Opinion Pieces

Check out opinion pieces that Murray Watt has written.


April 20, 2021


For the second year in a row NSW has copped what’s been described as a “once-in-a -generation” disaster. We came together in shock during the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020, and again during the devastating and widespread floods last month. In both cases we’ve seen shocking loss of life, livelihood and property.

Experts predict the flood damage will cost even more than the bushfires. Thousands of insurance claims have now been lodged but many more victims don’t have insurance at all.

As Aussies, we’re well acquainted with natural disasters. In a way, they shape the Australian spirit – we tough out the storm, then pitch in to help in the aftermath.

But it’s becoming clear that we’re simply not prepared for the more severe fires, floods and cyclones that the Bureau of Meteorology, among many other scientists, tell us are headed our way, due to climate change.

As well as the human cost involved, our lack of preparedness has a huge economic cost.

A recent NSW Treasury study found the increase in dangerous weather events will cost NSW up to $17.2 billion a year by 2061 – more than three times the current damage bill.

That’s without the kind of devastating fires and floods we’ve seen in the last couple of years, which the report reckons could cost up to $75bn a year in the future.

We know from the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding Arrangements that Australia only spends 3% of its disaster funding on mitigation.

That is crazy. We know it’s cheaper to defend against a natural disaster than it is to clean up after one. So why are we twiddling our thumbs waiting for them to happen?

It’s not new to say we should invest more on stopping natural disasters - there’s years of evidence that says investing in disaster resilience is one of the best economic investments a government can make.

In 2017, the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities showed that if governments spent just $250 million a year on disaster resilience, it could halve the cost of natural disasters.

Overwhelmingly the insurance industry, businesses, the community sector – even the Red Cross – agree. Investing in disaster mitigation will bring down insurance premiums, create regional jobs, give confidence to local economies, protect communities and be good for the Federal Budget.

So why aren’t we doing it already? You’d think it would be a no-brainer for the Morrison Government.

Instead, it’s refused to spend a cent from a $4 billion disaster fund it announced two years ago.

The federal Emergency Response Fund, created with Labor’s support, could have been building flood levees, fire breaks and evacuation centres across Australia over the past two years.

But instead the money is gathering dust in the government’s bank account – nothing spent. Not a single project approved. We know Scott Morrison prefers making an announcement to delivering on his promises, but this is ridiculous.

Even worse, it’s earned nearly $400 million in interest for the government over the last two years, instead of being used as was promised.

Tell that to flood victims in Western Sydney or coastal NSW.

We knew that this summer Australia would be facing cyclones and floods. We were warned. Just like we were warned about the Black Summer bushfires.

Investing in disaster mitigation is the right thing for our communities and our economy.

We’ve had a taste of what’s to come and we can’t afford to roll the dice on people’s lives.

We need to get prepared now.

This piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 20 April 2021