Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022


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

7:27 pm

Photo of Barbara PocockBarbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak to the Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill 2022. I acknowledge the experience of Senator Davey, the towns she spoke of and so many farmers and others in communities that are today dealing with disasters across our country. This bill is not spending any more money on natural disasters; it's simply reprofiling $150 million set aside for recovery spending to now be spent on public works to minimise the impact of disasters when they strike. Instead of $50 million for preventative work and $150 million for recovery, the entire $200 million will be spent solely on disaster readiness rather than mixed on pre and post disaster responses.

The Productivity Commission and the insurance industry have made it crystal clear that spending on disaster prevention saves much more money than just spending on clean-up after climate fuelled disasters strike. This will only become more obvious if we continue to let the climate crisis continue on its current path. A government's first duty is to keep its citizens safe, so we should be spending more on resilience. For this reason the Greens support the principle of recalibrating all of the Emergency Response Fund's allocations to predisaster preparedness. However, the funds on offer do not go anywhere near what is required to keep Australians safe from coal and gas fuelled natural disasters.

Further, this investment is completely undercut by the fund's investment in fossil fuels and the government's continued handouts to the fossil fuel industry. For example, we saw the government recently provide $1.5 billion in the budget to expand Australia's gas industry in the Northern Territory. You can't claim to be putting out the fire while pouring petrol on it. This is why the Greens will move amendments to increase the spending cap from $200 million to $300 million a year and to require the Future Fund in its management of the Disaster Ready Fund to ensure that the fund is not invested in fossil fuels. It's a rich irony which cannot be lost on so many Australians that the Disaster Ready Fund is invested in the very same coal, gas and oil companies whose activities are causing the climate emergencies that the fund has been set up to mitigate. These are companies like Woodside, Chevron, Santos and Whitehaven, which have no plans to diversify; they're just taking actions which are destructive of our planet.

When this bill passes the parliament and becomes the Disaster Ready Fund, it will start off by holding $21.2 million in coal, oil and gas companies. This is like a hospital being funded by dividends from tobacco companies. The Future Fund, which manages the Disaster Ready Fund, has a staggering $3.4 billion invested in the world's biggest 50 polluters. If the Future Fund isn't going to instruct its fund managers to engage with those companies to stop them opening new fields and to move away from destroying the planet, then they simply should divest.

We're experiencing the impacts of the fossil fuel-emitting activities of these companies across Australia right now. Nationwide, 200 local government areas are disaster declared—including about 75 in New South Wales alone. The floods have taken a toll on the national economy, with the agriculture industry—so many farms and farming communities—taking a sizeable hit. We're already experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, which will only be exacerbated by continuing floods affecting our food production and our supply chains. The effect of flooding will last for weeks, and even months. For some people, the impact will be for years as communities struggle to rebuild.

I'm constantly inspired by the strength of communities coming together to support each other. We see it every night on the news. But they can't keep doing this on their own forever. They need a government that has their backs. For these reasons, the Greens are moving amendments to require the Future Fund to sell off its future fuel shareholdings as quickly as practicable and to prevent future investments in climate-destroying companies or projects. The Future Fund, in its management of the Disaster Ready Fund, must ensure that the Disaster Ready Fund is not invested in fossil fuels. This makes sense; it is so obvious.

Governments need to spend much more than $200 million a year to keep Australians safe from climate damage caused by the burning of coal and gas. We need so much more than is offered by this bill. As Senator Davey pointed out, 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 is $600 million a year—to protect against storm surges, erosion and sea level rise. The ocean is a very slow-moving beast. From the heat absorbed so far, Australia will experience one-in-50-year storm surges every year by 2050, no matter what we do. That is what the science is telling us; it is locked in. But every extra tonne of coal and gas adds to the catastrophe and makes the damage worse.

This bill and its $200 million equals just one-third of what is needed to cover natural perils from the ocean. This is before we factor in the damage arising from floods, fires, heatwaves, droughts and cyclones moving southwards. For these reasons, we're moving an amendment to lift the spending cap from $200 million to $300 million a year, which we would hope the government will support. The PBO has advised that the fund would operate with this level of disbursement until 2047, in line with the government's net zero goal.

The Greens believe that coal and gas companies should have to pay to clean up the mess they're causing. In 2011, when the Brisbane floods hit, everyday Australians had to pay through a temporary increase in the Medicare levy. When the floods hit again this year, clean-up costs are being paid for by Australians through higher levels of government debt. Coal and gas companies can afford it; they're earning billions off the back of Putin's invasion. They don't pay enough tax, they shift 96 per cent of their profits offshore and they donate heavily to the major parties. That's why both the government and the opposition don't want to make them pay to clean up for the disaster that they're inflicting on the rest of us.

The entire outlays of the Disaster Ready Fund hang off how successful or unsuccessful the Future Fund is in the stock market. We should fund these investments into disaster prevention but it should be done directly, not off the earnings or losses of a capital fund in any given year and certainly not off the dividends of coal, oil and gas. We have concerns that the entire funding model of this bill is based around the Future Fund following Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan around the stock market paddock. Our climate resilience is hitched to the success or failure of global stock markets. Funding may go above or below the legislated $20 million per year, depending on how the stock market is travelling. That is not a recipe for success. It is not a good way to fund a fund like this.

Stock markets are erratic, in fast decline at times. If this happens, it's highly likely the Future Fund or the government will be wary about drawing down from the fund and committing even to the $200 million limit in this bill. This money should be provided as a matter of course to meet the necessity, not on the ebbs and flows of financial stocks and derivatives.

We also have concern that this bill doesn't even compel any spending. This fund was established in 2019 by the Nationals, by rebranding a $4 billion capital fund for education established by the Gillard government. However, from 2019 onwards, the Morrison government only made one payment of $200 million while the earnings accrued $809 million since its inception, leaving a current balance of $4.6 billion. In other words, the fund has earned $600 million more from the stock market than it's paid out to communities. That $600 million should be brought forward and spent on flood and fire affected communities next financial year.

We support the principle of this bill. The government has a duty to keep citizens and communities safe. We should be investing to develop climate disaster resilience and preparedness but this fund does not go far enough. Climate disasters are forecast to increase, and we can see them around us and around the planet. We need to ensure that we have the capacity to support communities by lifting the spending cap from $200 million to 300 million. We also need to require that the disaster fund does not invest in fossil fuels. We cannot have a fund invested in the companies that are responsible for causing the very same climate disasters that the fund is set up to protect against.

We urge the government to maintain the integrity of the intent of this legislation by supporting our amendments.


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