AIDR presents at Senate Select Committee 

On Tuesday 14 March AIDR Executive Director, Dr Margaret Moreton, appeared in front of the Senate Select Committee on Australia’s Disaster Resilience.

The Senate Select Committee was established to inquire into Australia’s preparedness, response and recovery workforce models, as well as alternative models to disaster recovery. The committee is considering the role of the Australian Defence Force, volunteer groups, not-for-profit organisations and state-based services, and the support required to improve Australia’s resilience and response to natural hazards.

We know that disasters are becoming more frequent, occurring concurrently and having significant, long-term impacts and costs for individuals, communities, the environment and the economy. Some key statistics from various submissions to the Senate Select Committee include:

  • Climate change is widely predicated to increase the number, frequency and intensity of disasters and their impacts on Australians through longer and more intense fire seasons, more extreme heat events, less frequent but more intense cyclones, and an increased likelihood of cyclones moving further south1,2.
  • Costs of disasters are severe across all levels of the system, costing governments, the private sector, and individuals, significant amounts financially. The Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience in 2021 indicated that disasters were costing Australia $38 billion now, and this would grow to $73 billion in 20603.
  • Lives are changed for decades or forever. The effects on children can last a lifetime – especially for those who were young during the event. The University of Melbourne found that 10 years after the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, 21% of the affected population was still experiencing serious mental health issues relating to the fires4.
  • For every $1 invested in resilience before a disaster, we will save between $3 and $8 on recovery5.
  • Currently, Australia expends 97% of funding post disaster and 3% pre disaster.

During AIDR’s presentation, Dr Moreton pointed to the National Principles of Disaster Recovery that were developed by the Social Recovery Reference Group and signed up to by all jurisdictions and members of the Australia and New Zealand Emergency Management Committee:

  • Understand the context
  • Recognise complexity
  • Use community-led approaches
  • Coordinate all activities
  • Communicate effectively
  • Recognise and build capacity.

If we are to build sustainable resilience in the long term, everyone involved (Governments, NGOs, businesses, philanthropists, Defence, volunteer groups etc) must understand and adopt these principles.

Dr Moreton highlighted that while disasters may not discriminate, there are many people that because of their circumstances, are left behind when disasters strike. This is a result of factors such as intergenerational disadvantage (and for Indigenous people, dispossession), health and wellbeing, financial capacity, connection to others and to country, and access to knowledge and resources. We see this play out in First Nations communities (who also have enormous contributions to make to help us reduce risk, based on 60,000 years of wisdom), people with a disability, refugees and migrants, those experiencing homelessness, and those struggling to put food on the table. These groups may be disproportionately affected, but they also have a great deal to offer towards building resilience in communities across Australia.

Dr Moreton emphasised that communities have existing capacity and already respond to the events that affect them. Some would argue that communities are the first responders and are left working to recover, long after everyone else has left. We need to create communities who are highly skilled and knowledgeable about the hazards that surround them; have strong capacity, capability, relationships and interconnectedness; and who are well prepared for an emergency event. The processes that are recommended by the Senate Committee, and decided by the government to achieve risk reduction must strengthen local communities and local community-based organisations.

The best results occur when effort is collaborative and coordinated and begins before any emergency events unfolds. There is a greater need to focus on disaster resilience (awareness, education and community building work) and risk reduction (prevention and preparedness initiatives) before an emergency, to curb the growing demands on response and recovery workforces and funding, when a disaster occurs. Greater resilience before an event reduces the need for and pressure on response and recovery arrangements.

Dr Moreton concluded AIDR’s presentation by recommending to the Senate Select Committee that their advice to government seeks to:

  • increase the level of national focus, resourcing and support for disaster risk reduction and resilience building initiatives across Australia
  • ensure that all efforts are undertaken to implement the National Principles of Disaster Recovery
  • encourage and invest in locally-led initiatives that are coordinated on the ground
  • strengthen the work already being undertaken by many organisations doing great things across the system and local, regional and national levels, and
  • always look through the lens of enhancing community resilience outcomes and reducing costs in the immediate, intermediate and long term.

You can watch the full presentation and Q&A here:

AIDR’s presentation runs from 9:14:55 to 9:52:49.

CSIRO (2020) State Climate Change Statements on Climate Change in Australia

Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO (2022) State of the Climate Report 2022

Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience (2021) Special Report: Update to the economic costs of natural disasters in Australia

Gibbs L, Molyneaux R, Harms L, Gallagher H C, Block K, Richardson J, Brandenburg V, O’Donnell M, Kellett C, Quinn P, Kosta L, Brady K, Ireton G, MacDougall C, Bryant R. 10 Years Beyond Bushfires Report 2020. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

"Building Australia’s Resilience to natural disasters – Investing in preparedness” Deloitte, (2017), and Australian Productivity Commission, (2015)