(L to R) Robert Tickner, Margareta Wahlstrom, Paul O’Sullivan, Heinrich Eder and Campbell Hanan.

The Australian Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities has caught the ear of the Productivity Commission and eye of the United Nations with its call to rebalance funding towards resilience and pre-disaster planning, and for the creation of a national open data platform to better inform business, the community and policy makers.

Formed in 2012 by IAG, Investa Property Group, Munich Re, Optus, Australian Red Cross and Westpac Group, the roundtable focuses on prevention of impacts and improving the resilience. It recently met with head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Margareta Wahlstrom ahead of the third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan.

The conference will be the platform for the adoption of the 2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, to which the roundtable has contributed.

According to member Insurance Australia Group, the UNISDR was impressed by the collaborative work the roundtable was undertaking with the Australian government.

A 2013 Deloitte Access Economics white paper commissioned by the group, Building our Nation’s Resilience to Natural Disasters, forecast the cost of natural disasters would rise from $6.3 billion a year currently to around $23 billion a year in 2050 as population density increases and the severity and frequency of storms, floods, cyclones and bushfires grows.

A second research report in 2014, Building an open platform for natural disaster resilience decisions, was significantly referenced in the Draft Productivity Commission report released in September as part of the commission’s inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding Arrangements, with the commission adopting the roundtable’s recommendations for increased investment in mitigation and the need for a national open source platform for natural disaster data and information.

Ms Wahlstrom also expressed support for the roundtable’s recommendations and said she was keen to involve the roundtable in international forums to advise on mechanisms for implementing true resilience.

Chief executive of Investa Office and roundtable member Campbell Hanan, who attended the meeting to represent the property sector, said the discussion reinforced the need for open access to the relevant disaster-related data to assist natural disaster mitigation and enable better decision-making by developers and consent authorities.

For Investa, Mr Hanan said the work of the roundtable was proving a useful lens for reducing risk and making better decisions.

Funding

Currently the federal government provides 80 per cent of all funding for natural disaster relief, with the remainder coming from the states, local government and non government organisations. Mr Hanan said spending the money upfront to mitigate was a better solution than the current model of post-disaster mop-up and repair receiving the bulk of funds.

The Productivity Commission recommended a major restructure of federal funding for natural disasters in the draft report, with reductions in financial support to the states and territories for natural disaster relief and recovery and increases in mitigation funding to encourage governments to manage natural disaster risks more sustainably and equitably.

“Natural disasters are an unavoidable part of the Australian landscape,” commissioner Jonathan Coppel said.

“However, current funding arrangements are prone to cost-shifting, ad hoc responses and short-term political opportunism.

“[They] overwhelmingly tip the balance away from planning for and mitigating against natural disasters and towards waiting for expenditure to rebuild destroyed assets.”

The draft report also made findings and recommendations on land use planning, insurance markets and the consistency, sharing and communication of natural hazard information, especially to households.

“Insurance is an important risk management option, especially for private assets. Households and businesses should be relied upon to manage natural disaster risks to their assets. Insurance markets in Australia for natural disaster risk are generally working well. Pricing is increasingly risk reflective, even to the individual property level,” the Commission stated.

At the Productivity Commission’s public hearing on Natural Disaster Funding Arrangements held in Sydney in October, Mike Wilkins, managing director and chief executive of IAG, and a founding member of the roundtable, told the commission that “improving our national approach to natural disaster funding makes economic sense, but more importantly we believe that it will save lives and save property”.

He endorsed the commission’s recommendation of increasing federal funding for pre-mitigation by $200 million. The 2013 white paper showed that carefully targeted resilience investments of $250 million a year had the potential to generate budget savings of $12.2 billion dollars for all levels of government, and reduce natural disaster cost by about 50 per cent by 2050.

The roundtable also wants to see a natural disaster resilience advisor appointed to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“As stakeholders, we see that long-term preparation and investment [by government] will have good paybacks,” Mr Wilkins told the commissioners.

This investment needs to be based on a cost-benefit analysis that incorporates natural disaster information, another reason an up-to-date, comprehensive and national data platform is required.

Mr Wilkins said this would be of benefit not only to government but also to business, communities and households, so all stakeholders can make informed decisions about the impact or potential impact of disasters and mitigate risk.

“A national platform can more effectively inform State and locally-based land use planning reforms and it can enhance building codes to protect property as well as life and safety performance,” Mr Wilkins said.