04 September 2023
I thank the member for Calare for this motion and for his unwavering advocacy for the interests of regional Australia. My heart goes out to the people of Calare for what they’ve endured over the last period of time with these extraordinary catastrophes. Communities across the electorate of Indi, too, have been hard hit by floods and other natural disasters such as bushfires, storms and even landslides. Similarly, my heart goes out to the member for Macquarie, who has experienced such catastrophe herself personally and multiple times in her community with recurrent flooding.
The floods of October 2022 affected many communities in Indi—in Wangaratta, Benalla, Euroa, Strathbogie, Violet Town and Acheron, to name a handful. From north to south, east to west, rising waters affected all nine local government areas I represent. Along the Goulburn River a young couple that had just purchased their very first farm found their cattle without food, their pastures destroyed and their drinking water supply contaminated. Scott, a constituent in Alexandra, saw his property severely impacted and had to buy drinking water, fodder and food. Many homes along the Murray and in and around Wahgunyah were inundated while many others across the electorate lost stock, and businesses, infrastructure and homes were damaged during these flood events. The heavy rains even induced a landslip, cutting the main road to Falls Creek Alpine Resort for six long months, with devastating economic and emotional impacts on the businesses up and down the mountains, with residents, schoolchildren and families separated.
We are, sadly, very familiar with all manner of natural disasters in Indi. The majority of the 173 victims of the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, Australia’s deadliest, were in Indi. Towns across my electorate still bear the scars of that fateful day more than 14 years ago. More recently, the Black Summer bushfires impacted vast swathes of our region. Communities such as Corryong, Cudgewa and Tintaldra in the Upper Murray were deeply impacted, surrounded by fire and cut off from the rest of Victoria. Homes, infrastructure, stock and hundreds of kilometres of fencing were lost. Fires also roared through many of the magnificent alpine areas in Indi threatening localities such as Dinner Plain and the alpine resorts of Mount Hotham, Falls Creek and Mount Buller.
These disasters take a psychological as well as a physical toll on individuals and communities and recovery from the trauma of natural disasters is a marathon, not a sprint. This marathon is long and hard enough in the best of circumstances, but the last thing people need after a disaster is the stress of not knowing whether they will have the funds needed to get through the immediate aftermath, let alone to rebuild and improve their resilience in the face of future events. Yet this is the situation that many are facing. I often hear stories from my constituents of insurance premiums skyrocketing to unaffordable levels, complicated insurance contracts, delays in accessing insurer payouts after disasters and difficulty accessing government assistance. Graeme from Benalla wrote to me noting that the cost of his home insurance had increased from $1,000 to $4,000. Similar, and higher, increases are common across Indi. Such situations compound the stress and cost of natural disasters on our communities.
This is why I support the recently announced parliamentary inquiry into insurer responses to the 2022 floods. I support efforts to ensure Australians have access to affordable insurance with fair and simple contracts. However, I also strongly call upon the government to broaden the terms of reference of the inquiry to include insurance relating to all forms of natural disasters. We know very well that the same challenges of insurance, unaffordability, complexity and delays impact not just those seeking protection and support in the face of floods but also those in the face of bushfires, storms and more. Following the Black Summer bushfires, dedicated members of my community—and I want to particularly name Steve Belli from Mount Hotham—have worked incredibly hard to advocate for those affected by the crisis in insurance affordability. In some cases there is withdrawal of insurance offers because the risk of insurance is just too high. We need to get this right.
The issue is particularly salient in my electorate of Indi, with the Climate Council’s Uninsurable Nation: Australia’s most climate-vulnerable places report rating Indi as the eighth most at-risk federal electorate in the country. The Climate Council finds that in the most at-risk electorates one in seven properties will be uninsurable by the end of this decade. In many cases it’s the least well-off electorates that are the most at risk, and Indi rates 133 out of the average income of 151 electorates. We need to get this right.