of the global community have warned us time and time again, these events are going to be exacerbated, they are going to be accelerating, they are going to be more frequent and they are going to be more and more extreme and severe, which means they will cost more in human lives and in the lives of native birds and other fauna. They will cost more in disruption to our communities and they will certainly cost more in repair. So all work to do that adaptation piece is incredibly important.

In the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2021, which I presented in the last parliament, I outlined the need—it was a key component of that legislation—for national climate change risk assessment to properly prioritise our next steps in mitigating climate change as a nation. During the course of the inquiry in relation to that bill, it was astounding that the New South Wales association of local government acknowledged that there was no coordinated national risk assessment process. It was astounding to learn that we have public infrastructure worth some $212 billion along the east coast exposed to global warming impacts. When I asked the then minister for the environment, who was responsible for that response to risk assessments, whether we had a national risk assessment process, the answer was no. I think it's really telling that, in a continent where we are so exposed, we're not even prepared to acknowledge, prepare for and assess the level of risk.

I welcome the government's commitment in yesterday's budget to establishing a national climate change risk assessment and the allocation of $9.3 million over the next four years to build climate risk management capabilities and systems. I strongly encourage the government to establish ongoing processes and five-year plans, as I proposed, to improve the mitigation programs that will be supported by the funds. We've heard many contributions in this place about how devastating some of the natural events we've had in recent years have been for those communities. We need to make sure there is a regular process of risk assessment, adaptation and planning that goes with acknowledging those risks.

Aside from informing mitigation and adaptation programs, the proposed five-year plans would allow an adaptive response to the identified risk, which is relevant both nationally and regionally for economic sectors including agriculture, biodiversity, national parks, marine parks, health, energy, transport services, education, planning, construction, infrastructure and so many more. Furthermore, proper risk assessments encourage investment in critical infrastructure to cope with the increase of severe weather events and to inform insurers and the community alike of the risks they face.

Once we assess the risk, we have to have a very clear and accountable process to make sure we put in place adaptation planning. It's something that, again, I had proposed, and I have had discussions with the minister in respect of the need to implement that as a regular aspect. Risk assessment and national adaptation planning, once produced, can include—and this is important for communities—the objective to protect against and mitigate those risks with strategies, policies and proposals for meeting those objectives; time frames to implement strategies, policies and proposals; and measures and indicators to monitor progress and how the strategies will be funded.

This bill comes at a crucial time. The CSIRO report into our future world predicts that, for the decade ahead, escalating impacts of unprecedented weather events highlight the urgency to invest in climate adaptation and preparation. The Insurance Council of Australia has indicated that insurance is already becoming more difficult to access due to the rising premiums after insurers recorded over $13 billion in claims cost over the two years following the Black Summer fires of 2019 and 2020. It was welcome that in the budget delivered yesterday there was some $25 million over five years to improve insurance availability and affordability. We know the predictions of how many households will be uninsurable by 2050. It is up to a million. That poses a serious question for communities and individuals. It poses a serious problem when it comes to lendability for credit for banks. The climate risk associated becomes too big for that mortgage portfolio. There are really serious questions that need to be addressed when it comes to those ongoing impacts of climate.

The Australia state of the environment report found that we're in rapidly changing climate with unsustainable use of our resources contributing to the deterioration of our environment. Immediate action with innovative management and collaboration can turn things around. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote to the then government, urging them to provide support to communities through the disaster recovery fund to assist with recovery from COVID-19.

We know that during lockdown periods it was incredibly important for governments, both state and federal, to come up with mechanisms to deliver assistance to local businesses as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, the definition of 'natural disasters' did not allow for 'pandemic' to be recognised. Payments under the mechanism would have been effective and simple to administer using existing processes through Services Australia, and that would have been of great assistance during, for example, the Christmas lockdown on the northern beaches in 2020-21. Unfortunately, that request was denied on the basis that the definition of 'natural disasters' did not extend to pandemics, but we do know from the WHO that the risk of pandemics is incredibly increased as a result of warming global temperatures, so I think it is important for the government to consider the definition of 'natural disasters' and whether or not 'pandemic' should also be included to ensure we have a prompt process to roll out assistance. I encourage the government to consider broadening the definition to include pandemics as there is no other existing mechanism to rapidly deal with such dire situations as we found ourselves in on multiple occasions over the past three years. Further, I believe it to be appropriate for some of the Disaster Ready Fund to be invested in pandemic preparedness.

I welcome this bill and the government's commitment to proactive measures of mitigation and adaptation to natural disasters. The impacts of climate change are already baked into our environment, and we need to assess what the risks are, adapt to them and mitigate them as best as possible. Australians know that this is true. We are seeing this on a daily basis with the floods that have been running across the east coast of the country for the past year. I welcome the changes in this legislation, but I urge the government: (1) to develop a plan to conduct regular national climate risk assessments; (2) to develop regular mitigation and adaptation plans in response to those national climate risk assessments; and (3) to consider broadening the definition of natural disasters to include pandemics to provide a shovel-ready tool to distribute funds in the event of future events such as COVID-19.

6:15 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have the great fortune of being in a city seat in Melbourne that also touches the fringes of the outskirts of regional Victoria. I've got the suburbs of Wonga Park, North Warrandyte, Warrandyte and Warrandyte South. Within those communities are four country fire authorities: the Wonga Park CFA and the North Warrandyte, Warrandyte and Warrandyte South CFAs. When I visit them, and I have been to many of their awards, it's such a treat to meet members of your community who have other jobs—they're tradesmen, lawyers, people who work in sales and retail—and here they are, giving up their time during the week to do training and on the weekend to go and help prevent fires.

More than that, they've signed a contract with their life. They have put their life on the line to defend our community when the call is made. That's a real risk. One of the first things I did as a candidate was to speak to one of the captains of those CFAs. I said, 'What is your fear about Warrandyte and a Marysville type scenario?' He said, 'It's not if; it's when.' I hope he is wrong on that. His view is that there will be a date when devastation will come through that community full of families. That's something I know the local police, the local council and the CFAs practice and rehearse again and again. We hear so often about one-in-100-year events, from financial crises to floods to pandemics, but here in Australia, in this continent, natural disasters are more than one-in-100-year events; they're a part of life. So it is right and proper that we consider that.

My next-door neighbour is the member for Casey, and I had the great honour of hearing his first speech in the main chamber. I was sitting just in front of him and I looked up. I didn't have a preview of what he was going to say. He described the Black Saturday experience that he had. He described a moment where he looked at his now wife, who was his partner, and thought, 'I've done something that will get us both killed,' but they survived. I was waiting for the detail, but he moved on. Then we were out at dinner and I said, 'Tell us what happened.' He goes, 'I didn't want to say it because I couldn't get the words out without crying.' I'll tell you what he said.

He was driving through Yarra Glen, which is not far from Lilydale. In an hour, you could be in the CBD of Melbourne. On that day, he was driving out of Yarra Glen and he saw this firestorm in the distance. He thought, 'I'll keep driving east, and then turn north and get out of it.' By the time he had travelled east 500 metres and turned north, that firestorm had completely engulfed him and his car. He couldn't see anything except red fire and smoke. He thought, 'I've killed my future wife,' but he put his foot down and kept going and somehow went through the other side. I said, 'In that moment, what did you say to each other?' He said, 'I said, "I love you," and she said the same back.' He had that glimpse of what we think of in the worst of times. It brings out the best in us.

He got through the other side, pulled the car over, looked back and thought: 'Oh my God. The poor people who are in that.' All across Victoria, in many different areas—Marysville and other areas—people didn't get out. But what we do know is that members of the Country Fire Authority weren't driving out; they were driving into it. That's what they've signed up to do. When I think of Warrandyte, I think of the families that are there. Whenever I visit the schools, I now ask, 'What is your evacuation centre for the children?' These things come on so quickly. Parents are in the city and the children are studying. They would be terrified. You don't want cars moving in lots. They've tried to turn basketball courts and production theatres into evacuation centres. This bill is seeking to do just that—make sure that we are preparing in advance to save lives. They are mostly young people, who rely on us to care for them.

It is not a perfect bill and it is not one that is without flaws. We do note that, as there is a lot of money in the fund, perhaps some better transparency is required about how it will be looked after and how it will be distributed. There's no definition of what constitutes 'mitigation' or 'disaster prevention' projects. In the last few weeks, I have been poring over the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill. That's going to loom large over everything we do in this building and the Public Service. But, short of corruption—and no-one wants that—it's just about proper management of money. It's a lot of money and it's important that it's allocated well.

We also note that the minister refers to 'consultation on guidelines to be held with stakeholders'. But who are the stakeholders? What are the guidelines? Sometimes bills with the best of intentions head off on tangents that none of us expect because the press knocks on the door, makes the call, gets their voice heard and takes it down a path that we didn't expect. This is a feature of US politics that thankfully we don't see too much of here. They will have a headline for an act or a bill and within the bill there's foreign policy, new bases, a new aircraft carrier for someone and new roads. There's all this horse trading that goes on behind the scenes. So we have to make sure that when we set up funds like this we haven't in other ways—

A division having b een called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18:22 to 18 : 3 3

I started talking about the wonderful CFAs that I have in my corner of the world in Warrandyte. I'd like to mention to my colleagues who are sitting to my left that your Greens candidate for Menzies is a wonderful person. We actually became quite good friends. He lives in North Warrandyte and runs this Facebook group about supporting platypuses. I've checked it and had a look. He's a former journalist. The community love it and they love the work that he does. He also won the primary in North Warrandyte, so he'd be the member for North Warrandyte if that were a booth. He's a wonderful person. We had lovely conversations on prepoll about all sorts of things. It's a unique part of the electorate.

I want to give particular recognition to the councillors that cover those areas. Again, as a candidate, in order to find out all I could about a particular area, I reached out to all of the 11 councillors that cover my seat. The City of Manningham is entirely within Menzies, but there's one ward from Nillumbik, and then there are a few from Whitehorse. I've been thoroughly impressed. They're from all sorts of political backgrounds and stripes and persuasions, but each is a person who understands and knows their community. The councillor who covers Warrandyte, Carli, took me on a lovely drive around her electorate. I keep coming back to Warrandyte, but it's the one area that I think will benefit most from this particular bill. She took me up and through North Warrandyte, out to Wonga Park. She pointed out—I won't say his address—the residence of the very famous John Farnham, who lives in Wonga Park. John Farnham hasn't had a great time lately; he has been unwell. But, from media reports, he has sort of come through.

Again, there's a unique perspective on life there that I think this bill will speak to, and I will always be their representative, working hand-in-hand with the councils as well as the state member, Ryan Smith, to help people. God forbid that one day something horrible happens. Wherever we are, I know we will stop what we're doing and get to our committees to help in the best way that we can. There are a lot of things you can do in advance and there are a lot of things that can be done in the immediate aftermath. Again, this particular fund will be very important for providing that assistance. I probably had my train of thought broken, but I'll finish early. I commend the bill.

6:37 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Are we ready for disaster? Only last weekend, in Ryan, we thought we had to be again, a mere eight months on from the last one, from which so many have not yet recovered. The Bureau started sending out urgent warnings of impending possible flooding. There were pings on phones in the middle of the night. We're all hypervigilant at the moment. In Victoria, we've seen unprecedented flooding over the last month. Lismore was issued an evacuation order again, only eight months out from their last devastating floods. When this La Nina year ends, it will be bushfires again before too long, and my home electorate of Ryan, with its enormous stretches of beautiful bushland, is also at risk here. Climate change is here, it's getting worse, and we have to be ready.

We in our electorate office have been meeting, planning, taking advice from locals, getting a picture of what dozens of remarkable volunteer organisations across Ryan have been doing and building relationships so we can support them and help the community look after itself. That's how we see it; we see our role as using the resources of our office and our vast network of Greens volunteers not to replace the work of these groups but to complement and support them. In fact, one of the most encouraging things I've found since beginning this work is getting to understand the depth and breadth of community action in this area. It's actually quite astounding how many amazing groups there are doing this work. We have the Bellbowrie-Moggill Community-led Disaster Management Group, who are doing incredible disaster preparedness planning for the Moggil-Bellbowrie-Anstead area, coordinating resources, communication and crisis accommodation. We have the 4070 & 4069 Action Group building community in their areas, pushing for community led solutions to things like the isolation of the Moggil-Bellbowrie area during floods. There's SOWN, Save Our Waterways Now, keeping creeks and waterways healthy and flowing by removing rubbish and weeds and revegetating.

We recently met the amazing team at Brookfield Rural Fire Brigade, a volunteer run organisation protecting the large area of bushland in our electorate, including through hazard reduction. Other groups include: the Mandalay Progress Association—and I went to their festival the other day—formed after the 1974 floods and still going strong; the Gap Sustainability Initiative, which is pushing for a range of sustainability initiatives in their particular area, including energy security; Meals on Wheels, who fed so many people in need during the February floods; BrisWes Connect; and Transition Town. There are great environmental groups, like the Wilderness Society, Moggill Creek Catchment Group and Cubberla-Witton Catchments Network. We've got social assistance groups like the Indooroopilly Uniting Church refugee hub, who look after some of the most vulnerable, Picabeen community services, Lions and rotary clubs and women's groups. The list goes on and on.

This is just a sample of the extraordinary community initiatives across Ryan. There are so many more, as well as new ones forming all the time—great volunteer led groups doing essential work. In fact, 45 very worthy Ryan volunteer led groups applied for grants recently, and we were very happy to be able to award 23 of them. I really feel that all these groups are the social infrastructure of Ryan, and they're what gets our community through when disaster strikes. I also recently had the good fortune of meeting the incredible group of people behind Sweltering Cities, who are doing excellent work fighting to climate-proof Western Sydney—a great example of the type of community initiative happening all across Australia.

But, as amazing as all these groups are—rolling up their sleeves, putting on the gumboots, getting out the generators, organising sandbags, food, shelter and clean-ups, and proactively creating more sustainable and resilient neighbourhoods—they need real support. To do that, they need funding, and that funding needs to focus on preparedness, not just 'clean up after the fact' assistance.

This bill does propose to repurpose the existing Emergency Response Fund to focus on disaster mitigation and risk reduction, on building resilience and on preparing for future natural disasters. This is welcome. But there is one problem: there's no more money in the fund. It's just shifting the same amount of money from before, from disaster recovery to disaster preparedness. Anyone living in my electorate of Ryan or in places like Lismore or Melbourne, in fact, will tell you we need an overall increase in the funding for dealing with disasters. Anyone who lost their houses or who choked through the 2019 bushfires will tell you the same thing.

This new disaster readiness fund includes only $200 million a year for the whole country. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't cut it. Whole cities and suburbs need major redesigns of infrastructure, planning and development to prepare for the increased extreme weather events that are being driven by climate change. Emergency accommodation, escape routes, buying back properties on flood plains, building new evacuation centres, retrofitting homes to deal with heatwaves, creating new firebreaks, restoring creek ways and developing new drainage systems: all of this is going to cost into the tens or hundreds of billions. So any expenditure here has to be seen as an investment in the future. The Insurance Council of Australia has said that we need to spend $30 billion in large-scale coastal investment over the next 50 years. That's $600 million a year, every year, just to protect against storm surges, erosion and sea-level rise.

I'd like to bring it back home to what this means for my electorate of Ryan. We have an entire section of the electorate that gets totally cut off from the rest of the city in floods. This is the Moggill-Bellbowrie area. As a note, the word 'Moggill' comes from 'magil', meaning water dragon, and 'Bellbowrie' means 'place of flowering gums' in the original language, which are beautiful descriptors of the natural, original character of the place. These days, it's an area of high population with limited social infrastructure, relying on one road in and out. That's Moggill Road, which is cut off by floodwater at more than three points when it floods.

While the locals are doing that incredible job coordinating and looking after each other, they shouldn't be cut off in the first place. What many locals are calling for is very reasonable: a bridge from Bellbowrie and across the river to Wacol or Riverhills—a bridge that would operate for buses, cyclists and pedestrians in normal times but that, during emergencies, would function as an escape route from both floods and fires and a way to get crucial supplies to support the area. This is a really good example of essential, urgent disaster readiness infrastructure. The cost for a bridge like this, even at the lowest estimates, could be around $300 million—and that's one piece of critical infrastructure. How many similar projects are needed across the country? How is $200 million a year supposed to cover all of them? This doesn't even begin to cover the kind of community infrastructure that would allow that area to be more resilient, self-sufficient and prepared. We owe it to Moggill, Bellbowrie, Pullenvale and Anstead people.

Compared to the scale of what we need to keep our communities safe from the effects of climate change, this $200 million for disaster preparedness is obviously deeply inadequate. But, compared to what this government is funding in this budget, it's actually quite stunning. We've just seen Labor commit $2 billion of public money—new cash—for expanding the gas industry. The budget also contains $40 billion plus in fossil fuel subsidies. It contains $254 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy. The government is going to be spending upwards of $170 billion on nuclear submarines. Even just highway upgrades will cost this budget billions each year. But only $200 million a year for preparing for disasters that threaten Australians' lives and livelihoods and the economy? Come on, people! I think we've got to do better than that.

When the minister introduced this bill, she said that the management of climate change and its impacts was, and I quote, 'one of the most important issues that faces our country'. If that's the case, why does it rank so desperately low in the government's spending priorities? This government has a lot of rhetoric about addressing climate change, but, when you dig a little deeper, you find support for new coal and gas, and you find that the investment in keeping our communities safe just isn't there. When the original bill, which was the Emergency Response Fund Bill 2019, was brought in by the coalition, the Greens raised concerns not just about the inadequate scale of the fund but about the way the fund worked. These real concerns about the original bill, like ministerial discretion to expend significant funds with absolutely limited guidance and scrutiny, remain. In fact, we're concerned that those very issues may become more acute under the proposed pivot from reactive to proactive spending. The fund also suffers from the fact that the amount available each year is tied to the earnings on a capital fund. If the stock markets take a hit one year, we mightn't even be able to fund the $200 million. This money should be guaranteed, not reliant on the ebbs and flows of financial stocks and derivatives. Climate change won't wait for the stock market to recover. In the ultimate irony, among the corporations that this $2 million invests in—guess what?—there are coal and gas companies. The fossil fuel industry is the root cause of the problems. That is some kind of perverse, inverted, circular economy, I reckon, feeding off itself and creating ever-more-difficult disasters.

Instead of our disaster readiness fund investing in the very corporations who are causing more extreme and frequent disasters, another thing that the Greens said back in 2019 was that this fund should be expanded by instituting a levy on coal and gas corporations. Since then, we've had devastating, deadly bushfires and repeated, unprecedented floods. And, since then, we've also had record profits for coal and gas corporations. Coal and gas companies have known for decades that burning their products would lead to exactly the effects we're seeing today, but they keep doing it anyway. They have made, and continue to make, enormous profits while causing dangerous climate change. With that in mind, I think it's only fair and rational to impose a levy on these big corporations to fund the billions in disaster preparedness that Australia, obviously, desperately needs. That's the message: no new coal and gas, phase out fossil fuels and, in their dying days, tax these big fossil fuel corporations to fund disaster preparedness and renewables. I don't think that's a radical proposal. The radical proposal is that we can keep tinkering around the edges when the effects of climate change are bearing down on us and devastating our communities with predictable regularity.

6:49 pm

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Natural disasters across the country are becoming more frequent and more intense. We are feeling them right across Australia. Even as I stand here speaking here now, people living in New South Wales and Victoria are being subjected to intense rainfall and flooding. This is at one degree of warming.

In my home electorate of Brisbane, the city council recently released an updated flood map for the city. This map shows the extent to which Brisbane is susceptible to climate change induced increases in rainfall and flooding. Residents of Brisbane already knew the widespread devastation that resulted from the floods earlier this year, but to have it shown to them on a map of their city was truly confronting. We saw suburbs that had never previously flooded now being inundated. We saw communities that had previously flooded now being even more severely affected. This is at one degree of warming.

Local businesses in Albion are now increasingly anxious whenever rain sets in. It is not just flash flooding and rising creek levels that can impact them but also now dam releases if these are not done early enough before the wet season. Residents in Stafford saw their backyards shrink by as much 10 metres as rushing waters of the Kedron Brook inundated their homes and properties. A once quiet stream turned into a fast-flowing river carrying shipping containers and debris for miles.

Many residents of Brisbane are now no longer able to get insurance on their properties due to the impacts of climate change on their homes and communities. These more frequent disasters cause immense damage to agriculture, our food sources and supply chains, pushing up prices and making a bad situation even worse. This is at one degree of warming.

When it comes to these climate fuelled disasters mitigation must be the way forward. It is not enough to rely on the resilience of the people in this country every single time a natural disaster occurs. Communities should not be expected to quite literally rebuild their streets, suburbs and even towns every few years, or even more frequently. It is the role of government to keep people safe and to mitigate the risks posed by climate change, especially since successive governments over decades have ignored science and advice from global experts about the damage to individuals, communities and the economy that climate change will cause. Supporting mitigation efforts in communities is the very least that we can do.

This bill is simply a rebranding of the Emergency Response Fund. This bill shifts $150 million set aside for disaster recovery to instead sit with the $50 million spent on public works to minimise the impacts of natural disasters before they hit. There's no new money. Even the Insurance Council of Australia, as my colleague the member for Ryan quoted—and I will quote it again—has stated that we need to spend $30 billion over the next 50 years on large-scale coastal mitigation to protect communities against increasing storm surges, erosion and rising sea levels. That is around $600 million a year. The $200 million a year the government is proposing is not enough, and our communities deserve better. This bill is not spending any new money while it is relying on stock market returns to ensure the fund stays topped up.

Perhaps the most glaring issue here is where this money comes from. The fund is allowed to invest in the very companies that are causing the climate crisis, like Santos, ExxonMobil and Whitehaven. For climate mitigation and infrastructure, Australians are being asked to rely on the stock market returns of the fossil fuel companies causing this damage. The government is choosing to rely on the ever-increasing performance and profitability of the fossil fuel industry as part of its climate policy.

The Greens believe that we should be making these fossil fuel giants pay their fair share of tax to fund the services that we need. We should not be investing in fossil fuel companies to prop them up and support our communities, because these companies are serial tax avoiders. They shift huge amounts of their profits offshore. They pay some of the lowest royalties in the world, receive billions each year in subsidies, send us the bill for the mess they make and donate millions to the major parties to get away with it. We should not be handing out money to and investing heavily in the fossil fuel industry.

With another La Nina event being declared, communities in Brisbane are anxious. They reach out to my office every single day. We are already experiencing a wet spring and we know that the rain will continue into the summer. I want the people of Brisbane to know that my office has put together a flood information sheet with key information and points of contact. We will be distributing this to every single household in the electorate. We will also be seeking community leaders and volunteers to express their interest in participating in any flood clean-up efforts with us.

I want the people of Brisbane to know that I have their back and I will keep fighting for them. The Greens and I will keep pushing for more to be spent on climate change mitigation in our communities. We want to stop the billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies and we want to make sure our country does not remain captured by vested interests.

6:54 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. The bill proposes to amend the Emergency Response Fund Act 2019 to repurpose the existing Emergency Response Fund as a dedicated ongoing source of funding for natural disaster mitigation and risk reduction. It will be known as the Disaster Ready Fund. The Disaster Ready Fund is expected to commence on 1 July 2023.

This bill will also allow up to $200 million per annum to be debited from the Disaster Ready Fund for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction. It will allow the minister to adjust the maximum disbursement amount via a disallowed legislative instrument and facilitate the transfer of responsibility for fund expenditure to the NEMA and streamline administrative arrangements in relation to transfers from the fund.

I represent an electorate where this fund will matter. I am grateful to the minister and his office for detail on its proposed operations, including its focus on built-environment projects, such as levees, and community resilience projects, including preparedness plans and place based responses. I understand that disbursement of these funds will be directed through eligibility guidelines. This is very important to ensure these funds are going to worthy projects that stack up, because the last thing that emergency affected communities want is white elephant projects that look good to announce but do nothing to build our resilience.

I supported the former government's Emergency Response Fund Bill in 2019 when it was passed in September of that year. Back then, my electorate was experiencing drought. The Benalla Rural City Council and rural city of Wangaratta became eligible for Drought Communities Program funding, with these areas experiencing hardship as a result of years of below-average rainfall. Who could have foreseen that since that time the pendulum would swing right back around with floods brought about by the third La Nina event in three years? And of course there were the Black Summer bushfires that ravaged my electorate.

It is regional Australia that endures the brunt of disasters, the droughts, the floods and the bushfires that are becoming increasingly severe and happening increasingly often. These aren't one-off events. We barely get a chance to breathe between them, and we can't keep reacting to disasters. We can't keep going with knee-jerk reactions—a ministerial announcement or an ad hoc appropriation. We need to shift our focus from recovery towards prevention and mitigation. We need to reduce the economic and psychological impacts of these disasters which are increasingly becoming a part of our lives.

Right now my electorate is very wet. Rainfall records for October have been tumbling. Benalla, Euroa and some parts of Wangaratta have experienced flooding, and there's more rainfall forecast. Right across Murrindindi, the rivers are full and overflowing. Our soil is saturated right across our electorate. This will be an ongoing situation for us. I have spoken with federal emergency services minister Murray Watt and local government minister Kristy McBain about the support and repair works that are needed. I am grateful for their attention to the unfolding disaster and their rapid approval for disaster recovery payments. I am very grateful to Minister Watt for his frequent phone calls to me over the course of the last couple of weeks, checking in on the community.

Our councils, though, are now facing enormous costs to clean up and fix potholes on our roads. The price tag is eye watering. And these are councils which already have a low rate basis. Before the flooding, we had significant problems right across our rural road networks. This flooding is causing enormous damage. That's why I was disappointed to see the lack of new road funding in the budget. I was heartened to see that the government will continue to partner with state and territory governments to fund projects under the Road Safety Program, with the delivery of total nationwide funding of $3 billion to continue through to mid-2025. But so much more is needed in these times to equip us. It is incredibly difficult for local councils—I can't underscore this enough—to keep up with the necessary repairs. This area needs significant investment, and Labor missed an opportunity in the budget to strengthen roads further in light of the recent floods.

I was pleased to see in the budget last night a measure that addresses insurance premiums for areas that are prone to natural disasters. I have lobbied the Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, from the day he took office to address skyrocketing premiums for businesses and households affected by bushfires. Insurance premiums are driving our iconic businesses to the wall, especially in our alpine areas. I make special mention of Mr Steve Bellow, from the alpine areas in Indi, who I've worked with closely on this really difficult area of insurance. He has come to me many times. He's worked tirelessly on bushfire recovery and he's been a champion for the businesses in our alpine resorts. Mr Bellow, I hope you are listening, because there is a little glimmer of hope in the budget. But so much more needs to be done to address this insurance crisis.

I welcome the government's commitment of $22.6 million over four years to start tackling this insurance problem. We know how complex the issue is, and greater regulation will not solve the issue on its own. The government has proposed partnerships between government and the insurance sector and to inform mitigation projects to reduce the cost of this essential protection. The measures in the budget papers last night were welcome but they are light on detail. I want to see evidence that shows the government's proposals are linked to real action.

The first three years of my parliamentary career have been marked by me fighting alongside the community to get access to government support to help my constituents recover from the impact of natural disasters. After the Black Summer bushfires, affected communities were nonsensically excluded from support. This was a gruelling process of advocating for their inclusion that resulted in the long-awaited extension of the $10,000 small business bushfire recovery grant to Indigo, Wangaratta and Mansfield six months after the fires—sadly too late for many businesses. At the end, though, together with the community, we made progress with our recovery and resilience through securing $938,000 for 18 primary producers, including grape growers affected by smoke take; $6.43 million for 642 small businesses; and $2 million for individuals and families impacted by the 2019-20 fires.

My observation is that through this hard-fought process this government is incrementally getting better at responding to communities' needs. There is more consultation, and recovery payments flow quicker. Time is of the essence with these emergency supports. It needs to be responsive so that it can save businesses and get lives back on track quickly, because we know there is a long tail for recovery, and the economic, psychological and social impacts last for years and sometimes decades.

We also need to continue to systematically engage affected small businesses and primary producers to identify whether the support provided is enough to sustain them. If it's not, the government will have to decide what price it's willing to pay to save regional communities affected by disaster. Natural disasters will continue to dominate our lives in regional Australia, throwing lives into chaos, affecting businesses and disrupting our agricultural and production sector.

This bill is a good development, but we do need more. I'd like to see the inclusion of emergency services precincts or emergency operations precincts in eligible projects. These would coordinate emergency and volunteer services efforts and help recruit the much-needed volunteers. Everywhere I go across my electorate, most particularly in the last couple of weeks with the floods, when I speak the SES and the CFA, they tell me that their volunteer numbers are down and those who are left are exhausted. When we talk about resilience funding, we need to make sure that the guidelines enable us to address that as a key problem and to address the fact that multiservice precincts are a great way to go to capitalise on the volunteers that we have got—share resources, share information. I believe those things fit squarely within the resilience aspect of these funds. I know right now Mansfield and Myrtleford are two places that could benefit so greatly from emergency services precincts.

We need a nationwide plan to adapt our country to a changed climate. This would involve practical steps to protect our farm and small business sectors and keep our communities safe. We need to restore funding to research organisations leading this work. I suggest that the government adopt my proposal for an adaptation plan for the agricultural sector, including research investment into climate-resilient crops, more support for farmers to diversify into new types of crops, and payments to landowners for their extraordinary ecosystem management. Farmers have so many answers. We need to back them when it comes to adaptation and climate change.

Finally, we must reduce the likelihood and severity of these disasters by cutting carbon emissions at home and abroad. As long as emissions continue, our temperatures will rise and these crises will escalate. To say this should be as controversial as saying water flows downhill—and it flows a lot.

Regional Australia bears the brunt of natural disasters, but we also have the most to gain from smart, practical action to lower emissions and create new industries in rural and regional Australia. The opportunities are there if we are clever enough to seize them and the opportunities in this bill are there if we're smart enough to realise what communities need be resilient.

7:05 pm

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier this year I visited Lismore. I saw the devastation with my own eyes and heard stories of horror and survival from the local community. One young woman told me how the floodwaters trapped her, her mother and her two dogs inside their own home. The water rose to within inches of the ceiling. As the hours passed, she thought she would die. This is just one story, and there are thousands more which are never told.

During the most recent Lismore floods, waters reached14.4 metres. The worst previous flood reached 12.3 metres in 1954. These disasters used to occur decades or even centuries apart. However, it is now clear that climate change is causing climate breakdown, and Australia is at the front line of these impacts, experiencing more devastating fires, floods and storms more often.

Just in the last couple of days and weeks, communities in five states were under flood warnings. Communities in Victoria and along the Murray River are reeling as we speak, while, sadly, authorities have reported a woman has died in the floodwaters in western New South Wales. The ongoing cleanup has been amongst the most expensive in Australian history, and people are still living in tents and makeshift accommodation following the floods and the Black Summer bushfires a few years ago. In the May budget, it was estimated that $6 billion would be spent on relief and recovery following the Queensland and New South Wales floods. As we heard in the budget speech last night, the latest floods have caused a downgrade of 0.25 per cent in GDP growth this quarter.

The McKell Institute estimates that extreme weather in the previous 12 months cost every Australian household, on average, $1,500. This is estimated to grow to $2,500 by 2050. The government has put aside $5 billion for this coming summer, with authorities warning that flooding is likely to continue for months. There were many lessons learnt from the Lismore floods. These include the need to provide up-to-date weather warnings for communities, the need to deliver evacuation orders faster and the need to dispatch emergency services faster. It also showed the desperate need to redesign and adapt our infrastructure for a warming world.

I'd like to thank those at Resilience Lismore for explaining to me the web of complexity they faced in accessing government funding and support services. Overwhelmingly, one thing was clear: community groups who have recovered from these natural disasters need to be consulted and funded to actively participate in developing a blueprint for recovery of the communities. Those local community organisations should also be funded now, before the next disaster. We need to build resilience to enable preparation for effective, community-led response to future events.

However, what has become clear is Australia has not put aside adequate funding to help communities adapt to these climate change fuelled natural disasters. In 2019, the then coalition government legislated the Emergency Response Fund Act. The ERF was set up with seed funding of $4 billion. It was designed to release $150 million annually to disaster recovery and resilience, except that, by the time the flooding events occurred on the east coast last year, the ERF had only dispersed $50 million, and this was despite having generated $800 million in interest. Is it any wonder communities were not prepared?

Despite this fund, the then Minister for Home Affairs set up a GoFundMe page for flood affected Queensland communities and suggested that people crowdsource for their own protection. At the time, the former government said it had spent $17 billion on disaster response. But they did not tell us that, out of that $17 billion, over $13 billion went to pandemic response, $3 billion went to bushfire recovery and $1.5 billion went to the floods in northern Queensland in 2019. The argument by the coalition was that the ERF was not set up to respond to every natural disaster. But, as families were left stranded on their roofs, the fund's interest rate was going through the roof. This was a failure of public administration on an enormous scale. We were dealing with life and death. So how do we move forward?

This bill picks up the pieces and will rename the ERF the Disaster Ready Fund, increasing the fund's annual expenditure to $200 million, which the states and territories will match. The government have committed to disbursing the funds faster than the coalition, and I look forward to holding them to that. This is a start, and we know that, for every dollar invested in resilience, the return is far greater. Unfortunately, this increase will not touch the sides of what is needed. The Insurance Council of Australia estimates that we will need to invest $1.8 billion a year in disaster resilience by 2050. Every $1 million in funding results in more hospital beds, more emergency vehicles, more microgrids and more flood- and fire-resilient homes and communities.

There are three things that can be done to fund a safer future for Australians. First of all, we need to look at repurposing our current spending on fossil fuel subsidies and shift those funds towards supporting disaster adaptation to prepare our communities for the future. Every good health carer knows that prevention is better than a cure and far cheaper. It's high time we stopped handing out taxpayer money to companies that are making these disasters worse.

Secondly, Australia must ensure that we stop multinational oil and gas companies from avoiding the payment of their fair share of tax. We can do this by closing the enormous loopholes in the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax, or PRRT. Multinational fossil fuel companies are raking in enormous profits currently, using our resources, and Australia is not benefiting as it should. These profits have been turbocharged by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and come at the expense of Australian energy consumers and our environment. As former Treasury secretary Ken Henry said, 'There is simply no economic reason windfall profits could not be taxed.' This already happens in Norway, which is how they built their $1.7 trillion sovereign wealth fund.

Finally, we also need to charge a reasonable rate of royalty on our resources. Queensland is already doing this, and the federal government should follow.

Although this fund will assist with adaptation efforts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, we will reach a point where adaptation is futile. Climate change is the driver of catastrophic floods that have inundated the east coast. The Prime Minister admitted this in comments this week, and I praise the Prime Minister for recognising the impact of climate change on fuelling natural disasters. However, if we don't reduce emissions quickly, we do face a dark future.

As Australians, we must accept our responsibility for making these disasters worse, both here in Australia and globally. Australia is the third-largest fossil fuel exporter in the world. According to an analysis by the Australia Institute, our exported emissions account for almost five per cent of global emissions. While some actions are being taken to reduce domestic emissions, the government is still approving coalmines and recently approved the $1.9 billion taxpayer funded Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct in the Northern Territory. Middle Arm will link up with gas fields in the Beetaloo Basin and will power gas manufacturing at the hub. Environmental scientist Dr Michael Petroni estimated that this precinct could generate 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions per annum. That's almost the pollution of 7.7 million cars on the road in a year. We need to stop approving these fossil fuel projects if we want a safe future. This bill is the start and not the end. We can do so much better. The people of Mackellar believe we can safeguard communities from natural disasters, that we can become a renewable energy superpower and that we cannot waste a dollar more on fossil fuel subsidies.

I will finish by thanking the local rural fire service volunteers and brigades in Mackellar and our local SES volunteers, ambulance drivers and emergency workers. They do a phenomenal job in what is turning out to be a very tough job, indeed. I hope that by passing this bill we provide them with the support they need and deserve. I commend this bill to the House.

7:15 pm

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this amendment to the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022, but I also bring to the debate the personal experience of the past fortnight as my electorate of Nicholls has been ravaged by an unprecedented flood emergency. The Emergency Response Fund was set up by the coalition government in 2019. It was funded by the uncommitted balance of the Education Investment Fund, which was then closed. It was an investment fund intended to grow over time and maximise the Commonwealth's capacity to support states and territories to respond to major natural disasters into the future.

As of December 2021, the ERF balance was $4.7 billion, comprising of $3.978 billion credited to the ERF when it was established and $750 million in net earnings. That earnings figure in reserve has grown even more since. Under the previous legislation, the government could access up to $50 million for pre-disaster resilience measures and up to $150 million for emergency response and recovery each financial year.

Following the devastating Lismore floods this February and March, the coalition government was criticised for spending only $50 million on mitigation projects of the $836 million in interest earned by the fund. Labor made an election commitment to revamp the fund to spend $200 million annually on disaster prevention and resilience. The disaster ready bill will repurpose the ERF, turning it into an ongoing source of funding for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction.

There is a place for risk reduction and mitigation, but the bill lacks any detail or definition of what constitutes these activities. The Disaster Ready Fund, as it will be known, will provide $200 million per financial year for natural disaster resilience and risk reduction initiatives, but there is no transparency about how the funds will be distributed or what constitutes a mitigation or disaster prevention project.

In the past week, I sat down at a kitchen table in the small region of Undera in the Nicholls electorate. Seated at the table were local farmers, some with a history on the land dating back many, many generations. They had seen floods through the generations and knew how to respond. They have a levee to protect their properties from the Goulburn River and they knew one week prior that it was in a fairly poor state in some sections. They set to work but between local and state authorities couldn't nail down who was responsible for the levee's maintenance. They took matters into their own hands, making repairs and purchasing sand to fill sandbags to reinforce the levee. They battled with the elements and time and ultimately many areas still flooded as the water rose over the levee and then undermined it. They now need urgent temporary repairs because the Goulburn River is still high and the risk of further flooding has yet not receded. At the time we sat around the kitchen table, they also needed to find hundreds of missing cows. They didn't know if they had perished or had dispersed into the regional park.

As I have travelled throughout my electorate, the sound of helicopters overhead has been fairly constant. The farmers wanted a quick flyover to locate their cattle so they could at least attempt to get feed to them. The ongoing emergency meant that that wasn't possible for them. I mention this because it reflects that in an emergency the immediate needs of flood victims are many and varied. Shelter, food and comfort are the most immediate, and in Seymour, Nagambie, Shepparton, Mooroopna, Rochester and currently Echuca, that help is available in my electorate. Emergency financial support is also important, and I thank the Minister for Emergency Services, Senator Murray Watt, for being engaged and responsive to my community needs.

We do not yet fully understand the scale of the impact, but it would be correct to assume that there is more to add in terms of assistance and much more to be done as the region shifts from emergency to clean-up and then to recovery. Only this afternoon, at 2.12 pm, the emergency SMS network was used to send a text to people in the flood zone, informing people queueing for flood relief payments at the Shepparton Showgrounds of lengthy delays and urging them to instead make their applications online. The demand for support is great. People's circumstances are dire, and the level of support needs to ramp up to match the demand.

The people of Nicholls are like many Australian communities: they are stoic, practical, empathetic and selfless. Across the flood-affected areas of my electorate, we have seen and heard of the countless acts of kindness during this crisis: neighbours helping neighbours, strangers helping strangers, a community spirit that is the very essence of what it is to live in rural and regional Australia, and as their local member I am so proud of them.

As the situation worsened and floodwaters approached thousands of people, the community got out there and helped to fill, distribute and lay sandbags in a last, desperate attempt at mitigation, which in many cases, sadly, was not enough. Others helped families to evacuate and gave them shelter on higher ground. Communities rallied to distribute food, water and other necessities whenever they could. In a part of Shepparton North which was isolated for four days, a lone stranger in a kayak paddled through the streets, delivering water and homemade sandwiches. Daniel Cleave, Kaiden Richards, Curt Arthur and Michael Hand used a tinnie to make supply drops around their estate in Shepparton. The food was supplied by members of a local boxing gym. Communities formed on social media shared their experiences and helped stranded and isolated people find out about their relatives and friends in other areas. Many residents evacuated to the safety of refuges, where again volunteers from the community did everything they could to provide comfort.

Day and night, people stranded in their flooded streets checked those around them. It was a familiar scene for people to gather on their front porches and shout up and down the street. They would establish who needed supplies or assistance, but it was also a way of lifting each other's spirits. As their accessible world shrank with the rising water, people stuck together and did whatever they could to support each other. This is what good communities do, what regional communities do.

That support is also evident as flood victims deal with the shocking reality of what these record floods have wrought on their communities. The clean-up and recovery tasks are massive, as unprecedented as the flooding itself. Again these strong and resilient communities will rise to the challenge. On the weekend, I joined one of many football and netball clubs helping to coordinate clean-up volunteers, but, having seen firsthand the scale of the damage, I say they can't do it alone.

In Rochester, an estimated 90 per cent of the homes and buildings have been flooded above floor level. Rochester, or Rochie as we call it in my electorate, has been through it before, and history records how they helped each other after the 2011 floods. But, with so many people impacted and dealing with their own calamity, the volunteer workforce is stretched. I stood in a flooded Rochester home with 83-year-old Lorraine Wilson, who was cleaning the mud off her cabinets of collectibles and treasured photographs of her late husband. She raised five children in that home, and one of them is named Leigh Wilson. He's been doing an amazing job rallying and supporting his community in Rochester.

After the Brisbane flood there was a mud army, and Rochester needs an army—our ADF—to speed up the initial clean-up and get the town on the road to recovery. The longer the sodden, smelly mess remains, the worse the impact on the community, which right now, frankly, feels a bit forgotten and neglected. They need help and they need hope.

Across my electorate business owners have been hit hard. Some have wept openly at their loss. They need support to clean up and re-establish. Despite the efforts of a gang of volunteers, the IGA supermarket in Rochester may not be fully operational before Christmas, and that's the only supermarket in that town. Outside of the towns there are stock losses. Milk has been dumped because the tankers couldn't pick it up. Healthy crops that should have produced a bumper harvest have been destroyed, and we do not yet know the full toll on mature fruit trees.

Our infrastructure has suffered greatly. Roads, bridges, footpaths, community buildings, schools and sports facilities have all been impacted. The cities, small towns and rural communities impacted by this flood want to clean up, rebuild and move on, but they can't do it alone. They need government assistance and a lot of it.

We will also need to turn our attention to the future and mitigation or disaster prevention projects. The coalition government established a fund to support such measures. As the second reading amendment notes, we are concerned that this measure from the new Labor government is seeking to remove an additional source of funding for natural disaster recovery at the very moment when many communities across south-east Australia, including communities across my electorate of Nicholls, are facing many months of work to clean up after these devastating floods.

7:25 pm

Photo of Tania LawrenceTania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to begin by taking us back to 2009 at Christmas time. My husband and I made a very last-minute decision to go from Toodyay down to Esperance for a bit of a Christmas break. I'm extremely grateful that we managed to secure cancellations in a couple of places to stay on the route down and then in Esperance itself, which is some 1,000-plus kilometres from my home in Toodyay. It was indeed fortunate because, unfortunately, at that time a fire took hold in Toodyay. There were 38 homes lost, including my own. Since then I have lived in Parkerville, where 44 homes were lost in 2014, and in Wooroloo, where 86 homes were lost in 2021.

The nature of climate change and where we live means that we face incredible and real risks of natural disasters. Be they floods on the east coast or fires on the west coast, these are matters that we absolutely have to focus on because there is no greater threat to our people, our property and our environment. I'm extremely proud to be part of a government that is now unlocking taxpayer funds that rightfully should be made available to mitigate those risks and to protect our communities. We'll now see some $200 million per annum being made available for mitigation, response and recovery to ensure that our communities are well and truly protected when facing these very real threats that are coming at us seasonally and unseasonally as well. It's incredibly troubling.

The focus that this government is placing on it is absolutely evident in the fact that when the Minister for Emergency Services, Murray Watt, made his first trip to Western Australia he immediately ventured into my electorate, which is an area that has a very high bushfire risk, to meet with the City of Armadale, the City of Swan, the City of Kalamunda and the Shire of Mundaring, in which I live. He sat down to fully appreciate not just the issues and the mitigation measures that are needed to lower the risk to families and communities but to consider the impact of the fires that these people have lived through and to work through the quickest and best ways for recovery. We have a government that is focused, a minister who cares and a government that will absolutely work to deliver on this commitment to ensure that we're protecting all Australians.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:2 9