At a recent seminar in Sydney, organised by the Institute of Actuaries of Australia, lawmakers, insurers, engineers and flood experts discussed disaster risks, mitigation and solutions in the wake of a high number of natural disasters this year.
The seminar focused on the recent Queensland floods, which left three quarters of the state declared a disaster zone, and are likely to be the most costly natural disaster in Australia’s history.
With this in mind, attendees heard that Australians need to stop viewing the taxpayer as the ‘default insurer’.
"Put simply, it is counter-productive if government assistance acts as a disincentive to people taking steps to build their own resilience, such as taking out insurance," said Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland.
Instead, he argues, the focus should be on prevention and mitigation.
"With the predicted effects of climate change pointing to more frequent and severe weather events, it is clear to me we cannot keep responding in the same way," he said.
"The emergency management community generally accepts that $1 spent on mitigation can save a least $2 in recovery costs."
Despite this, he said that the government was providing states and territories with just $110 million over four years for mitigation, compared to the $6 billion it will spend on responding to the Queensland floods.
He said Australia needs better land use planning and prevention, which can only come about through flood mapping.
However, Mark Babister from the National Committee on Water Engineering, which is part of Engineers Australia, said getting politicians behind flood mapping was extremely difficult.
"The insurance industry wants it, home purchasers want it but people selling homes don't want it at all," Babister said.
Pressure from homeowners and the real estate industry meant politicians had shied away form the issue, he said.
"Flood mapping will come with a lot of political angst."