Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Ministerial Statement – Disaster Risk Reduction

Today I will talk to you about keeping Australians safe from disaster. 

I want to tell you about long-term work underway across the nation to reduce the potential for harm and enable a prosperous and resilient future.

This is my first annual statement to Parliament on the national effort to reduce risk of disasters and build resilience, and next year I will be updating Parliament again on progress made across the country.

This bushfire season is unprecedented. The heart-breaking and devastating loss we have seen continues to unfold.

The season is not over. Our crews and volunteers are out there, continuing to fight fires as I address you here today. They have been fighting these fires since the season started early in August last year.  We’ve had flooding, storms, cyclones and there is more to come.

We have seen more fires this year than in the last three years combined.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the 33 people who have lost their lives, including nine firefighters who so bravely served the Australian community. Small rural and regional communities have been hard hit and over 3000 homes have been destroyed and we hope we do not see that number rise any more. Thousands have been evacuated.

More than 12.6 million hectares have been burnt, with thousands of head of livestock lost and significant impacts to farming infrastructure. Millions of native animals have been lost.

We’ve heard stories of horror and loss. 

Many of the communities affected had already endured years of drought; some have not long been devastated by flood.  

I acknowledge every Australian who has suffered during these bushfires; families who have lost love ones; Australians who have lost their homes and businesses.

To you I say we will stand by you and support you, for the long-term.

The Australian Government has established the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, with a two billion dollar fund to help communities recover from these bushfires. This fund is on top of already existing disaster recovery payments and allowances that have been made available.

The Australian Government has already announced a range of measures to fund to support the families, farmers, businesses and local governments, including direct financial support, counselling services and mental health support, assistance with clean-up, support for tourism and protection of wildlife.

I also want to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of Australia’s dedicated emergency services personnel and volunteers who give themselves selflessly to protect our communities.

I thank the foreign countries who have generously provided us their expertise, equipment and the bravery of their personnel, and the many more who offered their support. I particularly acknowledge those three United States firefighters who tragically lost their lives when their large air tanker crashed into the Snowy Monaro on 23 January. 

I acknowledge the state governments who have supported this response and recovery.

I acknowledge local leaders – and in particular the courage and vision of the local mayors at the forefront with their communities.

I am proud of the resilience of the Australian people.

Australians support each other when times are tough.

But we will keep being tested. These unfolding disasters highlight the reality that we need to be prepared for more events like this in the future.

The Australian Government has announced a national Royal Commission into Australia’s natural disaster arrangements following the devastating Black Summer bushfires. The Royal Commission is not going to duplicate the work of other inquiries. It will work with other inquiries announced by the States and it will also review the work and recommendations of previous inquiries.

This inquiry has a national focus and will look at improving natural disaster management coordination across all levels of government; improving Australia’s preparedness, resilience, response to and recovery from natural disasters, across all levels of government; and the legal framework for the Commonwealth’s involvement in responding to national emergencies and how we work with state and territory legal frameworks.

We are not just looking at how we recover from this season’s devastating fires but how we prepare for the future.  

Our world-leading science agencies have told us that we can expect more extremes into the future, longer disaster seasons, and compounding events. Flooding rains after drought, bushfires and storms, which test our capacity to cope.

Climate change is causing an increase in frequency and intensity of heatwaves, fire weather and contributing to drought. Some rainfall events are also becoming more intense.

And as our population continues to grow, more people, homes and services we rely on will be impacted by these hazards.

The economic cost of natural disasters is currently estimated to be $18.2 billion per year. We are yet to see the total cost of this bushfire season. Recent events show how impacts are felt beyond the fire ground.

The costs of disasters are projected to rise to $39 billion per year by 2050 even without accounting for climate change. 

The broader social costs are estimated to be at least double this.

Disasters not only cost the economy. They hit hip pockets hard. In some parts of Australia insurance is increasingly unaffordable.

Reducing risk is the only sustainable way to address affordability.

But we don’t need to deal with this issue just to reduce insurance premiums. We need to reduce the potential for damage, disruption, suffering and loss.

These events become disasters when they rob us of the things that we value: our homes, loved ones, our communities, our livelihoods, our safety and security.

Natural hazards will increasingly test our limits and our capacity to cope.

We have to change the way we think about and prepare for disaster. We need to take a long-term view of how we shape our society, adapt to climate change, build resilience and create the communities we want to live in.

If you put the investment in upfront to build your resilience, then you're more likely to get through and the overall cost could ultimately be less.

We will continue to invest in our world class emergency response capabilities and do the work needed to ensure we are ready to respond to whatever comes.

But as the scale and complexity increases, that on its own is not enough.

The Australian Government is committed to reducing the causes and impact of disasters on Australian communities and the economy.

In this we stand shoulder to shoulder with state and territory governments.

Reducing disaster risk is part of this effort and must become business as usual as we adapt to a changing climate.    

In 2019 the Australian Government released the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.  

This framework represents a shared effort by representatives across government, the private sector and community groups to reduce disaster risks and the associated loss, suffering and cost.

All states and territories are committed to implementing the Framework.

The Framework describes what governments, industries, communities and individuals – working together – must do to maintain our prosperity, despite our increasing vulnerability to natural hazards.

It sets the new agenda for action needed to reduce disaster risk, prevent risk being created in decisions we make today for the future; and ensure we have the information we need to do this.

The Australian Government is working across sectors, and with state and territory governments, to finalise the first National Action Plan to reduce disaster risk. 

All state and territory emergency management ministers have committed to finalise this important roadmap as soon as possible.

We are also investing $130.5 million over five years from 2019-20 to deliver initiatives that reduce risk at the national, state and local level.

The Australian Government has established an Emergency Response Fund. As part of this fund, an additional $50 million per year will be available to build preparedness to future natural disasters, and build the long-term sustainability of communities that are at risk of being affected by a future natural disaster.

The Australian Government is also helping communities to ‘build back better’ after disasters occur by investing in resilience.

The extraordinary nature of these events has highlighted the need to build more resilience within affected communities to better prepare them for future bushfires. Part of the $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund will available to rebuild infrastructure to a better, more resilient standard.

Through the joint Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, including $100 million Infrastructure Betterment Fund in Queensland, the Australian Government is:

  • allowing states and territories to use the savings they generate from rebuilding essential public assets under the DRFA towards disaster risk reduction projects; and
  • encouraging states and territories to restore damaged assets to a more resilient standard.

The Australian Government will also be partnering with the private sector to unlock commercial financing opportunities to invest in reducing risk and building resilience.


The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework is about doing better for the Australian people. 

We need a clearer picture nationally of which Australian communities are most at risk of disaster.

And we need to work with those communities to take action to reduce it.

This means building knowledge about how disasters impact us now and into the future. 

It isn’t enough to rely on how things have been in the past. Events are occurring in locations, and in intensity and on a scale that we haven’t seen before. We will need to expect that we will see another bushfire season like this. And we need to be better prepared.

We can’t predict the future. 

We must keep making better use of the scientific information that already exists to anticipate how we may be impacted in the future.

We have outstanding capabilities in this country – within our leading science agencies, universities and private companies.

We are stepping up our national disaster and climate risk capabilities to ensure people get the information they need to plan for the future. Reducing disaster risk is more than understanding the hazard. We also have to really understand what makes us vulnerable to disaster. 

Reducing vulnerability can make a significant difference to how we experience hazards when they strike. 

We need to better understand that we are trading off values in the decisions that we all make; and understand that these values shift. 

When things are going well we may value efficiency and cost-effectiveness; but when faced with disruption the need for safety and security come into sharper focus.

We must then take what we know and act on it.

Every day, decisions are made across Australia that have real impacts for our society.

Decisions like where and how we live, how we build our cities and regions, how we plan and maintain our infrastructure and buildings, and how we protect our unique natural assets. These are all matters the Prime Minister has asked the CSIRO-led review to make recommendations on this year. The review will ensure these decisions are informed by science and to ensure we build greater resilience for the future.

We must ensure that we can better plan and account for the reality of disasters in all kinds of decisions - decisions in cabinet rooms, board rooms, council chambers, community halls and around dining tables across the country.

To guide those decisions, the Australian Government will support an accelerated national effort to enable business and communities to reduce their risk and build resilience.

The Government cannot do this alone.  No one state or territory can do this alone. No one local council or community can do this alone. No one sector, business, or organisation can do this alone. 

But working together, collectively – that’s when real change can happen.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework sets the direction for this coordinated national effort. The Government is working through arrangements to ensure a strong private industry and community sector advice on what action is needed to build national resilience.

We need to be sure that our effort is making a difference.

To keep us accountable, we will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of this effort, identify gaps and deliver real change for Australians. The reviews, both nationally and within states and territories, will point to areas for action.

Over time, it will help us understand what is working and what we can do better. 

We will share our experience and knowledge and learn from counterparts in our region during the Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which we are hosting in Brisbane in June 2020.

This will provide an important opportunity to come together to address the mutual challenge of accelerating disaster risk reduction efforts.

Reducing disaster risk is everyone’s business. I call on Australians in government and business and as members of communities, to consider how you can join this national effort to understand and reduce the risk within your control.

We have an opportunity. Together we can create safe, resilient and prosperous Australian communities – now and for the future.