Back off: Governments told to stop putting people at risk of flood, fire and cyclones

State governments have been called on to overhaul planning rules and prevent building on flood plains after a $7 billion damages bill from the last deluge in 2022.

Jul 28, 2023, updated Jul 28, 2023
Chief Executive of Master Builders Australia Denita Wawn  (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Chief Executive of Master Builders Australia Denita Wawn (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

The Insurance Council of Australia, Master Builders Australia and the Planning Institute of Australia have called for a rethink in the way suburbs were designed so that no more homes were built in high-risk flood-prone areas.

The groups said governments should invest and act across the full spectrum of hazardous situations. That meant avoiding future exposure, managing the risk in existing settlements and strengthening a “planned retreat” approach where risks were unacceptable.

The planned retreat approach would include house buybacks, which the Queensland Government is doing in high-risk areas.

A communique from the groups was issued to governments this week and Insurance Council chief executive Andrew Hall said it set out how future losses to homeowners, businesses and the community could be avoided.

Master Builders chief executive Denita Wawn said Australia must ensure that planning laws were fit for the future and took an appropriate risk management approach.

“Without fit for purpose planning laws technical building regulation will always fail. The housing industry needs clear and concise rules, that allow the industry to function and the community to have confidence,” Wawn said.

The three groups said that without reform, ppopulation pressures and inadequate planning laws would lead to more development in flood-prone land which put lives at risk and cost taxpayers billions in recovery and remediation.

In the most recent floods, in 2022 there were about 300,000 flood-related claims costing about $7 billion. That resulted in insurance premiums increasing and many of the most at-risk people could no longer afford insurance.

“Restricting development from occurring in these areas and further adding to the problem needs to be a priority, however, in cases where buildings that already exist are vulnerable to such events, solutions such as buying back properties will need to be considered,” the communique said.

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The groups want a national standard for considering climate and disaster risk, and an update of mapping that included climate-related hazard risks.

Governments should use agreed planning parameters to limit new development in areas prone to risk from other forms of extreme weather events, including bushfires, cyclones and coastal hazards.

“Governments should place a stronger focus on funding for resilient infrastructure, particularly where building back after an extreme weather event,” the groups said.

“Damaged infrastructure should be rebuilt in more adaptable and resilient ways rather than replacing damaged infrastructure with like for like.”


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