Address at the Insurance Council of Australia Annual Gala Dinner
It is wonderful to be here together this evening in this beautiful building.
As most of you will know, just across the road in the Domain, a Speakers’ Corner has operated since the late 19th century.
It was here, in 1937, that First Nations woman Pearl Gibbs, also known as ‘Gambayani,’ made her first public speech.
She had recently returned from western NSW, to escape enhanced punitive powers being exercised by the Aborigines Protection Board. And she was determined to do something about it.
Her speech in the Domain was the first of many speeches. She became active in the Aborigines Progressive Association and the following year she said:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am an Australian, I have lived here all my Life. I love my country and I love its People. I wish something more for them than Riches and Prosperity. I wish for their greatness and nobility. A country needs be great that is Just…”
It’s a powerful idea – that greatness requires justice. And it’s unfinished business.
This year we all have the chance to take an important step by voting yes in the referendum, joining First Nations Australians on the road they mapped out at Uluru.
I thank Andrew Hall for acknowledging the Gadigal people, whose land we meet on today, and offer my respects also.
Thank you to the Insurance Council of Australia for inviting me here today.
The words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ are often used to describe the bushfires and floods we have experienced over the last four years.
Not even these words can adequately describe what many communities have lived through, particularly those in northern New South Wales.
As it happens, I was born in Murwillumbah during a flood.
The next year, in 1974, an even more destructive flood hit the Northern Rivers.
And in 1975, one year later, the Insurance Council of Australia was formed.
In the decades since, communities have relied on you and your members to respond rapidly when a disaster hits.
As climate change increases the frequency and severity of these disasters, they will increasingly look to you for your expertise and support.
It many years now since your sector decided to step up and play a leadership role in communicating with your customers and a worried public about the impact of climate. Those that hail from other states may characterise this differently, but since I’m a NSW Senator and we’re in NSW.
For me the 1999 Sydney hailstorm marks the moment when the insurance sector really stepped into the spotlight. I well recall the decisions taken at that time by the sector to directly link the changing climate to the frequency and intensity of natural disasters – and the investments you made to develop and resource that exercise in public policy advocacy.
Looking back over two decades since, this role has only strengthened, and it’s easy to understand why.
1. You have seen the impact of climate change on communities and you are uniquely placed to understand the risks it will pose in the short, medium, and long term.
2. You’ve understood the need to innovate to ensure you can keep meeting the needs of your customers;
3. And perhaps most importantly, you have advocated for those communities and businesses most at risk from climate impacts.
I want to reflect a little on these ideas tonight – exposure, innovation and advocacy – the work that you do, the priorities for our government, and the opportunities we have to make progress together.
Australia has always faced risks arising from our highly variable climate. Climate change is exacerbating those risks and creating new ones.
The recent report from the IPCC could not have been clearer:
• Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate events in every region across the globe.
• Risks and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages from climate change escalate with every increment of global warming.
Of course, Australians instinctively understand this.
In just a handful of years, across the continent, we have faced drought, fire, flood, cyclone and heatwaves.
I know the insurance sector understands it too. You live and breathe these events, and they are costly. Since the Black Summer of 2019/20 there have been 11 declared insurance catastrophes. Insurers have recorded over $13 billion in claims costs over the last two years.
Unlike the last government, we won’t hide from these facts. We trust the science. We listen to the community. And we’re keen to work with willing partners in business who are ready to tackle the challenges the future presents.
I recently attended the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin.
It’s an important international discussion held each year to support progress in the international talks on climate action.
What was striking was the growing chorus of voices for innovative solutions to finance the necessary investments to transition our economies, as well as protect our communities from increasing physical risks.
A changing climate requires a changing economy. Investors have seen the opportunities arising from the clean energy transformation. Nations are seeking opportunities to harness investments in adaptation, and to manage their exposure to climate risk.
Our government is keen to work with the finance sector to ensure you are in the best possible position to meet this challenge.
Information matters. With investors, lenders and insurers seeking to better understand the risk profile of companies, Jim Chalmers is working to establish standardised, internationally aligned requirements for the disclosure of climate-related financial risks and opportunities in Australia.
We are co-funding the initial development phase of an Australian sustainable finance taxonomy with the Australian Sustainable Finance Institute.
And of course, working very directly with your sector to understand and tackle risks to households and businesses.
For many years you have advocated for greater investment in measures to reduce the impacts of severe weather and natural disasters.
I know my colleagues Murray Watt and Stephen Jones have been so pleased to work with many of you on the Hazards Insurance Partnership, to address the cost of insurance and underinsurance in communities vulnerable to natural disasters.
While this important work is underway, Minister Watt has been busy rolling out the Disaster Ready Fund – partnering with states and territories to invest in natural disaster resilience and risk reduction.
The flood levies, sea walls, cyclone shelters and hazard warning systems funded through this program will make a real difference to people, to communities and to economies.
I’m really pleased to speak with you this evening about the work I’m about to commence.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of launching ICA’s Climate Change Roadmap Towards a Net-Zero and Resilient Future.
Your roadmap notes that the insurance industry has a key role to play in adapting to climate change given your deep understanding of risk.
We agree. And we also agree that understanding risk is critical.
Communities want to know what risk climate change poses to their family, their home, and their community in the short, medium, and long term.
Businesses need to know how best to plan investments – whether in horticulture, or tourism infrastructure, or large transport assets.
And government’s need to plan their own investments in assets and services to meet the demands of a future climate that will certainly be different to the one we currently experience.
In the May Budget, our government invested $28 million to develop Australia’s first National Climate Risk Assessment.
This assessment will see the Australian Climate Service draw together climate science with social, economic and population data. For the first time, we’ll have a national picture of the risks we’ll need to address together.
The information collected through the risk assessment will inform another Australian first – a National Adaptation Plan.
It will establish a clear picture of our national priorities, and support better decision making by governments, businesses, and communities.
Australia was once a leader in climate adaptation. But a lack of investment by the former government has seen Australia lag behind. We want this to change, and we’re making the necessary investments to do so.
It has now been one year since we were elected to government.
In the last twelve months we have built the policy infrastructure required to rapidly decarbonise Australia’s economy.
We have legislated our emissions reduction targets of 43% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
We have reformed the Safeguard Mechanism to make sure the country’s largest emitters play their part in meeting our national targets.
In portfolios as diverse as security, home affairs and health, we are seeking understand the risks presented by climate change and prepare ourselves for them.
Put simply, we have made more significant reforms and investments in climate change than the former Coalition Government did in ten years.
We know that Australians are capable of great resilience.
Our best traditions see us look after one another in the toughest of times.
A warming world will bring new challenges and expose areas of vulnerability that we will need to address together.
We have made the choice to rapidly decarbonise our economy and prepare our communities for the impacts of climate change. We know that these changes will require everyone to play their part – and your advocacy and engagement is so welcome.
I look forward to working with you all on this important task.