March 7, 2013
A simple response to the recent flooding in NSW and Queensland is so damaging is that we could stop urban development on floodplains and stop the problem becoming ever larger and more unmanageable.
However, in Whose Fault Are The Floods? at New Matilda Chas Keys argues that the recent flooding is so damaging because governments allow it to happen.
Governments seek development and growth, and so does business. Development is driven to choose the best, often the cheapest locations. But it is not driven by human safety considerations or considerations of long-term economic viability in the context of natural disasters — even those which are certain to occur, will have severe consequences and cannot be prevented.
Government departments.... exist to support the interests of vested interests. Planning departments certainly supports developers and development. They do not exist to create a brake on growth. Indeed in recent times the NSW government’s manual on floodplain development has been modified, at the behest of the department, to make it easier to develop flood-prone land for urban purposes.
Hence the prevalence of residential housing on flood prone land. Floods then cause damage, and governments are forced by the politics of damage rectification to restore infrastructure and provide generous relief to those who have suffered.
Along the way, prolonged periods without floods encourage further floodplain development as councils forget what flooding means. When the floods happen governments spend heavily on flood relief and then allow further inappropriate urban development on the floodplain.
Many reject this argument in favour of building dams as the solution to flood management because they are water-controlling, nature-dominating mechanisms. Thus we have Tony Abbott’s $30 billion solution to build up to 100 new dams to prevent flooding, mainly in northern Australia, coupled with a $500 million expansion of Sydney’s Warragamba dam.
Dams have a minor role in Queensland because the focus on nature and not people in cities. Queensland state governments have never taken flood mitigation seriously, and they have allowed much unwise development on floodplains. It has poor land use management as well as flood-modifying measures like levees.