Parliamentary speeches

Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Framework

December 10, 2020

I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management for his update on the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. On behalf of Labor, I would like to echo his thanks to all those who were part of fighting the Black Summer bushfires and those who will risk their lives and dedicate their time this disaster season to keep Australians safe. Thank you so much for your sacrifice.

Thirty-three lives were lost in the fires last summer and countless more from toxic smoke and conditions surrounding the firegrounds. Over 24 million hectares of bush and farmland were burnt. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed. An unfathomable number of animals were killed or displaced. The loss and indeed the terror of last summer's bushfires are still very fresh in most peoples' minds and, for too many survivors, reliving it is a daily experience. We know too that there are families still living in old caravans and sheds on their land, some without running water, 12 months after fires swept through. We know there are people still anxiously waiting for work to start on their homes being rebuilt, if they will be rebuilt at all. We know there are communities struggling with mountains of paperwork for grants for the financial support they are entitled to.

Labor know the bushfires have had a lasting impact on communities right across Australia. That is why we don't want to see others go through the same thing in the future. We must ensure that we do everything that is humanly possible to safeguard communities not just from bushfires but from floods and cyclones, which have left a trail of devastation in their path in towns and cities around our country. This is why the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework seemed like a step in the right direction. When this was announced in 2018 it sounded like this government was finally starting to acknowledge that we need to prepare for disasters and invest proactively, rather than waiting until disaster strikes. But, unfortunately, this program has become yet another symbol of that which the Morrison government loves most: a flashy announcement with no follow-through. The Prime Minister and this government love to get out there and get the headline and make it seem like action is being taken when really nothing is being delivered. The Australian people are sick of this.

Let's not forget that the Morrison government announced this National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework way back in 2018, but it took them until mid-last-year to commit any money to the framework and then another year to get any money out the door. In July 2018, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework warned that the changing climate was exposing the country to natural disasters on 'unimagined scales, in unprecedented combinations and in unexpected locations'. This warned the government that more and more people and assets would be exposed to these disasters, with essential services—including power, water, telecommunications and financial services—being particularly vulnerable. And yet, it still took the government nearly two years to fund another through the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. It's frankly astounding that this did not elicit some sort of urgency from this government, which has failed its own deadline on the national implementation plan, which it promised to hand down in 2019.

Even in March this year, with bushfires in the front of everyone's mind after the Black Summer blazes, nothing had been spent. Only now, in recent months, are some of the states starting to see funding. While it is excellent to see the federal government begin to fulfil its commitments to the states, there are some still being left behind. It is very concerning that some of those are at great risk at the start of this disaster season. For example, take the Northern Territory, which, due to the La Nina weather pattern, is at high risk of facing a more intense and longer cyclone season, or New South Wales and Western Australia, which, according to the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, can expect an above-average risk of bushfires and grassfires in the months to come. Not a cent has been spent.

I do appreciate the update from Minister Littleproud on the trickle of funds being released through the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. I would also have liked to have heard about projects being funded through the Emergency Response Fund. The government announced the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund for disaster, recovery and mitigation in last year's budget. This could have been releasing double the amount of funding in Commonwealth contributions than the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework towards resilience progress. Right now, the fund could have been used to protect communities from the cyclones, floods and fires we know are coming. It could have been used to build fire breaks, evacuation centres, flood levies and cyclone shelters to keep Australians safe. Instead, in 18 months now, the Morrison government has not announced a single project—not one project announced, not one cent spent, not one job created and not one community protected. Instead, we get one line on the Emergency Response Fund in this ministerial statement:

We have committed to spend $50 million from the Emergency Response Fund on mitigation and resilience, and I can advise the House that it will be spent during this financial year.

Forgive me, Minister, for not believing you on this, but the government has a long track record of grant announcements and no delivery, as we've seen in this area as well.

The longer this government delays in investing in natural disaster mitigation, the more lives are put at risk and the higher the cost of repairs. We saw the consequences when Prime Minister Morrison ignored bushfire warnings last year. He must not ignore disaster warnings again. We must see the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework being given the priority it deserves—the priority all Australians deserve—and the federal government committing to disaster prevention projects that will keep all Australians safe.