2GB Radio with Ben Fordham

December 08, 2020





SUBJECT/S: Flood risk in Western Sydney; unspent $4bn Emergency Response Fund; Morrison Government unprepared for disaster season.

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: It's going to be a wet summer, a La Niña phase, which means we get more rain than normal. And analysts at Insurance Australia Group have produced a report saying there's a big build-up of tropical moisture headed our way. And they're warning about flooding in Sydney's west, especially the Hawkesbury-Nepean River flood plain. On the line, Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management, Murray Watt, good morning to you.


FORDHAM: I'm very well. This has got to be a worry for 134,000 people who live and work in that area?

WATT: It certainly is. What this report from Australia's largest insurer has found is that it's Sydney's west, around the Hawkesbury-Nepean river flood plain, that has the most significant flood exposure of anywhere in the country.

And with a La Niña weather pattern forming, it looks like this year the biggest risk for us weather-wise is not so much going to be bushfires, but it's going to be floods and cyclones right up and down the country. And that's why we really need to make sure that the Government is a lot better prepared this year than they were for the bushfires last year.

FORDHAM: So what do the people of Hawkesbury-Nepean need to try and alleviate this risk?

WATT: Well, one of the things that we've been calling on this Government to do for some time now is to actually use some of the money that they've put aside for a disaster recovery and resilience fund. Last year in the Federal Budget - so 18 months ago - the Government announced that it was setting up a $4 billion disaster recovery and resilience fund, which can be used to help prepare communities for floods, cyclones, bushfires, all sorts of disasters. And you know what? We're here 18 months on and they haven't spent a single cent from it. That money could be being used right now in the Hawkesbury-Nepean to improve evacuation routes.

I was on the phone this morning to Susan Templeman, our Federal Member out that way. And she was talking to me about the fact that there's no official evacuation centres for bushfires in the region. People have to go to Homebush, which is pretty ridiculous if you're in the middle of a disaster. There's all sorts of communications methods that could be improved. And I just can't believe that we're sitting here 18 months after the Government makes an announcement and they haven't spent a cent of this money they've put aside to protect people.

FORDHAM: You've got to be careful where you spend it and how you spend it, and it sounds like you're more interested in spending the money on some kind of evacuation plan as opposed to prevention?

WATT: Well, I think the point of it is that what you want to do is make sure that the money is used to keep people safe. In some communities around Australia, that's going to be about prevention. In some communities like Hawkesbury-Nepean, it might be more about making sure people are safe when disasters hit.

There are other parts of the country where flood levees could be built to actually protect homes and businesses from being flooded in the first place. I'm quite open to ideas from local communities about how this money gets spent, all we want to do is see the Government get on and do it.

It's not as if they have to find more money, the money is sitting there in the Budget, it's just propping up Scott Morrison's bank account at the moment, rather than keeping people safe.

FORDHAM: Murray, we appreciate you coming on, and Merry Christmas to you.

WATT: You too, Ben, good to talk.