Labor supports the objectives of the Emergency Response Fund to support increased funding for disaster recovery and mitigation.
A number of submissions to the inquiry note that managing and mitigating the effects of natural disasters will only become more urgent as climate change increases the frequency and severity of natural disasters in Australia. For example, in its submission, Suncorp stated that:
The need for increased disaster funding has been recognised for some time, with the Productivity Commission, in 2014, calling for a $200 million increase in federal funding through the National Partnership for Disaster Resilience.
The Productivity Commission also recommended an overhaul of disaster funding, in favour of greater spending on mitigation infrastructure, to reduce the cost of future disasters. The Productivity Commission found that Australia spends 97 per cent of disaster funding on clean-up and recovery, with only three per cent spent on prevention and reducing the risk of natural disasters.
This bill falls short of the Productivity Commission recommendations, by continuing to prefer spending on clean-up or recovery costs, rather than mitigation. This is compounded by only allowing for spending on mitigation, after a disaster has hit. The Insurance Australia Group's submission, while supportive of disaster recovery investment, called for 'a more balanced approach to spending on disaster mitigation and resilience measures and recovery and reconstruction'. The Australian Red Cross, in its submission, went further, saying that the Emergency Response Fund should be solely 'directed to disaster risk reduction'.
Beyond these design faults, Labor Senators continue to have reservations about the mechanism the government has chosen to establish the Emergency Response Fund. In particular, the decision to resource the Emergency Response Fund with money taken from the nation building Education Infrastructure Fund.
This decision was criticised in many submissions to the inquiry, including Group of Eight Australia who contend that closing the Education Infrastructure Fund is 'counterproductive and contrary to a fiscally responsible approach to funding higher education infrastructure especially long-term research infrastructure'.
In its submission Queensland University of Technology raised the importance of research capability in disaster mitigation, noting that 'in order to protect ourselves from disaster and to shape for future generations a viable, productive and more peaceful world, we need to continue to invest in education and research facilities, as well as in attraction of the very best researchers and students'.
Labor will continue to examine the legislation and talk to stakeholders to identify whether amendments are necessary to help it more effectively achieve the objectives of the Emergency Response Fund.