SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
4CA CAIRNS BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 24 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Disaster season begins; La Niña warning; Warren Entsch’s broken promise on reinsurance pool; Morrison’s unused $4.7 disaster fund is leaving Australians at risk.
MURRAY JONES, HOST: That knock, knock, knocking is probably not somebody at the door, it's probably the incredible rain events over the last couple of weeks and for some, quite serious weather. Actually, we have quite a bit of flooding right across quite a few areas around the south-eastern part of the country in the last week or so. La Nina, of course, means that we might have a bit of a wild stormy, you know, some spells of bad weather coming up for the, for the season, for Summer. So just around the corner, things should start to change. We've been pretty lucky. But certainly our part of the world is likely to have a bit of a difference come January, February. Joining me this morning, and he was actually in Cairns just yesterday, but headed back into the southeast corner overnight, and I should have mentioned probably flew into a lot of rain. Queensland Senator Murray Watt he joins me this morning. Was it a bit wet on your arrival down in Brisbane again last night there Murray?
MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: It was Murray. I had a great couple of days in Cairns where the weather was beautiful and had some really useful meetings with the Mayor and business groups and other councils but coming back home to Brisbane last night, it was full of rain. And we're obviously seeing a lot of heavy rain and even some flooding over quite a bit of the country. So it’s a reminder that disaster season is well and truly upon us and with the warning from the Bureau of Meteorology yesterday, that La Nina is definitely here, what that means to Far North Queensland is probably more cyclones than usual. And they're even predicting that they could be a bit earlier than usual. So we've all got a job to do to make sure that we've prepared for the cyclone season. We don't want to be caught short like the country was a couple of years ago with those terrible bushfires down south.
JONES: Sometimes people poopoo these announcements but certainly with the La Nina, there is a good opportunity that the Bureau will be right, there will be extra showers and of course, you know, the concerns of cyclones coming up for the season as well. Let's talk about, I mean net zero by 2050. We got the announcement, lacking on detail. It really is on a wing and a prayer. We've had so much going on, so many promises. We've had this reinsurance pool for Tropical North Queensland, nothing's eventuated. When it comes to details, things are certainly fairly thin on the ground. As we head into this time of year certainly some concerns that the promises from the federal government just simply haven’t eventuated at this time.
WATT: Yeah, that's right, Murray. I think obviously with the net zero commitments, that's about starting to try to address climate change in the medium and longer term but there's been some short term things that the government has promised to do that we still haven't actually seen them follow through on. Warren Entsch has obviously spent his entire career promising people in his electorate of Leichhardt that he’d do something about insurance costs. And you and I both know there are so many homeowners and businesses in Far North Queensland, and they just cannot even get insurance anymore. And even if they can, the prices are just astronomical and keep on going up. So it's not really good enough for Warren Entsch just to keep making promises that he's going to fix it when he's spent his entire career sitting by watching these prices go up and the insurance situation get worse. Just this year in the federal budget, he made yet another promise to do something, promising to have a reinsurance pool that was going to be up and running by the first of July next year. But we still haven't seen any legislation even introduced into the parliament. And it would take legislation to set up a reinsurance pool. So I'm really starting to wonder whether that promise can possibly be delivered in time for the first of July. And unfortunately, it looks like just yet another promise from Warren Entsch that he just doesn't follow through on.
JONES: When you consider some of the polls and even, I think was actually a poll run by News Corp just in the last 24 hours or so, certainly the numbers are looking a lot warmer for Labor. And that looks a lot more positive for the federal election when it is announced. If Labor does get across the line, and as you've just said there's only been a bill in parliament with respect to the reinsurance pool. What would Labor do with respect to this insurance issue, though?
WATT: Well, we certainly acknowledge that it's a massive problem and it’s actually got worse under this government over the eight years they've been there. We think that the reinsurance bill does have some merit to it. You know, there are issues that people have raised about how it would work and whether it would actually deliver any premium reductions. I've noticed that Warren Entsch and, no one from the government has been prepared to say how much insurance premiums would actually fall with the reinsurance pool or how many people would be able to get insurance who can't get it at the moment. So there are some details I think to work through. And that's why we need to see the legislation. But beyond their reinsurance pool, I think the other thing that we can really be doing better as a country is investing in disaster mitigation. Obviously, if we can be putting in place everything from cyclone shelters to flood levees to better telecommunications equipment. Yesterday I went to the Cairns Regional Council disaster management centre with our Leichhardt candidate Elida Faith and we were told there that what they could really be benefiting from is more federal government investment in flood mapping. With the population growth that's happened in Cairns in recent years, especially towards sort of flood prone areas, the more information we have about what the likely damage from floods is and what steps do we need to put in place to prevent homes and businesses getting flooded? That will be good for insurance premiums as well because, you know, one of the reasons the insurance premiums rise is that insurers make a judgment that the risk of flooding and cyclones is increasing. And if we can be taking steps to protect these types of businesses, make them more flood proof, then that's going to reduce the risk and it's going to help with reinsurance premiums as well. The Queensland Government's got a really good program that they have done for a while where they basically provide grants and match funding to homeowners to strengthen their roof and make them more cyclone proof. Those sorts of investments we think are really worthwhile doing as well. So even without the reinsurance pool, there’s things that the federal government could be doing now. And as you know, there are massive funds around for disaster recovery and prevention sort of issues that they haven't spent anything from.
JONES: Coming back to that, round about $4.7 billion, the Emergency Response Fund. And coming back to what you were saying in reference here to the BOM advice, saying that this, as part of the predicted La Nina, the Bureau does suggest there is about a 65% chance of seeing more than 11 cyclones this season, that obviously includes Western Australia and right across the country. But when it comes to that $4.7 billion, which I understand is just sitting there, the Emergency Response Fund, isn't it a situation where we really need to work and actually jump early on these type of things. Prevention is always better than cure.
WATT: Absolutely Murray, that that's one of the problems that we've seen from Scott Morrison’s government. Whatever we’re talking about, it's always too little too late. They did that with those Black Summer bushfires where they ignored all the warnings from the fire chiefs that we needed more water bombing aircraft, and we needed to do other things. And of course, we saw the tragic results from them just failing to act there. And I'm really concerned that the government's failure to act around disaster mitigation is actually leaving people in Cairns and Far North Queensland at risk. The Government set up what was then a $4 billion fund. Two and a half years ago, they announced it and that was basically to provide funding for disaster recovery and mitigation. It can release funds every single year and we're about to enter our third disaster season since this Fund was created, and not a single cent has been spent on a single project to protect people, whether it be in Cairns or anywhere else in the country. So you can sort of think about the steps that could have been taken as I say, what cyclone shelters could have been built, what sort of flood mapping could have been commissioned, what sort of telecommunications equipment could have been improved, to make sure that people around Cairns have access to the information they need to stay safe. And instead this fund has just sat there being invested by the government. And they've actually earned over $700 million of interest in the time that it's been there. So it's earned $700 million in interest and has not spent a cent on what was promised which was disaster recovery and mitigation. It's just cruel, and you know, as I say, we haven’t got to find these funds in the budget, the money is there. They've got an Act of Parliament passed to set it up and we voted with them. We thought it was a good idea. And they just haven't followed through. So, as I say, I just really don't want to see it get into a situation like we did through Black Summer where we knew what was coming, the government was warned, they had all the funds available to do what needed to be done and just didn’t do it. We don't want to see people in Far North Queensland paying the price of that when we get to disaster season this year.
JONES: But to put it appropriately without warming your pocket too much, certainly with respect to being reactive, it seems like it's one of the things that's working against the Coalition. And certainly some of the polls and just in the last few days, that News Corp poll, it seems like numbers are starting to turn against the government and with respect to exactly what we talked about, being reactive and not proactive. Particularly when we've just got so much change and so much turmoil happening within the country, obviously with a pandemic and so many different things. We really need somebody to be a little bit more forward thinking. Interesting chat. Murray Watt is the Labor Senator for Queensland, thank you so much for your time this morning. The two Murray’s, it’s always good to talk to you.
WATT: Absolutely. Hopefully I’ll see you in person next time Murray. That would be good mate.