One of the great privileges of my job is the all too regular opportunity to welcome people back into their homes following cyclones, storms, floods, and fires. Handing back those keys brings with it an end to the disruption of temporary accommodation and the promise of better times ahead. But you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to realise the psychological scars will remain well after the physical damage is made good.
That’s certainly the case in Springfield Lakes, on the western fringe of Brisbane. In October last year, this tight little community was flattened by what’s become known as the Halloween day hailstorm.
I recently visited Springfield to mark the anniversary and meet with two of our most impacted customers. Putting aside the particulars of their individual claims, what struck me were the stories of that fateful day and the emotion of witnessing nature’s fury at full tilt. It’s hard to imagine the pain and impact for Jenna and her newborn son who sought protection in their bathroom amidst breaking glass and collapsing ceilings or Stephen and his young family who returned home from shopping to find their house effectively demolished.
Sure, this was by no means the first hail storm in Brisbane. As a kid, I remember the sky regularly turning green followed by the grass turning white. But this feels different. One hour after the storm passed, Stephen recounted reaching elbow-deep to pull softball-sized projectiles out of holes in his front yard. Little wonder the roof never stood a chance.
Unfortunately, a year on, and the story hasn’t changed much. In October we saw another series of storms with accompanying hail and wind. In November it was record rainfall across much of the country and now, in the first days of summer, we awake to grey skies and torrential rainfall. Call it La Niña, climate change, or just bad luck, it really doesn’t matter - the results and impacts are the same.
As the world quickly moves on from Glasgow and the commitments, or lack thereof, made on behalf of future generations, spare a thought for those inhabiting the world today. Those that have been put in harm’s way through inadequate town planning; a develop-at-all costs mantra and building codes that didn’t take a changing climate into account. Never mind the humble taxpayer who foots the bill for the clean-up or the welfare bill for those who couldn’t afford insurance.
It’s a sad fact that just 3 cents in every dollar spent on natural disasters is spent in preparation, mitigation, or resilience building. The other 97 cents goes to mopping up or fixing up. And none of this takes into account the silent costs of longer-lasting psychological damage borne by individuals and communities.
In addition to addressing climate change and transitioning to net zero, our nation’s leaders must do more today. At Suncorp, we have repeatedly argued for a four-point plan to make a start on addressing this issue. It includes improved public infrastructure; subsidies and tax breaks for those who invest in more resilient housing and an overhaul of planning laws.
The last and most material point is the removal of inefficient federal and state taxes and charges from insurance products. At a time of increased risk, and a changing climate, where is the sense in a base insurance premium being loaded with up to 45% in taxes and charges? The higher your risk, the more tax you pay, and we all know the risk of extreme weather is increasing. At a time when homeowners really need adequate home insurance, allowing tax revenue from insurance to keep growing due to climate change makes little economic sense. Pushing people out of the insurance market simply transfers the cost of the extreme weather event, and the one after, to the taxpayer.
Climate change is an intergenerational challenge that must be tackled. This includes setting ambitious targets and providing plenty of support for those industries and jobs impacted by the transition. But let’s not lose sight of Jenna and Stephen and their families. They, along with 25 million others deserve a more resilient Australia today.