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Enough is enough: Suncorp steams in on mitigation

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The insurance industry has been pushing governments to invest more in disaster mitigation for more than a decade – but this summer’s bushfire catastrophe appears to have brought the debate to boiling point.

For leading insurer Suncorp at least, enough is enough. As the stakes have risen following an unprecedented fire season, so too has the intensity of the rhetoric.

CEO Steve Johnston set out his stall at a results briefing last month, effectively accusing governments of letting the Australian people down.

He pointed out, not for the first time, that 97% of disaster funding is spent on repairs, and just 3% on prevention.

This while the Productivity Commission’s 2014 recommendation that the Federal Government spends at least $200 million per year on mitigation, matched by states and territories, continues to be ignored.

“The fundamental obligation of any government has to be the protection of its citizens at home and in ensuring our communities are both resilient and safe,” he said.

“Against a scorecard of lives lost, properties destroyed and saved, and communities torn apart, it continues to be abundantly clear that more needs to be done.”

Now he’s doubled down in a new piece, published on LinkedIn, that warns we must “banish ideology” and let “science and reality” guide post-bushfire reform.

In his article Mr Johnston looks ahead to the “raft of inquiries” that will follow the disastrous fire season, which has so far seen $2 billion of losses, and demands practical solutions, not talk for talk’s sake.

“We do not need talkfests designed to reassure an exhausted and sceptical constituency that something is finally being done,” he says.

“Australia needs a comprehensive strategy and plan for action to far better mitigate against such events and to make us more resilient when they do occur.

“This requires action at every level of our community, including through incentives and tax breaks directed to individuals to take preventative action.

“It is ironic that an incentive is provided to put a solar panel on a roof but there is no such mechanism to incentivise fire or cyclone proofing.”

Mr Johnston flags the heart-breaking experiences of bushfire victims James, Mark and Alison (not real names), whom he met picking through the ashes of their homes.

“Beyond immediate recovery efforts, we all owe it to James, Mark, Alison and the thousands of other fire victims to banish ideology and let science and reality guide meaningful and practical reforms that transcend partisanship.”

It’s a clear rebuke to those who would rather score political points than get on with the job in hand.

That job, thanks to the impact of climate change, is clear.

“There is evidence aplenty to prove we are seeing an increased frequency and severity of natural hazard events,” Mr Johnston says.

“Similarly, we know many of our communities and much of our housing stock is ill-prepared to deal with the effects of a changing climate.”

Mr Johnston, for one, appears to have run out of patience. Because Australia, its people, and its insurance industry is running out of time.

“A changing climate is no longer only a problem for future generations, it’s a problem for this generation,” he says.

“We know what needs to be done to build more resilient communities today, but if those in charge continue to prioritise disaster recovery over resilience building, insurance will not only become more costly, it will become even more inaccessible to families in the future.”

Click here to read Mr Johnston’s full article.