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No joy from the heavens: How rain event is just what our leaders didn't need

Insights

The massive rain event pummelling much of the state puts the sad record of federal inaction on natural disaster preparation up in lights, writes Greg Hallam.

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Just when it looked like the Coalition Government had a lock on Queensland’s all important regional seats, a very rare May intense weather system arrived on the scene this week covering seats from Wide Bay to Kennedy.

This is no ordinary rain event, but a one in 50 year event involving the confluence of the Indian Ocean Dipole and Pacific Ocean La Nina systems and resulting in falls of up to 300mm at time of year when monthly totals average 30 mm.

It’s big and will grab the state’s, if not the nation’s, attention.

The Queensland Government is taking the unseasonal weather event very seriously having stood up the State Disaster Management Groups days in advance and pre-positioned rescue and recovery assets in the regions before the torrential rains’ onset.

In an election that’s had everything from the Ukraine war, Solomons security blow ups, interest rate u-turns and Covid sidelining the leader of the Opposition, it’s only fitting that natural disaster puts icing on the 2022 poll cake.

This major weather event may play out in some ways as a mini referendum on federal inaction on disaster mitigation. Think underfunding of the Bureau of Meteorology’s hydrology capacity, not enough money for Queensland’s flood gauge network, high or non- existent home insurance cover and the need for more dams in the region to both protect property and life and capture precious water supply.

All issues that have been in play during the campaign.

Queensland needs another 89 river height stations and an extra 364 rainfall stations to bring its disaster warning systems up to scratch, a notion that was touched on as recently as this week with the release of the de Jersey review into the recent Brisbane floods.

How this week’s event plays out could in part decide the future of seats like Flynn and Herbert and potentially Capricornia.

It’s a truism that natural disasters are local events, but they have become very large media circuses with intense TV and digital coverage lasting three or more days. No major disaster is done without at least one visit from the Prime Minister.

Fortuitously for Scott Morrison his standing on natural disasters is much higher in Queensland than interstate, largely off the back of his response to the major 2019 floods in Townsville and north west Queensland, so lock in a flying visit from the PM.

With the published national polls increasingly showing a likely Labor victory and swings of up to 8 per cent in Queensland some of the regional seat margins are looking decidedly thin, albeit still nominally on the Coalition side of the ledger.

The swiftness, generosity and empathy of Canberra’s response could be defining for the incumbent regional seat holders.

Only last year the Morrison Government created the National Recovery and Resilience Authority (NRRA) to give it some real local presence during natural disasters, a battlefield on which it has historically played second fiddle to the states and local councils.

Watch out for pollies fighting over brooms and the front seat of flood rescue vehicles, whether they have actual jurisdiction or not. The Prime Minister will be able to don a disaster jacket and appear supported by NRRA personnel.

A major weather event during the last 10 days of the campaign along much of the Queensland coastline will tax the parties, the Australian Electoral Commission and voters.

Carefully calibrated and scripted local and national campaign plans will have to be quickly altered.

Simple things such as letter box drops, transporting campaign collateral and even polling material will become much more difficult.

The onset of the weather event coincides with the start of pre-poll voting and could cause some localised dramas this week.

Fortunately it appears the actual polling day activities on 21 May appear to be safe from the May weather vagaries.

Greg Hallam AM PSM is a recently-retired CEO of the Local Government Association of Queensland. He is writing weekly about regional issues affecting the federal election.

 

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