The ACCC has launched an inquiry into housing, contents and strata insurance in Northern Australia.
The ACCC has launched an inquiry into housing, contents and strata insurance in Northern Australia. Contributed

'Inquiry will take too long, residents will lose homes'

THE Mackay region will experience three more cyclone seasons before an ACCC investigation into insurance is complete.

The inquiry, launched recently to shine a light on inflating insurance premiums in the region, is expected to alleviate much of the distress the price hikes are causing residents.

The ACCC expects its large-scale inquiry to deliver a final report by November 2020, but that date has raised serious concerns within the strata sector.

Strata Community Association Australia says the finish date is too far away and claims conditions for residents will only worsen in the three years, to the point that some "will lose their home".

SCA chief executive officer Erik Adriaanse said the the date was unacceptable and the investigation needed to be fast tracked.

"Three cyclone seasons will have come and gone by the time the ACCC delivers its final report to the Treasurer, and it's an unacceptable risk given the region's history with cyclone damage," he said.

"We support the ACCC inquiry into insurance premiums, but if strata property owners have to sit through another three cyclone seasons before they can afford appropriate cover, the Federal Government risks leaving them to financial ruin if a cyclone does cross their path.

"Repeated damage repairs that property owners and strata managers have had to fund over the last few years have left many financially stretched, and the Government must look to support them ASAP."

Mr Adriaanse said Cyclone Debbie this year caused $2.4 billion in damage to communities in Queensland and it was of particular importance for these communities to have adequate protection before upcoming cyclone seasons triggered a repeat.

He said alongside the need to bring forward the 2020 deadline, Federal Government support in the form of funding to cyclone proof properties would be equally important, to see communities mitigate the risks of cyclone damage.

"Whilst the delivery of the ACCC inquiry over these three years will no doubt offer a detailed review of where improvements can be made, it's essential that people are given support in the meantime when unprecedented damages from weather events are unfortunately imminent," he said.

"Recent recommendations made by the Productivity Commission detailed the need for the Federal Government to invest at least $200million a year in mitigation and resilience measures, to be matched by state and territory governments, and we support that recommendation wholeheartedly.

"Funding of this nature will be instrumental for strata property owners in high risk areas that have been ravaged by previous cyclones, and haven't been able to afford to retro-fit or upgrade buildings with the latest cyclone proofing measures."

Mr Adriaanse says that together with immediate Government support, the ACCC investigations into insurer and strata manager relationships should enable property owners vulnerable to cyclone damage to access fairer and more affordable long-term cover.

While the ACCC acknowledged the report would be submitted in 2020, they disputed the SCA's suggestion that progress wouldn't be made within this time.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the investigation would result in annual reports and recommendations being made, that they hoped would lead to some government and insurance sector level changes within the first year.

"We have to report annually so we will actually submit our first report in November next year, we hope we can put forward recent recommendations that will have an impact by then too," Mr Rickard said.

"We will then monitor what's happening with the premiums and availability of insurers. Our expectation is that we will have those recommendations and then continue to work on the solutions after that point.

"The general rule is that normally some kind of changes will occur in that time."

Ms Richard said while the three-year term might seem long to complete the job, such a large job required time, effort and resources to be done properly.

"It's a huge job getting documents from all different insurers, going through them and analysing them," she said.

"If hypothetically we could come up with an idea and didn't need to wait until November, however, there would be nothing stopping us from putting it to the government straight away.

"My expectation though is that we will have some findings and recommendations ready for next November.

"We're not going to work for the next three years and not say anything in the meantime, our goal is to make strong recommendations and see change following our first report, but also monitor impacts there after."