Flood-devastated regions in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland have been warned to brace for even more severe storms in coming months, with bleak forecasts of damaging rain to return through summer.
Federal emergency management minister, Murray Watt, has told people to “be prepared” for further inundation, as the Albanese government investigates reforms to disaster relief payments and rushes to complete new mitigation projects by year’s end.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast flooding will be the major natural disaster risk over coming months, more likely than fires or heatwaves across most of the country. The eastern states, in particular, are likely to experience wetter weather, with giant hail and intense rainfall predicted.
Bureau senior climatologist, Greg Browning, told a press conference at Parliament House there was a “very high probability of above average rain” across the east coast. He warned that since many of those areas were already experiencing high amounts of moisture in the soil, further rainfall may not be absorbed and will instead move into rivers and again cause flooding.
“We’re likely to see events where there’ll be damaging hail, intense rainfall, flash flooding, but the broader picture is again for above average rainfall and riverine flooding,” Browning said.
It was likely to be a less dangerous fire season than seen in recent summers, he said, but Western Australia and western Tasmania could be an “exception” to that, with warm conditions expected.
The bureau’s three-month climate outlook predicts above average rainfall for the eastern parts of the country, with a 70% chance of a La Niña event forming later this year. There are warnings of elevated flood risk due to wet soils, high rivers and full dams.
Watt also announced a merging of the former Emergency Management Australia and National Recovery and Resilience Agency into a single entity, known as the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema) on Wednesday.
He said the merger would deliver a “much-improved” and “more coordinated approach” from the federal government to emergencies and preparedness.
Watt said the government would introduce legislation in the coming parliamentary sitting fortnight to properly set up its new Disaster Ready Fund, a $200m annual program on mitigation and recovery. It was a key Labor election promise, after ongoing criticism of the former Coalition government spending a fraction of the $4bn accumulated under its own Emergency Response Fund.
Watt has previously said he would honour spending promises made in the dying days of the former Morrison government, including $75m each for Queensland and NSW for recovery and resilience following the February and March floods, and a further $50m for 15 flood mitigation projects nationwide. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said last week this would include in NSW a flood impact report, levee assessments and improvements, flood warning infrastructure, and voluntary house raising.
“Some of those measures I think will be up and running before Christmas, this season, but realistically some of them are going to take a bit longer,” Watt said.
The federal and NSW governments have been heavily criticised by federal Nationals MP Kevin Hogan, for delays in assistance and housing support for those devastated by floods in Lismore.
“We as a federal government are doing everything we possibly can to get people the support they need,” Watt said when asked about ongoing issues in flood zones.
“Unfortunately we can’t snap our fingers and have people back in their homes immediately but we’re working very closely with the NSW government who of course has lead responsibility for recovery.”
“My other message for everyone is be prepared. We’re trying to do what we can as a federal government to make sure we’re thoroughly prepared and we need homeowners, people in whatever living circumstances they’re in, to be ready and be taking steps now to make sure they’re protected.”