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20 June 2013
Nine months after the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry made its final report on the floods of late 2010 and early last year, the Federal Government has finally delivered its response.
Similar to the commission’s interim report of August last year, the majority of work identified in the final report falls under the remit of Queensland and local government authorities; only eight of the original 175 recommendations tabled 15 months ago were the direct responsibility of the Federal Government.
In the Queensland Government’s June response to the final report, the Newman administration passed eight of the 177 recommendations on to the Federal Government for resolution.
Now, in her long-overdue response to the commission, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has trimmed that list to just three, one of which is being implemented; another is more a suggestion than a recommendation and the last is more a state issue than a federal one.
In short, the Federal Government does not have a whole lot to answer for.
The first recommendation (point 2.11) calls for the creation and maintenance of a “repository of data” for a comprehensive flood study.
This is being carried out across a number of projects, including a National Flood Risk Information Portal, a revised Australian Rainfall and Runoff guide by Engineers Australia, a new water resources information system for rainfall and river data, and the start of the national work program for flood mapping.
In recommendation 10.22 the inquiry requests carriers, councils and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to “take into account” flood risks when installing telecommunications facilities.
But the ACMA has no oversight of telecommunications infrastructure placement. Installation is the responsibility of carriers who, as the Federal Government points out, have an “inherent interest in mitigating the impact of floods… so as to maximise continuity of service”.
The third recommendation (13.5) requests greater collaboration between mine operators and governments to monitor salts, metals and other contaminants in marine environments.
Ms Roxon says while the Federal Government will provide assistance through agencies such as the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Queensland Government must take the lead as the regulator for mine management in the state.
The five recommendations identified by the Queensland Government but moved by Ms Roxon from the “responsible for” to “relevant to” pile were from chapter 12 of the report, regarding the performance of insurers.
Much work has been achieved since the report’s completion, most importantly the passing of legislation providing a standard definition of flood.
From September the Federal Government also started publishing quarterly data on the uptake of flood insurance, with the aim of increasing cover in the community.
As of June 30 this year about 72% of some 9 million active policies included flood cover as standard, with the highest penetration among home and contents policies. New policies issued in the three months to June 30 show a slightly higher rate containing flood cover, at nearly 75%.
On the industry front, the Insurance Council of Australia recently appointed insurance lawyer Ian Enright to chair a 12-month independent review of the General Insurance Code of Practice.
Some changes to the code came into effect four months ago, including greater certainty for policyholders on the completion of external expert reports, better availability of such reports and the right to lodge a claim to test the question of policy cover.
That the Federal Government took so long answering for so little is perplexing and a little disappointing. On the plus side, at least vital work is being done to ensure the multiple failures of government and industry never happen again.
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