Suncorp defends ban in Emerald

Emerald Saleyards became a dumping ground for flood-affected home furnishings. Roadtrains transported the waste to a Tieri landfill.
Emerald Saleyards became a dumping ground for flood-affected home furnishings. Roadtrains transported the waste to a Tieri landfill. contributed

A BATTLE is brewing between the Central Highlands Regional Council and insurance giant Suncorp after this week's stunning announcement Emerald was subject to a blanket ban on new policies.

Effective immediately, the embargo means no resident is able to take a new policy, even if they are buying a home well outside the 2010/11 flood map zone, and existing customers are unable to transfer their policy between homes.

Suncorp corporate affairs manager Marcus Taylor defended the move on the grounds it wanted to keep premiums affordable, and argued the risk involved in insuring residents was too high.

Mr Taylor said the CHRC wasn't doing enough in terms of flood mitigation measures, despite millions of dollars spent on flood mapping, mitigation possibilities and enforcing new building approvals which demand houses be built 600mm above the highest flood level of the last event.

But local market analyst John Kirby believed Suncorp was simply doing "good business" in pulling the plug and said the company's reinsurer was to blame.

"The increases on this year's reinsurance went from about three to 8%," Mr Kirby said.

"There's only a small field of reinsurers, and they can cover 10% of the net earned premiums.

"The floods last year delivered about a 15% blow-out, but they're insurance companies and a business, and that's all about risk."

Mr Kirby said of the $200 million figure Suncorp stated it paid out to cover Emerald customers, the total outlay was about $10 million - the rest was covered by their reinsurer.

"This is all on their website. You can see what the figures are," he said.

"Have the reinsurers singled out Emerald and Roma?... The statistical occasion hasn't changed, and if the statistical and actuarial data has remained the same - which it has - what has changed with their reinsurer?"

The Central Queensland News took the questions to Mr Taylor who downplayed Suncorp's reinsurer role in abandoning Emerald, and instead levelled criticisms at the CHRC saying it hadn't done enough to floodproof the town.

To date, the CHRC has completed more than $1 million in flood studies, instigated before the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry handed down its recommendations all flood-affected councils should do so.

Mr Taylor said Emerald had a long history of frequent flooding, but records showed the 2008 and 2010/11 floods to be the latest since 1990.

Suncorp didn't incorporate flood insurance as standard until after intense media pressure following the 2008 disaster, therefore the company paid out minimal claims.

"The reality is we want to insure Emerald but things need to be addressed," Mr Taylor said, listing levee banks, weir heights and the Fairbairn Dam management as well as a review of building approvals as the major items the CHRC must investigate.

"All we ask is to see a plan."

Mr Taylor said it was a temporary embargo and confirmed the information on flood mapping and potential mitigation measures CHRC Mayor Peter Maguire sent on Tuesday had been received on Wednesday.

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