President’s column

EVIDENCE-based policy-making is something governments talk about endlessly but without exhibiting much in the way of follow-through. Take disaster mitigation, for example.

Climate scientists have long predicted weather events will become more extreme as the earth’s atmosphere warms. Three highly destructive hurricanes in quick succession in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean seem to bear this forecast out. 

In Far North Queensland, where residents are still cleaning up after severe tropical Cyclone Debbie in March, a future of more frequent and severe tropical storms looks like an inevitability.

In the face of compelling scientific evidence (backed by equally compelling facts on the ground) governments ought to be acknowledging the need for disaster mitigation more than they are, and looking to implement effective strategies. In many instances, however, they’re responding to extreme weather events rather than anticipating them.

Only at the Local Government level is there a sense of urgency about lessening the effects of damaging winds, rain or storm surges.

This is because councils deal directly with the impacts of extreme weather – and continue to do so long after visiting federal and state politicians have dispensed their comforting words and their promises of financial assistance and flown back to their capital city offices.

Funding to help communities regain their feet after natural disasters is, of course, a critically important state and federal government function. Without it, recovery would be protracted and painful. However, state and federal governments need to think about putting more money towards natural disaster mitigation than they currently allocate.

They need to contribute to the construction of sea walls or flood levees, the enlargement and strengthening of storm-water systems, and the installation of warning systems. And they need to drive efforts to enhance building and construction standards and materials, improve strategic land use/urban planning practices, and to better prepare communities to deal with natural disasters.

Such strategies are cost-effective and have the potential to minimise future losses. They lead to positive cost-benefit outcomes, too, which is why the Australian Local Government Association supports a substantial increase in Commonwealth support. And not at the cost of a reduction in the Commonwealth’s support for disaster relief and recovery, either.

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, was never more fitting than when applied to natural disasters. By ensuring councils were given the necessary assistance, tools and training, state and federal governments could go a long way to ensuring our communities were better able to withstand the vagaries of global warming.

All the best,