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Transcript of interview with John Doyle: ABC Radio National: 10 January 2012: 2nd anniversary of Queensland floods

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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP Attorney-General Minister for Emergency Management



JOHN DOYLE: While firefighters continue to battle bushfires burning across four states, in southern Queensland communities are marking the second anniversary of devastating floods that claimed 25 lives.

On this day two years ago a wall of water tore through Toowoomba killing a woman and her son who were trapped in their car at an intersection. Later that afternoon an inland tsunami tore through the Lockyer Valley in what's been described as one of Australia's worst national disasters. The tiny town of Grantham was the worst hit with 12 people dying.

Local communities are keeping the day low key holding private ceremonies.

Federal Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management Nicola Roxon is in the region to mark the day on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.

Attorney-General thanks for joining us this morning.

NICOLA ROXON: It's a pleasure.

JOHN DOYLE: Now what would you be doing in the area today?

NICOLA ROXON: As you said in your introduction there are some private ceremonies that people are conducting. We've been invited by the local councils to really go and have a look at the successful reconstruction work.

I think it's important for us to remind communities that we haven't forgotten them. This is a day that people will remember in many different ways. And of course the Commonwealth and the State Government have worked together and have funded this significant reconstruction and really just is opportunity to say thank you to the people that have been involved in that work and to see how it's progressed over the past two years.

JOHN DOYLE: Well I was going to ask how well essentially have the communities recovered?

NICOLA ROXON: Well I wouldn't try to speak for the healing and the difficulties for each individual of course. Some are determined to move on and others will always remember this as a very traumatic day, particularly those who lost loved ones. But I think the physical reconstruction has been very successful. A lot of work was done very quickly. There has been a relocation of a large number of people from the lower areas in Grantham up to a new estate on higher ground. That's an unusual thing to happen and will be part of what I will be inspecting here today.

JOHN DOYLE: This week's also the anniversary of the Ipswich and Brisbane floods and the Queensland Government has been criticised for dragging the chain on

implementing the flood inquiry recommendations. Does the Commonwealth share these concerns?

NICOLA ROXON: Look I don't think today is the right day to have fights over some political issues…


NICOLA ROXON: I've actually seen the Queensland Government trying to make hay over some funding commitments they want from us as well. I think particularly when so many lives were lost and the opportunities to reflect on what was a terrible day for many many people. It isn’t the right occasion. We, by and large, work well with state governments and we're doing so at the moment as fires are raging across other parts of the country. But I think that it's not that respectful to the individuals who were so dramatically affected for us to get into that today and I for one don't think that that's the right time for me to do so.

JOHN DOYLE: Fair enough. But there was a lot of criticism of the time about the way the insurance companies dealt with the floods. Now many customers especially in flood prone areas are concerned about skyrocketing premiums. I think there's an example in Brisbane of a premium rising from $1600 to $8500. It's going to be difficult for both state and federal governments in the future if insurance becomes virtually impossible for people to afford.

NICOLA ROXON: This is something that's taxed us a lot because we do want people, on the one hand, to have better information about flood or fire risk before they move in to certain areas. We do know more and have more information now, and we perhaps don't have to repeat some of the mistakes of long past, of settling in areas that are flood-prone, for example.

But on the other hand, jumping premiums that mean many people will opt out of insurance is not a good outcome for the whole country, and my colleague, Minister Shorten, has been working with insurance companies and others to look at making sure proper risks are covered, but also trying to keep some control over the premiums and the prices, and I don't think we've found a complete answer to that yet.

I do note that insurance companies, perhaps like others in the community, are learning better ways to respond, and there's - provided some very quick support to many people affected by bushfires currently, so perhaps we can see some signs of a support and understanding, that really we do need good systems. We need insurance companies to respond quickly when there are problems, but I think we have some more difficult work to do in the coming period if prices for insurance premiums are really getting out of people's reach.

JOHN DOYLE: Yeah, it's nine minutes to eight here on RN Summer Breakfast, where we're joined by the Federal-Attorney General, Nicola Roxon. Well, indeed, insurance actuaries must be looking now at disasters because if, for example, a once in 100 year event, or one in 1000 year event, starts become more common, like a one in 10 year event, then it's going - there are certain areas that are going to be impossible for people to live in.

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I've been to parts of the country where councils in particular would say ‘if we'd known what we know now 50 or 60 years ago when this bit of land was developed, we would never have released it for development’.

So we do know more, we can help protect for the future. But there are problems where there are communities that have lived in a particular area for a very long time, and don't necessarily want to have all their family history tied up in a particular area.

And that's why I think the very devastating floods in Grantham and the decision, which has been by and large very enthusiastically welcomed by the community. To relocate to a higher part of the community is actually quite an innovative thing to do, and probably wouldn't be possible in every part of the country. But I think it's something that we can learn from.

JOHN DOYLE: Yeah, indeed. Well, take Marysville for example. I mean, it's difficult for people to get insurance in Marysville now. You may not know this, of course.

NICOLA ROXON: Marysville obviously was very dramatically affected by the Black Saturday fires, and many people have made decisions not to resettle. Others have. It's a beautiful part of the world. I think we need to keep working in this area.

One of the things that the Government's done is to make sure that information to consumers about what is covered in your insurance and what isn't, information so that policies can be more easily compared.

We do encourage people to shop around if they're unhappy with an insurance premium. I do think, however, the core point, that there are some places that it's risky, that will always be subject to flood and fire risk, it's going to become more costly to insure.

JOHN DOYLE: I think that's abundantly clear. Look, I hope today is, well, sober but optimistic in general, and thank you for taking the trouble to join us this morning.

NICOLA ROXON: No problems.

JOHN DOYLE: We've been joined by Nicola Roxon, the Federal Attorney-General, who's in Queensland at the moment.

For all media enquiries, please contact the Attorney-General’s Office on 02 6277 7300 or 0409 945 476