Why Queensland’s regions are facing a financial Armageddon as disasters leave insurers on the ropes

Through no fault of their own, tens of thousands of Queenslanders are finding themselves unable to insure their properties and businesses, most particularly in the disaster-prone north of the state. Greg Hallam warns this situation is untenable and the risk is growing.

Jan 24, 2024, updated Jan 24, 2024
Bushfire, flooding and storm damage are pushing major insurers and banks towards a major financial crisis (AAP Image/Supplied by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services)

Bushfire, flooding and storm damage are pushing major insurers and banks towards a major financial crisis (AAP Image/Supplied by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services)

Tens of thousands of Australian properties are currently uninsured against flood, fire or cyclone damage. Most have bank mortgages.

At the time of the last Federal Election it was estimated that 14,000 properties north of the the Tropic of Capricorn were uninsured , prompting the development by the Morrison Government of a new federal $10b parametric reinsurance instrument to prop up the failing overseas re-insurance market- critical to the issuance of onshore insurance cover .

That is said to have failed its first test following Cyclone Jasper in FNQ as a consequence of a 48-hour damage clause .

Numbers of uninsured properties have skyrocketed over the past two financial years. According to the Institute of Actuaries there has been premium rises of 25% across the board and 50% in disaster prone areas.

At some point the banks will have to act on loans to domestic properties and businesses that are uninsured – it’s a bank loan requirement to insure your business and or property. Or they themselves will face having contingent liabilities on their books.

To date, the size of the risk hasn’t been significantly material to qualify their financial statements. But rest assured actuaries and lawyers will have their say, and at a minimum notes to annual financial accounts will start to appear. Crunch time is just around the corner.

In October last year the Reserve Bank of Australia noted in its “Emerging Risks to Financial Stability Report that  “a particular domestic focus in the period ahead will be the insurance sector. Insurers can quickly reset premiums or withdraw coverage from high risk regions”.

As a consequence of this emerging risk the RBA and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) are undertaking a climate risk study with insurers. That’s a big red flashing light in my book.

The Climate Council reported in 2023 that since the 2019- 20 Black Summer bushfires there had been 788,000 climate-related insurance claims in Australia and that trend was unsustainable.

At the same time McKinsey and Co claimed the effects of climate change are here. Furthermore, that stronger and more frequent natural disasters are putting the insurance system at risk.

Finally, former RBA official and now Chief Economist with Challenger Johnathan Kearns has recently said ”the potential withdrawal of insurance and financial services to households and businesses at most risk from flooding and bushfires will create a big headache for governments. Banks and insurers need to advocate to restrict building in disaster prone areas and for the expansion of federally funded reinsurance pools.”

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Its not just probable, but most likely, that property insurance will be either prohibitively priced or non-existent in northern Australia by the end of the decade, if not earlier.

Moreover, large swathes of South-east Queensland will also be under the pump. As I have previously reported, the London reinsurance market has lost $100b globally over the past two financial years. The system is at breaking point . The banks calling in mortgages will be the last card to fall. To date the banks remain publicly mum on the subject, but for how long.

Premier Stephen Miles has called the Federal Scheme a failure. I characterise it as a good idea that failed.

Meanwhile, Assistant Federal Finance Minister Stephen Jones has said the RBA/APRA probe will hold additional meetings in the Far- north. Most importantly he stated “As a country we have to face up to it. We’ve got a rude shock coming if we don’t”.

Thousands of homeless disaster refugees will be unacceptable to our society. Imagine Lismore on steroids .The problem will get larger after every disaster, uninsured then homeless, a dastardly quinella of catastrophe.

The banks , insurers , global re-insurers and the Federal Government need to sort this looming catastrophe and soon. They must act immediately after the the RBA/APRA probe is complete. Partnership and innovation are required ,and soon.


Greg Hallam is a former Chief Executive of the Local Government Association of Queensland. He writes regularly for InQueensland

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