Politics

Labor pledges to boost Australia’s disaster readiness with revamp of $4.7bn emergency response fund | Australian politics

A Labor government will revamp the $4.7bn emergency response fund to commit up to $200m a year to disaster prevention and resilience, as leader Anthony Albanese sharpens his attack on the Morrison government for failing to plan.

Making the announcement ahead of a visit to Mackay in Queensland on Wednesday, Albanese said Labor would use interest from the fund, which is managed by the Future Fund, to improve Australia’s disaster “readiness”.

Proceeds from the fund would go towards prevention measures such as flood levees, sea walls, cyclone shelters, evacuation centres, fire breaks and telecommunications improvements.

“Thousands of Australians who face bushfires, floods and cyclones every year deserve to be protected by a federal government who plans ahead and invests to keep them safe,” Albanese said in a statement.

“These investments will literally save lives, not to mention the taxpayers’ funds that have to be spent on recovery and repairs when disasters hit.

“Australians are renowned as the best disaster responders in the world. They deserve to be backed by a government that looks forward, plans and prevents the worst.”

The redirection of the fund towards resilience and mitigation measures draws on recommendations made in a 2015 productivity commission report which looked into natural disaster funding arrangements in Australia.

The report, which was ordered by the then treasurer Joe Hockey, found that governments “overinvest in post-disaster reconstruction and underinvest in mitigation that would limit the impact of natural disasters in the first place”.

“Current government natural disaster funding arrangements are not efficient, equitable or sustainable. They are prone to cost shifting, ad hoc responses and short-term political opportunism,” the report found.

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The government established the emergency response fund in 2019, with the funds to be spent on recovery and mitigation, but none of the fund has so far been spent with the government referring to it as a fund of last resort.

In the 2021 budget, the government announced a similar fund called the Prepare Australia fund, which committed $600m over six years for disaster resilience measures.

Labor accused the government of continuing to sit on the emergency respond fund which had “done nothing to help” prepare the country for natural disasters.

“Three years after it was announced, the ERF has not spent a cent on disaster recovery and has not completed a single disaster prevention project. The only thing it has done is earn the government over $750m in investment returns,” Albanese said.

“As with Covid-19, the Morrison government’s failure to plan and prepare for natural disasters has left Australians vulnerable.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. We know weather events are on the horizon – we have the smarts and the resources to prepare and prevent. We just need a government with a plan.”

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The funding, which would be set at the current cap of $200m a year, would be matched by state, territory or local governments, in line with the productivity commission recommendations.

Labor said it would continue to fully fund disaster recovery through existing arrangements and would improve the efficiency of disaster recovery processes, “to simplify and speed up payments to disaster victims and repairs to damaged infrastructure”.

Albanese, who is midway through an eight-day “Better Future for Queensland” tour, will spend a second day in the seat of Dawson on Wednesday, visiting a canegrower and the local Country Women’s Association.

Dawson is held by the LNP’s retiring MP George Christensen on a 14.6% margin.

The opposition is using the Queensland trip as a test run for the election campaign, with Labor needing to build on the six of 30 seats it currently holds to try to win government.

Grilled about the performance of the party in Queensland at the last election during his trip, Albanese said it was clear Labor did not get enough votes right around the state.

“One of the things that I’ve been determined to do is to make sure that we do better right around Queensland,” he said.

“We’ve learned the lessons. We did a whole review into it. And what we didn’t do was show that in terms of our policy offering, (that) wasn’t strong enough to secure the support of people in Queensland.”

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