LOCAL MP Warren Entsch has welcomed recognition that the current model of natural disaster funding is flawed, saying that reform is needed to give states and councils more autonomy to recover from disasters in a way that best meets the needs of their communities.
Last Thursday, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released its report into national recovery funding arrangements and on Friday, the Government tabled the Productivity Commission’s final report into natural disaster funding arrangements.
Both reports were critical of the current funding system;
– The Commission argues that governments nationally focus too much on recovery, at the expense of directing resources towards better-preparing for future disasters.
– The ANAO criticises the lack of oversight and accountability for recovery funding under successive Commonwealth governments, and highlights systemic issues with state and local government claims for ineligible expenditure.
“We’ve had ongoing problems in Far North Queensland with the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA),” Mr Entsch said. “Every year I have a battle with the various departments involved to allow regional councils such as Cook Shire to be reimbursed for using their own workforce for post-disaster reconstruction.
“It slows down the process at a time when councils need to be getting crews on the ground after events, so they can repair roads and resume access for visitors, local resident and businesses.
“I’m very happy that we can now look at sensible reforms, with a gradual approach, that’ll reduce red tape and make life much simpler for all levels of government.”
Michael Keenan MP, the Minister for Justice, has now written to his state counterparts foreshadowing consultations on the best way to address the findings of these reports.
“While the Australian Government will always have a role in supporting states affected by natural disasters and we will always stand ready to assist communities in need the findings of these two independent bodies make it clear that change is needed,” Minister Keenan said on Friday.
Far Northern mayors, including Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott and Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu, say they will be taking a close look at the reports’ findings but have welcomed a resolution to the day labour issue and increased focuses on mitigation and reducing red tape.
They have cautioned however that with the wet season now over, works need to start on road repairs and access following TC Nathan damage rather than waiting for the further consultation with the states.
Mr Entsch said that it was important to note that the Government was not proposing any radical reductions in the funding support it provides to the states, something which had concerned local governments in Leichhardt who rely on State Government contributions to disaster works.
“I’ve been very vocal in arguing that small regional councils simply can’t afford to pay hundreds of thousands, let alone millions, towards disaster recovery works,” Mr Entsch said.
“But we need to get the balance of mitigation and recovery funding right the Federal Government can’t keep spending 97 per cent of disaster funding on recovery and only 3 per cent on preparing for future events.”
Importantly, the Productivity Commission report also raises a number of issues including the need for better land use planning, and improved risk data and information sharing which should be carefully considered by state and local governments.
The Government will provide a full response to the Productivity Commission’s final report following these consultations.