Saving Lives Trumps Saving Property Values

By JOHN ASQUITH June 7, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

SEVERAL years ago, I was driving south from Brisbane and got trapped in floods at Bellingen. After a massive downpour and a slightly later tidal surge, the waters rose rapidly. It was just on dark. Barely able to see the centre line of the road, I drove on slowly, expecting to see a road block.

I rang 000, but all the emergency services were rescuing and evacuating people from Harwood Island. I stopped in the middle of the road with other drivers,  and we decided to form a convoy and drive back to find higher ground.

I rang home to hear loved voices but did not tell them of my fear. We had no idea of where the flood was coming from, no sense of where to find safe ground. We were terrified.

When morning came, the relief was huge. The rain was easing, flooded cars blocked the highway for a kilometre and semis queued as they waited for the road to be cleared.

Emergency services and council staff who man roadblocks, rescue people and risk their lives were out cleaning up and opening roads.

My previous call to 000 was answered – they rang to see if I had survived.

Newcastle had a similar terrible experience in 2007 – the ‘Pasha Bulka’ storm – when a car was washed into the harbour.

Against these real-life experiences we have claims that property values are the key consideration with climate change.

Not for those caught in floods or their families, nor for those who had a house destroyed in low-lying land.

Against the claims that climate science is not accurate, we sometimes forget the total lack of science behind property values driven by land speculation.

Lake Macquarie City Council is doing a good job in preparing for rising sea levels.

Counter-arguments on property values are short term and not made by those who have experienced a tidal surge or belong to emergency services.

Policies determined by property speculation are placing many lives at risk. Life, not speculative land valuations, is the No.1 priority.

The council produced a report showing that Section 149 certificates had ‘no impact’ on property values. These 149 certificates provide objective information to buyers. Counter-arguments are not based on science, just real estate spin and greed.

As I travelled home after my night of terror, the highway was built high above the remaining floods. I was grateful to those highway engineers who had built high to minimise the risk to lives and who fortunately did not listen to the claims on land values.

We need to tackle the issue of rising sea levels with a higher priority placed on  protecting human life than on property values. Otherwise more people will become victims.

Councils must act responsibly to protect citizens from these situations – no one else will.

John Asquith is chairman of the Community Environment Network

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