Suncorp flood claims mount as governments wrangle over funds

About 80 per cent of Suncorp’s provision for natural disaster claims has been taken up.

About 80 per cent of Suncorp’s provision for natural disaster claims has been taken up.

Large-scale flooding across Queensland and NSW last month will cost Suncorp between $200 million and $220 million in claims, accounting for much of the insurer’s provision for natural disasters for the current financial year.

Bushfires and storms in Victoria and Tasmania in January will also total $50 million, adding to the $147 million in natural hazard claims already booked in the December half of 2012.

All up, that means about 80 per cent of Suncorp’s $520 million provision for natural disaster claims has already been taken up with five months of the financial year still to run.

'Betterment' dispute

Separately, the states will be watching closely how Queensland and the federal government resolve a key reconstruction issue potentially worth billions of dollars.

Last month’s floods provide “a window” of opportunity to ensure the reconstruction of major assets such as bridges after a disaster is of a greater resilience than the infrastructure that had been destroyed, said David Crisafulli, one of the state ministers leading recovery efforts.

Debate over the so-called “betterment” provisions of national relief and recovery arrangements had flared after assets newly rebuilt after the Queensland floods of 2011 had been damaged or destroyed in the latest inundation - with work completed just weeks ago in some cases near Bundaberg.

The floods “provided a window on how absurd our practise has been in replacing infrastructure” destroyed in a disaster, Mr Crisafulli said. “It’s in the interest of the federal government – and everybody else – to get it right the first time.”

A teleconference on Tuesday between Joe Ludwig, the federal minister appointed to assist the Queensland floods recovery, though, appears to have reached a breakthrough over the guidelines for assistance.

“There was a genuine willingness from Senator Joe Ludwig to stand shoulder to shoulder with the state,” Mr Crisafulli said.

Under existing rules, the federal government will typically fork out 75 per cent of the cost of replacing assets lost in a disaster, with the state paying the rest. Should the road or other public asset be improved to increase its tolerance for future extreme events, the federal and state government split the cost – a result that has often proved too costly or difficult to achieve.

“We will work with Queensland to develop and deliver a revised National Partnership Agreement that meets the needs of the state to rebuild, be stronger, and get back on its feet,” Senator Ludwig said.

“There is some flexibility in guidelines and the National Partnership Agreement will help us fast-track assistance, cut through red tape and get the right assistance to where it is needed.”

The outcome of the revisions will no doubt be followed closely in other state capitals. NSW has also suffered losses in the recent floods, while Victoria and Tasmania may seek commonwealth support in the wake of this summer’s fires.

Donations to the Red Cross Queensland Floods Appeal, meanwhile, remain meagre with about $6 million donated so far, Mr Crisafulli said.

This story Suncorp flood claims mount as governments wrangle over funds first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.