Australia– The insurance industry has called for a review of planning, including hazard reduction burning, in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires that brought it 10,020 claims, representing a payout of an estimated $1.2 billion.
It wants to replace the state-based building codes with a national code that could be uniformly and quickly amended to meet changing conditions. The industry also wants planning rules changed to prevent ”inappropriate” development and land use, which make properties vulnerable.
The Insurance Council of Australia has not called for wholesale clearing of bushland but stresses the importance of hazard reduction burning, or prescribed burning. Hazard reduction burning is not opposed by the conservation movement, which has long had representation on bushfire management committees in local areas.
Lindsay Hesketh, forestry campaign coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said that when the Fire Danger Index (FDI) – calculated on factors such as temperature, dryness and wind – rose above 50, the value of prescribed burning would diminish.
Once it reached over 100, as had occurred in Victoria on Black Saturday, the fire front would sweep through areas where there had been prescribed burning. But he said when the FDI was between 25 and 50, prescribed burning was effective. Fire in these conditions was contained by areas already burnt.
Insurance companies contacted by The Sun-Herald, such as IAG, said they would not abandon home insurance or policyholders but maintained the Council’s guidelines of encouraging all measures to reduce risks.
In a submission to the Victorian Royal Commission, IAG chief executive Michael Wilkins said: ”Government has a crucial role to play in risk-appropriate land use zoning and rezoning. Land that is, or becomes, an unacceptable risk from bushfire, floods or coastal inundation should not be zoned for commercial or residential use.”
Duncan West, chief executive of CGU insurance group, said: ”The community needs to become more adaptable and resilient.” The CGU submissions also called for proper funding of fire-fighting services.