Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


North Queensland: Insurance

7:45 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about the insurance crisis in North Queensland which has been unfolding over the past six years of this government. For six years, this government has said that they will fix this crisis, yet insurance prices keep going up. Insurance costs in northern Queensland are so high that many people are choosing not to get insurance, families and investors can't buy homes, and businesses are choosing not to invest. This crisis is hurting hip pockets and costing Queensland jobs.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released two reports which look at the northern Australian insurance industry, one back in 2018 and one a few months ago. With these two reports combined, the government now has in front of it 28 recommendations aimed at making insurance in northern Australia fairer and more transparent, which the ACCC has said should be immediately adopted. The ACCC has urged the government to act quickly on this crisis. The inquiry found that insurance premiums rose 130 per cent in northern Australia over the past decade, compared to just over 50 per cent in the rest of the country. In North Queensland, insurance premiums are almost double the national average. But it's not just the skyrocketing costs of insurance. Eighty-two per cent of those surveyed by the ACCC experienced some level of underinsurance. Many of these recommendations could be easily implemented, including establishing a national home insurance comparison website, standardising definitions of prescribed events and applying unfair contract protections to insurance.

For the past month, I've been out in regional Queensland, talking to people about this crisis and learning about the very real impact this is having on people in communities. Together with shadow assistant financial services minister Matt Thistlethwaite, we have held community forums on this issue in Townsville and Cairns. At these forums, attendees told us of their despair at having their premiums rise by up to 500 per cent, despite being loyal customers of the insurers for more than 40 years. Others told of how they've reluctantly exposed themselves to massively increased excess payments in an effort to reduce skyrocketing premiums.

Just today, my office received correspondence from a couple living in Townsville who were evacuated from their home in February after devastating floods and still cannot return. They have found themselves uninsured, caught between the definitions of 'stormwater' and 'floodwater'. On one hand, they have a hydrology report that says the damages to their homes were caused by stormwater, but the insurance company has determined that the damages were caused by floodwater, leaving them uninsured. Sadly, this is an incredibly common story.

The government is fully aware of this crisis—and that is their description of this situation, not mine. In 2015, over four years ago, the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, described the insurance situation in northern Australia as a 'crisis'. He promised to fix it then, but he hasn't. Recently, Minister Cormann told the Townsville Bulletin that he was assessing the situation and talking to stakeholders, despite being in receipt of this damning ACCC report. Minister Cormann said that he would continue to work directly with insurance companies. The government should be listening to people living in regional Queensland, to the mums and dads struggling to pay their renewal notices, not just talking to insurance companies. With the wet season approaching, people living in Far North Queensland can't wait any longer for Minister Cormann and Mr Entsch to take action.

The government is dragging its heels in terms of implementing these sensible reforms. The government appears just as reluctant to stand up to the multinational insurance industry as it was with the banks. So today I have launched a campaign calling on the government to take action on northern Queensland insurance. I am asking people to share their stories. I am also asking people to sign a petition to tell this government that they want the ACCC recommendations implemented immediately.

The Liberal-National government won't take action on insurance in North Queensland, but Labor will. And we will, as we have done so many times before, drag the government kicking and screaming to do the right thing and stand up for families and small-business owners. (Time expired)