Disasters (2): we have a report. What action can we expect?

The Commission has made over a hundred recommendations.  The question is: how many of them will actually be implemented?

This will depend on how much political pressure is put on to Government: but you can get a sobering clue from these two quotes from the report:

‘The 2004 National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management, said that, to reduce natural hazard risk from bushfires: Planning processes [should] ensure that built assets are not placed in areas of high fire risk and that structures meet standards of construction that reduce their vulnerability.’

[2020] ‘Currently, all states permit homes to be built in bushfire and flood prone areas, and the degree to which planning or building standards act to mitigate risk varies across jurisdictions’

So: given that it’s pretty obviously not a good idea to build a home in a dangerous area, and that the point has been clearly made, not once, but several times, why does it still happen?

The commission gives us an insight with the following observation: ‘privacy and market impact considerations suggest possible adverse consequences of detailed risk exposure and vulnerability information. For example, revealing the risk profile of properties could potentially affect their value, and could expose state, territory and local governments to liability.’

So houses can be built in disaster prone areas, and there’s a certain shyness in talking about the resultant dangers, because of the financial consequences! Of course, there are financial risks when a house is burned down, or swept away in a flood—but maybe these are taken less seriously?

There are consequences that are almost comic:

‘…there is still clear evidence of recent planning decisions placing communities at a known and obvious risk of disaster. For example, development in the suburb of Idalia in Townsville is only partially completed, yet it was significantly inundated by flood in February 2019.’

The practice of disregarding environmental risk is, it seems, built into our culture—and it doesn’t date from yesterday. Check out Governor Macquarie’s problems with settlers who insisted on building on flood plains in 1817 here.

The report does recommend that ‘State and territory governments should continue to deliver, evaluate and improve education and engagement programs aimed at promoting disaster resilience for individuals and communities.’ It’s fair to assume that such education programs would include increasing understanding of how to live constructively with nature, instead of believing we can beat it into submission.

We can only hope that the Royal Commission’s recommendations help shift both public attitudes and political will on the matter.

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