Insurers to face federal inquiry over floods response

Many Eugowra locals are still having their damage claims processed after the 2022 floods.

Many Eugowra locals are still having their damage claims processed after the 2022 floods. Photo: AAP

Flood and storm-ravaged communities hope a federal parliamentary inquiry will look into the “callous” practices of insurance companies, as victims continue to wait for disaster pay outs.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones announced the federal inquiry on Wednesday, saying it will investigate every aspect of insurance companies’ response to a string of disasters across Australia in 2022.

Mr Jones said the inquiry would look at insurance coverage itself, claims handling, and problems with supply chains and labour shortages.

“We’ve also got to look at the underlying risk,” he told reporters in Eugowra, a central western NSW village almost razed by flash flooding in November 2022.

“A big part of the Albanese government’s approach to this issue is to ensure that we’re not putting more houses and more communities in peril.

“We want to ensure that, at the very least, we’re not building more houses and suburbs on flood plains.

“We want to ensure, at the very least, that we are building things back … better and more resilient to the risks.”

Local independent MP Andrew Gee called for an inquiry in May, saying disaster-struck communities were in limbo due to the poor response of insurers.

Many locals in Eugowra are still having their claims processed eight months after their houses were damaged or destroyed, Mr Gee said.

“We’ve heard stories of great heartache and tragedy that has been compounded and made worse by the behaviour of insurers,” he said.

“We’ve seen stories and heard stories of a very cold-hearted, mean spirited and callous approach … that warrant further investigation.”

State inquiries have examined the response of insurers after floods tore through much of NSW, south-east Queensland and parts of Victoria.

The February-March 2022 floods in NSW and Queensland were one of the costliest disasters on record, with a total of nearly $6 billion in insurance claims.

Tasmania, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia also experienced historic flooding.

The independent NSW inquiry recommended state government agencies develop a single impact assessment tool to streamline insurance claims on homes and businesses.

Banks and insurance companies should also incentivise the construction of more safe and resilient buildings, the inquiry recommended.

Hundreds of Lismore residents continue to live in severely damaged and mud-caked houses more than a year after a catastrophic flood due to a lack of insurance, with limited access to kitchens and bathrooms.

Many devastated homes in the NSW Northern Rivers city have also been ruled out of a government buyback scheme, with 340 homes eligible for house raising or retrofit and 1100 for buybacks out of more than 6000 applications.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry is also examining flood response and readiness, including insurance issues, and is due to report in mid-2024.

Mr Jones said the federal inquiry will be put before parliament as soon as possible.


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