The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has long called for a $200 million Commonwealth Disaster Mitigation Fund to be established, the same amount nominated by the Australian Productivity Commission in its most recent advice on disaster mitigation.
"Not only is the Federal Government's current commitment of only $26.1 million a year clearly inadequate in this light, it is inexcusable that the additional $50 million per year made available under the new Emergency Response Fund specifically for mitigation has not been touched this year," President of ALGA Mayor David O'Loughlin said today.
"What are we waiting for? Another horror fire season, more flooding from cyclones, more lives lost? What exactly is the excuse when we know the tasks are defined, overdue, and costed at $200 million per year?
"The Commonwealth should be applying this money right now, in partnership with local and state governments, to widen firebreaks, harden coastal protection, raise levy banks, and ensure every town and city has safe paths for evacuations," Mayor O'Loughlin said.
"None of these proposals are rocket science, nor secrets; they are, however, simply unaffordable for small rural, coastal and riverine councils under extreme budget pressure – including being rate capped in our two most populous states."
The call to use $50 million in disaster mitigation funding available this financial year from the Government's Emergency Response Fund (ERF) comes against the background of continued hearings by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.
ALGA, along with state and territory local government associations, appeared before the Commission last week and reiterated the need for targeted investment in disaster mitigation.
"The value of investing in mitigation to reduce and, where possible, avoid hugely expensive natural disasters is not in doubt," Mayor O'Loughlin said. "It will protect property and people. It will save money in the longer term and save lives in the short term.
"Local councils cross Australia, which have struggled with the growing costs of natural disasters, would welcome increased Commonwealth mitigation funding.
"I urge the Government to get on the front foot and invest every dollar that has been set aside for disaster mitigation measures ahead of the findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission," he said.
"Let's get this money out of Treasury and into the hands of Minister Littleproud to invest in mitigation immediately. As Emergency Management Minister, he knows the bushfire recovery bill is now well above $2 billion.
"He has seen firsthand where better firebreaks, better telecommunications and safer evacuation routes would have made a fundamental difference. He knows that every dollar spent on mitigation now might save the Commonwealth hundreds if not thousands in the next disaster.
"Local mayors want to stand side by side with the Minister after the next natural disaster admiring what they worked together to save through targeted mitigation -- not commiserating over what was lost due to inaction," Mayor O'Loughlin said.