Flood warning network launches in disaster-prone Qld

·3-min read
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A national flood warning network to improve protection for at-risk communities and potentially save lives will be launched in Queensland - the state most prone to natural disasters.

The federal government will spend $236 million in the next decade to set up the network, with the Commonwealth to buy and upgrade flood gauges from local, state and territory governments.

It will also outlay an additional $8.6m to create the country's first national emergency stockpile to improve the ability of emergency teams to respond to disasters.

The project will be kickstarted in Queensland, where more lives have been lost in raging floodwaters than in any other Australian state or territory.

The investment follows advice from independent inquiries following the disastrous 2022 flood season that the federal government assume responsibility for the flood-gauge network, which has been previously described as patchwork.

The new system will mean more accurate flood readings and data to enable improved warning messages to save lives and help protect property.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the upgrade to the network would give more accurate information on flood risks to communities as well as emergency services.

"A lot of those older gauges are really near the end of their life. They can't be read remotely, which is a real problem. We need to be able to read them remotely, particularly in dangerous times," she told ABC Radio on Monday.

"The better the flood gauges, the more warning we can give to communities and to emergency services personnel about approaching floodwaters, the more opportunity people have to prepare for the worst."

At present, one-third of flood gauges are owned and managed by the Bureau of Meteorology, while the remainder are split between state and territory governments as well as local councils or individuals.

Work on flood gauge repairs will begin first in Queensland, following advice from the bureau due to the state's high flood risk.

The northern NSW town of Lismore experienced some of the worst flooding during 2022 and Ms Plibersek said the area would also be a focus of upgrades.

"We're working with the NSW government on the next steps there. We're very keen to see northern NSW in particular prioritised," Ms Plibersek said.

"Sadly, three-quarters of the deaths that have happened in flooding in recent years have been in Queensland and NSW and about three-quarters of the economic cost of flooding has been in Queensland and NSW."

Upgrades to high-priority catchments can begin in every state and territory as cost-sharing arrangements are agreed to.

Federal Emergency Services Minister Murray Watt said he had lost count of disaster victims who had said the current warning system was inadequate.

"One of the most common complaints we receive is that people just didn't have the warning they needed about impending floodwaters to save themselves, to save their properties, to save their animals," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"These sorts of investments will go a long way to making sure that we can keep Australians much more safe into the future."

Senator Watt also said the national emergency stockpile would allow access to essential items including emergency housing, water purification systems and emergency sleeping materials.

Queensland Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan welcomed the network funding announcement and said it would improve community safety around the country.

"The investment that they're making will ensure that communities are safer, communities are better prepared for natural disasters and when natural disasters strike, communities are equipped and resilient to respond to those natural disasters," Mr Ryan said.