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Suncorp-backed report makes case for ‘assisted relocations’

Suncorp has released a discussion paper on “assisted relocations” of communities in catastrophe-prone areas, in collaboration with Natural Hazards Research Australia.

The launch of the paper today comes as the country steps up its disaster resilience focus after last year’s catastrophic floods and the 2019/20 Black Summer fires.

Managed retreats or assisted relocations, such as targeted buybacks of residential properties in flood zones, are increasingly seen as part of the answer to long-term disaster resilience, alongside the building of public infrastructure like levees and seawalls.

Queensland and NSW have already set up schemes to acquire, raise and retrofit flood-damaged homes, and the NSW government announced last month some proposed residential development in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley west of Sydney will not proceed.

“This paper is an example of our commitment to helping to drive the national conversation on natural hazards resilience, working together with our partners across the government, research, community, and corporate sectors,” Suncorp CEO Consumer Insurance Lisa Harrison said.

“We need to go one step further and include assisted relocations as part of our national resilience strategy alongside other disaster mitigation measures. We can’t keep rebuilding in the same at-risk areas and hoping for a different result.”

The paper sets out four policy ideas for consideration. One calls for a national map of natural hazards risks that identifies priority areas and the second involves a small number of risk-based assisted relocation planning trials, building on buybacks already taking place in Queensland and NSW.

The third idea suggests local councils develop a plan for consulting with First Nations communities and finally, over the longer term the natural hazards risk map should indicate areas for resilience upgrades, or assisted relocations.

The paper says there could also be a broader conversation about the private sector’s role.

“Insurers could, for example, consider developing a form of affordable insurance cover that specifically addresses the needs of relocating households and communities.”

The discussion paper was developed out of a roundtable held in Canberra in September with more than 40 senior executives and experts from government, research, community, and corporate sectors and hosted by Suncorp Group and Natural Hazards Research Australia.

“Successful relocation requires a partnership between all these sectors of our society, it cannot be a top-down approach,” Natural Hazards Research Australia CEO Andrew Gissing said.

“The evidence from a number of examples of assisted relocation shows what can go well when a coordinated and collaborative approach is taken, and what can go wrong when these changes are imposed.

“The best support for those threatened by natural hazards is all about ‘doing with’ rather than ‘doing to’ communities,” Mr Gissing said.

Click here for the paper.