Planning for disaster
IMAGES came from Hawaii of an entire suburb wiped out by an eruption of lava that should have been as predictable as it was spectacular.
The suburb had, after all, been built on ground the US Geological Society rated as at high risk of such an event. Home owners have been reaching for their insurance policies which, for many, will provide little solace. Meanwhile in Queensland, the State Government has been touting what it described as a nationwide first for disaster recovery and resilience. It’s got a plan of noble intent but bugger-all substance called “Delivering the Queensland Strategy for Disaster Resilience” which shouldn’t make you feel immediately safer in your beds. It comes after the government announced its $38 million Disaster Resilience Fund to strengthen “the state’s resilience to future disasters”. State Development Minister Cameron Dick, in the process, has declared “Resilient Queensland will see every region across our state with an individually-tailored regional resilience plan by 2022”.
I raise it because resilience in the face of disaster was also the subject of the LNP’s Newman government, specifically in response to flooding.
Its solution was to make Local Government Minister of the time, David Crisafulli, the minister for community recovery and resilience.
My questions about stiffening restrictions to flood plain development and shifting vulnerable communities to higher ground didn’t sit well with him for whatever reason and he thereafter refused to respond to any questions I put. Beaten in his home town of Townsville in 2015, David in 2017 shifted his parliamentary career south to the Gold Coast seat of Broadwater, whose name suggests at least a hint of vulnerability. As Sunshine Coast Council flood experts once told me, if your suburb or town has ‘water’ in its name you have a clue, so good luck to him there. Queensland’s resilience plan presented recently by the state’s Reconstruction Authority, to Floodplain Management Australia’s national conference, came after the 2017-18 disaster season – yes there is one – caused $370 million in damage to public infrastructure alone.
As well as being the Sunshine State, Queensland is also Australia’s most disaster-impacted state and one that regularly relies on the Commonwealth coffers to cover the cost of cyclones and floods.
The plan, Minister Dick says, is “the state’s whole-of-government response to disaster resilience”.
“It will see better coordination of government policy, information management, project delivery and stakeholder collaboration through tangible projects that deliver outcomes.”
But when it came to taking a much closer look at planning approvals in low-lying coastal communities, I received from his media team the vague response that “Building a more disaster resilient state is the responsibility of everyone – state and local governments, the business sector and our communities”.
In relation to state interest checks on planning amendments that sought development of historically floodprone land or land vulnerable to storm surge and sea level rise, the Minister’s minders assured the government would be very tough in protecting people and property.
Then, in what may be news to Sunshine Coast councillors busy with a succession of planning amendments to meet State Government population growth projects, Mr Dick’s spokesman said they were “responsible for administering their local planning schemes”.
“The State Government’s State Planning Policy requires that a local government must appropriately integrate the state’s policies for natural hazards, including flooding, landslide, bushfire, coastal erosion and storm tide inundation in the local government’s scheme,” he said.
That’s something councillors may choose to remember when assessing development applications to come, the path for which they have demonstrably laid the groundwork.
Meanwhile the Palaszczuk government pushes on with its climate change battle, making a $5.6 million state budget commitment from Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch to help “the transition to a low carbon, clean growth economy”.
Hundreds of millions more are committed to other solutions to address environmental damage caused by past indifference.
Which was all well and good until Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Minister Dr Anthony Lynham started touting the state’s boom in exploration expenditure to $266.6 million.
Coal exploration spending apparently is up 21 per cent and while the state also seeks to boost hydrogen solutions, petroleum exploration expenditure has risen 40 per cent to $175 million and “we continue to be the destination of choice for petroleum exploration in Australia”.
But don’t let the contradiction worry you too much. Remember, we have a plan.
* This is a best of Bill Hoffman, who is currently on leave