It's time we stopped building in flood prone areas

17th April 2017 6:07 PM
We seem to be finding out the real meaning of sea change following a string of disasters and the ensuing clean-up. We seem to be finding out the real meaning of sea change following a string of disasters and the ensuing clean-up. WhitcombeRD

WE'RE finding the real meaning of sea change. A legend from the 12th century tells how when King Alfred (Alfred the Great) was in hiding, he was given shelter by a peasant who had no idea who he was and left him in charge of some cakes she was cooking. Alfred was preoccupied with the problems of his kingdom and let the cakes burn and got the rounds of the kitchen when the woman returned.

So as I watched footage of our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on his knees scrubbing a Tropical Cyclone Debbie-dirtied restaurant floor, my thoughts flew to two people. One was his wife Lucy waiting at home with a brush to see whether he could scrub up without TV cameras. The other was the owner of the floor who was left with 99.9% of it to clean after the Prime Scrubber left with the TV crews. The owner was no doubt less than happy with King Malcolm's domestic efforts but too busy to chase him around the kitchen.

Lucy's flat out trying to get her husband under control. Apparently he changed when he became communications minister under Abbott. Once he started submitting to Tony and downgrading the NBN, he discovered he liked it.

Sick of striding the corridors of money, Malcolm found he wanted to serve his fellow humans - and particularly people unhappy with the pace of change. He could help people by minimising change's effects on them. And where could he find people feeling disfranchised by change? On the fringes of political parties.

Instead Lucy sent him to parliament so he could submit to his party and to the crossbench gang.

So, back to Malcolm's brush with fame. Maybe his blessed cleaning tool could be sold for charity to raise funds for those dealing with flood damage? It would do more than he managed to achieve.

The floods got me reading the Constitution again and nowhere does it say it's every citizen's right to live in danger zones. Nor does it spell out that volunteers and paid emergency workers should risk their lives to come to their aid.

Every flood, every fire, every storm we say the same thing. So maybe now is the time to act on it. Many years ago a woman in the Blue Mountains whose house was destroyed in a street that regularly copped it in bushfires was angry when her insurer, the council and the fire brigade all said she was not allowed to rebuild deep in the bush surrounded by leaf litter. Shock, horror! Sensible policies in the face of the red bulldozer, the bushfire.

Maybe we need the same approach in the face of the brown bulldozer, the flood. No new homes in flood-prone areas. Nor on or near beaches at risk.

Weather damage is not new. Remember the swimming pool eaten by the sea in a beachfront backyard on Sydney's northern beaches last winter? That was a replay of events at Collaroy and nearby beaches in the 1920s, 1940s (twice) and in the past 50 years. And earlier. And earlier still.

Research by the United States Geological Service and 12 universities here and around the Pacific Rim found the increased severity of El Nino and La Nina events would cause more coastal erosion and coastal flooding on a massive scale. Global warming is the driving factor.

The increase in coastal damage will happen regardless of any rise in sea level. Add the effects of sea level rise that's also triggered by global warming and it's a jackpot - that we don't want to win. Living on the coast is great. But when the coast disappears - that's real sea change.