Climate disasters, Flood Taxes and the Political Winds

I was up in Brisbane for work on Tuesday 11 January this year.

The rain was steady and heavy – the day before a workmate had warned me that he thought the Brisbane River would burst its banks. Selfishly I thought nothing of it. I would be working in the inner Brisbane suburb of Milton – the flood I assumed would only hit those on the fringe of the city. I was wrong. The warning came over the office radio and we made the call to evacuate the premises. Co-workers were dispatched to their family homes and I hailed a taxi to the airport. It was only the middle of the day and it was already peak hour. The traffic snarled slowly away as the river reached up to city and overwhelmed it. The airport was full of stunned commuters dispatched back down South. My moment of relief was punctuated by the announcement that the airport had been closed due to surrounding thunder storms. The whole scene struck me as eerily reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain. The near future has arrived and now we have to start dealing with the reality of a more hostile and variable climate. I was lucky – too many were not.

The damage the floods caused in Queensland has been immense and it hasn’t taken long for the political argument to play out. The Gillard government has proposed a levy of $1.8 billion to partially pay for the clean up and rebuild. The flood tax will work as a progressive levy on those earning over $50,000 per annum with those directly affected by the floods exempt. Tony Abbott, predictably, has come out against the flood levy characterising it as a ‘burden’ and an ‘imposition’ on Australia. This is more though than a debate about whether taxes are indeed the price of civilisation or a burden on the captains’ of industry to bear. This is a debate about which sections of our community will pay for climate disasters, and it will be fight that goes for a few rounds as the rest of us suffer through other natural disasters in the future.

Abbott is hitting up the big end of town who form the Liberal Party donors list for funds to fight the flood tax. It was in this context when I noticed something rather amusing on ABC news tonight, with Abbott saying, “Today they [Labor] have effectively shown they can’t be trusted by mo… with money.” Now call me crazy, but I think I spotted a small crack, a bit of a Freudian slip on Abott’s part tonight. The evidence might not be enough to obtain a conviction in a court of law but it’s enough to form a working hypothesis (for now) – key supporters in the big end of town are working to make sure that they don’t have to pay their fair share of the clean up (and other clean ups to follow). Those with money and power know where their interests fall.

This is not, however, some black and white battle with Abbott helping the Bond villains and Gillard fighting for the characters in The Castle. The federal government is proposing that its flood levy will only pay for a minority of the rebuild, most of the cost will come from cutting spending and delaying infrastructure projects. Here the devil is in the detail. It’s more a black versus grey battle (and I’m not sure what shade it will be yet).

The only way for the rest of us to make the best of it is to not leave it to the politicians disaster by disaster. There is much merit in Independent MP Tony Windsor’s proposal for a permanent climate disaster levy. That way we can all shoulder our fair share disaster by disaster and concentrate on actually preventing (what we can 0f) global warming in the first place. We’d also be better prepared when future events hit like bush fires, cyclones and flash floods. Hang on, that’s all already happened this week.

I was driving home on Friday night only to find that the road was closed due to flooding. I’m going to have to get used to that happening more often.

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