Insurance incentives flagged for farmers to carry out hazard reduction

The Dunns Road Fire burning at Kunama in January.

The NSW Independent Inquiry on Bushfires yielded 76 recommendations when it was published in August, including a call for lower insurance premiums for landowners who reduce fire risks on their properties.

Recommendation 28 asks the state government to “consider the introduction of subsidies for property owners to undertake site mitigation works to reduce bush fire risk and work with the Insurance Council of Australia to develop an agreed set of measures to insure against with a view to risk reductions resulting in lower insurance premiums.”

Kunama property owner Tony Cross said he and his wife Lorene have been doing work on their property to tidy it up and remove dead wood ever since they purchased the land five years ago. As the fires came closer to Batlow last summer, they mowed their lawn very low and the outer edges of the property and some of the grass burned, but their sheds and home were untouched. 

Mr Cross said a discount on insurance premiums would serve two purposes: to reward property owners who are already doing fire mitigation work and to encourage further work to be done.

“I would welcome any discount on the premium, and if a little bit of [hazard reduction] burning was needed to be done, I’d do it,” he said.

Mr Cross said that he’d be willing to undertake further hazard reduction works to earn insurance discounts, depending on the size of the work and the size of the incentives.

“It’d be welcomed,” he said.

If the incentives are put into place, Mr Cross said he felt that informational videos would be helpful for property owners, to increase their general knowledge about hazard reduction.

“There is already some information on the media, but definitely more would be good,” he said. “People are busy, they like to see stuff put in front of their faces. For me, a short video on a farm with practical demonstrations around the house and sheds would be beneficial.”

Andrew Hall, CEO of Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), said the organisation wants to see further mitigation work encouraged across the country. Mr Hall applauded the release of the 2020-21 Federal Budget for its focus on rebuilding the nation after the fires and Covid.

“The ICA has provided compelling evidence to the Royal Commission on the importance of mitigation and resilience programs to reduce risk, along with an urgent need for reform of punitive state taxes on Australian’s insurance policies, and significant improvements to building codes and land-use planning,” said Mr Hall, saying he was waiting for further announcements of disaster mitigation funding and that “the Federal Government must take a lead on building a more resilient Australia.” 

“A significant investment is required,” he said.

No decisions have yet been made on potential insurance incentives for hazard reduction work, but the State Government agreed in August to adopt all 76 of the Inquiry’s recommendations.

Locally, fewer hazard reduction burns have been taking place in the Snowy Valleys this year, since the Dunns Road Fire cleared many of the areas which were scheduled to be burnt this spring. Wet weather has also meant some hazard reduction burns have had to be delayed until the grass cures and the fire danger has passed. 

The wet weather has prompted the NSW Rural Fire Service to double their calls to property owners to prepare for the 2020-21 fire season, with Inspector Ben Shepherd saying they’re concerned about grass growth, especially in areas west of Wagga.