Make betterment a linchpin of disaster recovery funding: ALGA

Betterment funding should be a mainstay of Commonwealth disaster recovery funding, the Australian Local Government Association has said.

After the 2019-20 bushfires, Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said state, federal and local governments should embrace the ethos of “build back better” and that “as we face further disasters into the future and I will be writing to the States that they work with us on that”.

In a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into lessons from the 2019-20 bushfire season, ALGA said it welcomed this statement – and called for the Federal Government to “commit to ensuring that betterment funding is a core element of disaster recovery funding, to assist local government in strengthening the resilience of local communities”.

Under the current Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA), the Commonwealth only provides funding equivalent to the reconstruction of an essential public asset to its pre-disaster function. These clauses make it difficult for Commonwealth to fund councils or state governments to “build back better”.

The submission said: “There is also a need for better guidance on what would constitute an acceptable standard for betterment which could then justify the additional investment”. 

ALGA’s submission also stressed the need for more mitigation funding to enable councils to prepare their communities for the increasing frequency and severity of natural disaster events. 

The Commonwealth currently spends 97 percent of disaster funding on disaster recovery and only 3 percent on preparation and mitigation, yet every dollar spent on mitigation saves tens of dollars of post-disaster recovery expenditure, the submission noted.

“Local government proposes a rebalance of natural disaster funding and a more focused investment strategy on mitigation measures.

“The ability of local communities to better manage natural disasters relies on increased investment in mitigation measures to build community resistance.”

Community infrastructure, including a significant number of council assets, is not considered essential assets under the DRFA, and ALGA’s submission argues that community infrastructure that is publicly accessible and owned should be included in the list of essential infrastructure. 

“Community assets, currently not treated as essential assets under the DRFA – including arts, recreation, sport and other community facilities – are known to play an important role in community wellbeing and recovery [and] should be included as essential public assets,” ALGA said.