Queensland councils seek $1b for flood-proofing

By Paul Hemsley

Queensland’s Community Recovery and Resilience Minister, David Crisafulli, has announced that councils hit by recent flooding disasters have put their hands up for nearly $1 billion in applications for “Betterment Fund” projects to help replace damaged council assets and make them more flood resistant.

The big figure requests have dwarfed the more modest funding amounts previously indicated as available by the Queensland government, a scenario that has again highlighted the massive repair bills being faced by local governments forced to contend with extreme weather events and other disasters as insurance options dwindle.

The Queensland government launched a plan in March 2013 to help fund the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure as a result of Tropical Cyclone Oswald and the floods that inundated the regions in 2012 and 2013 by raising $80 million in a joint venture with the federal government.

That plan required the Queensland government to match the federal funding of $40 million, but Mr Crisafulli claimed that more funding was needed to help the rebuilding of vital infrastructure so that it would not consist of “replicas” that were at risk of being destroyed in the next flood anyway.

Mr Crisafulli said that the $80 million figure fell short of the $200 million fund that the state government required and that he would continue to lobby the federal government for another $60 million that the state government would match to meet the total required.

However the sheer enormity of the sunshine state’s flood damage was laid bare after expressions of interest lodged by 48 flood-affected councils added up to a total of around $1 billion in “Betterment Fund” projects applications to cover the cost of replacing and strengthening flood-prone infrastructure.

These projects are mainly related to stronger roads and drainage, crucial areas in flood mitigation. Councils have also expressed interest in other infrastructure such as water and sewerage treatment plants, bridges and culverts.

A Queensland government spokesperson said that $1 billion is the total that councils have amount requested through expressions of interest, but it is presently unclear how and when that amount will be sourced.

It follows the difficulty between the Queensland government and the federal government over one single but crucial piece of infrastructure, the flood-prone Bruce Highway, because of Deputy Premier Jeff Sweeney’s claim that the federal government has not committed any more funds beyond what it was already expected to spend to make it more flood resistant.

The Bruce Highway was only the latest problem in the ongoing request for funds to create flood-resistant state infrastructure as councils have also submitted additional requests totalling at about $400 million to fund upgrades to state assets such as the Department of Transport and Main Roads’ thoroughfares.

Mr Crisafulli said the submissions prove that in many cases councils regard state assets as their “number one priority” although the federal government has ruled these as “ineligible”.

The issue of flood-proofing council assets and infrastructure is also closely tied to the issue of insurance premiums costs that are at risk of steeply increasing as insurers begin to price cover and policies based on the frequency of the previous disasters.

One consequence is that already cash-strapped councils that require cover have little choice other than to build stronger infrastructure that will shield them from premium hikes.

Mr Crisafulli said a state “as big and diverse” as Queensland will never be completely flood proof, but stronger assets “this time around” will ensure the recovery bill will be reduced the next time disaster strikes.

“The strong interest from councils has confirmed what I expected, which is that they have been frustrated going through the motions replacing ‘like-for-like’ only to see it washed away the next time it floods," Mr Crisafulli said.

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