An IAG discussion paper flags the value of relocation schemes for high-risk communities, but says residents must help find solutions

By Harris Pozderovic

The floodwaters have receded and already there’s talk of a bushfire summer. It’s a lot to absorb for traumatised communities struggling to recover from record-breaking floods, but “once-in-a-generation” natural catastrophes are no longer feeling historical but rather typical.

It’s a situation that will see more communities exposed to loss, so much so that extreme thinking is needed in some cases. Like moving whole towns out of the danger zone.

A new IAG discussion paper on the effectiveness of community relocation schemes says as climate disasters worsen, standard mitigation tactics for those most at risk no longer cut it.

“Today, across the country, we continue to have communities suffering the devastating impacts of floods, bushfires, and cyclones,” IAG Managing Director Nick Hawkins says in the paper.

“While ongoing investment in mitigation is a critical step to protect people from imminent danger, we believe it is also important for governments and communities facing a high or extreme risk from these natural disasters to consider when and how to plan for relocation.”

Consultants Deloitte in 2021 estimated that natural disasters cost Australia upwards of $38 billion annually. This number will nearly double to $73 billion by 2060 as the impacts of population growth and worsening climate change are felt. 

The IAG paper considers the viability of community relocation projects and potential implementation approaches. But above all it emphasises the importance of community involvement in any decisions that would affect residents.

While not boxing itself in with any set solutions, the report prioritises two approaches to relocating communities away from high natural hazard risk areas: buy-back schemes and planned relocations. 

Buy-back schemes would see a government agency purchase an at-risk property from the resident. While such schemes don’t support alternative relocations for homeowners, they provide a cost-efficient and timely solution to removing communities from danger.

IAG considers buy-back schemes to be more effective for “post-event” relocations, noting the joint state and federal government-funded $700 million New South Wales Resilient Homes Program following last year’s historic flooding, which includes home buybacks.

Community relocations expand on buy-back schemes by not just moving people away from risk areas but also permanently resettling them in an alternative location. The paper notes that community relocations are more expensive but provide further intangible improvements to resident wellbeing and security.

“In either community relocation or buy-back schemes, the ability to move quickly after a natural hazard event requires the appropriate government infrastructure, policies and frameworks to be in place,” IAG says.

And it warns that the construction of new households and the moving of residents must only happen after input and consideration from communities.

Another key point for IAG is funding for such programs, emphasising that it should be “agile, efficient and sustainable”.

“Having sufficient and ongoing funding will be key to the success of Planned Relocation,” IAG says.

The paper doesn’t offer planned relocations as a “silver bullet” to the issue of surmounting natural disaster claims, but IAG does believe that it can play a role in reducing pressures and providing ease for stricken communities who are hurting most.

“Our nation has the ability to prevent future loss of life, property, and community suffering from natural disasters with sustainable long-term solutions,” Mr Hawkins says.

“It is our hope that funding for mitigation will be expanded to include planned relocation for the communities most at risk, and that the recommendations in this report will be realised and undertaken with urgency.”


Recommendations from the report

  1. Development of national guidance on Planned Relocation that outlines key objectives, relocation management of vacated lands.
  2. Prioritise and fund support measures to help integrate relocated residents into new communities.
  3. Planned relocation should involve a “coordinated and consultative approach across Federal, State and Local Governments”.
  4. Responsible agencies should identify high-risk locations and develop Community Action Plans before natural hazard events to allow for proactive relocation.
  5. Federal and State Governments should formalise funding to ensure schemes can be adequately supported on an ongoing basis.
  6. Governments should establish a legislative framework for “accelerated approvals” for re-zoning and subdivision creation for relocated communities.
  7. Observe and review the outcomes of large-scale implementations of Planned Relocation projects and monitor the performance of schemes.