The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements has called for urgent action on natural disaster risk mitigation

The Australian insurance industry has welcomed the final report of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and key recommendations aimed at strengthening Australian communities.

Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) CEO Andrew Hall said: “The Royal Commission’s recommendations provide clear and urgent direction to governments and agencies on how they should work cooperatively to protect Australian communities from natural disasters.

“Australia experienced its worst natural disaster season on record in 2019-20, with more than $5.94 billion in insurance claims. Without urgent action, hundreds of communities will remain vulnerable to the impact of cyclones, floods, tropical storms and bushfires.”

The report makes 80 recommendations. Commission chair, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said there was an important role for all levels of government in relation to managing natural disasters.

“While state and territory governments have primary responsibility, and accountability, for emergency management, we have concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters. This calls for the Australian Government to play a greater role than it currently does.

“Effective national coordination will be a critical capability in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences. Arrangements need to be clear, robust and accountable.”

The Royal Commission’s key recommendations include:

  • Establishing a national organisation dedicated to championing resilience across the nation. It would think broadly about all measures necessary to make the country resilient to natural disasters, and plan and respond accordingly. It should focus on reducing long-term disaster risk and harmonising approaches across Australia;
  • A clear role for governments to educate communities and provide accessible information to help them make informed decision and take appropriate actions to manage disaster risk;
  • Greater Commonwealth support for State Governments in disaster management;
  • Improvements in the availability and quality of data to help governments and other stakeholders understand and manage natural disaster risk;
  • Mandatory consideration of natural disaster risk in land-use planning decisions, and
  • Guidance for insurer-recognised retrofitting and mitigation.

”The industry argued that the only means to effect lasting improvements to hazard exposure in Australia was by adopting a systematic approach to disaster risk reduction,” said Hall. ”This consisted of increased public and private mitigation, improved building quality and standards, and improved land-use planning.”

“The Insurance Council is pleased the Commissioners have called for a national resilience-focused body aimed at reducing natural disaster risk and improving resilience.”

“The industry also called for state taxes and levies on insurance to be removed,” he added. ”This was supported by the Commissioners, who said these taxes mask the role of insurance to accurately signal risk, and urged states and territories to consider the findings of previous inquiries that had explored the effect taxes have on insurance affordability and coverage. More than a dozen recent inquiries have concluded that states should abolish these unfair imposts because they are a key cause of non-insurance and underinsurance.”

Hall said the ICA was keen for the recommendations to be accepted by the Federal Government and opposition, and for government funding to support the recommendations as well as priority mitigation and resilience programs.

“Many communities need help now for the risks they already face, as well as measures to make sure they can withstand the changing risks caused by climate change,” he said.

“Spending by federal and state governments on projects that prevent or reduce the impact of natural disasters still falls significantly short of the combined $400m a year that the Productivity Commission recommended in 2014, let alone the $3.5 billion a year that APRA has estimated will need to be spent.”