Wednesday 14 September 2011

Cyclone Yasi victims still battling insurance companies more than six months after storm hit Far North

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
© The Cairns Post

CYCLONE Yasi victims left homeless after the storm are still battling their insurance companies for payouts and repairs as a new report highlights the region's ongoing dependence on welfare.

More than six months after the category 5 cyclone crossed the coast near Cardwell, many residents are calling for insurance industry reforms. Many residents, such as Tully woman Sarah Jones, are still waiting to move back into their home after protracted dealings with their insurers, with hundreds expected to attend a public inquiry into the industry on September 29.

Their calls come as an economic report revealed the Far North had been more reliant on welfare payments after Yasi than any other parts of the country stricken by disaster in recent years, including the Victorian bushfires and Brisbane floods.

According to data from the Commonwealth Bank’s Viewpoint report, economic recovery needs to happen before the next wet season to avoid further vulnerability in the region. And Cassowary Coast residents, who were worst hit by Yasi in February, want their homes rebuilt ahead of the wet season as well.

The Viewpoint report found there was a significant decline in the number of people receiving a salary after cyclone Yasi, coupled with a rise in people claiming Newstart payments. It raised concerns about the prolonged dependence on welfare, noting the proportion of people on Newstart was 2.5 times higher after Yasi than it was after the 2009 floods in north Queensland.

The report also found Yasi victims had to deal with the added hardship of living far away from regional centres, which made it difficult to find alternative work. Hundreds of Cassowary Coast residents were expected to attend a public inquiry in Innisfail on September 29, where the Federal Government will hear from residents about how the insurance industry operated in times of disaster.

Ms Jones, who waited more than six months for a decision from her insurers, will be among the dissatisfied customers at the inquiry. Ms Jones was so fed up with the slow response from Wesfarmers Insurance that she took a lump sum payout and finally got a new roof on her home on August 26.

She lives in a caravan at the back of her property and will only be allowed to move back into her home in January. "I feel like my insurance company just failed to deal with my situation," she said.

"These guys are on the phone in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, wherever, and they have no idea how it feels to have no roof, no walls, no power, no water. "They are ignorant to the impacts of a cyclone and to make it worse they tell you they understand."

In Cardwell, five members of the Roberts family are living in a garage while they wait for their home to be repaired. Father-of-four Dave Roberts said his insurance company often left him in tears on the phone.

"It is nice to see some people back in their homes already," Mr Roberts said. "And I am sure there are some good stories, but ours isn’t one of them. "I don’t know what happened – we filed our claim within a week after Yasi but it must have got lost, things just take too long."

Speeding up payments was a change Cassowary Coast Mayor Bill Shannon wanted to see.
"I am also concerned about the number of people opting to take lump sum payments and acting as owner-builders rather than going through the usual route of the insurance company engaging a contract builder," he said.

Suncorp, which insures about 70 per cent of the market, also will make a submission to the inquiry. The insurer’s head of event recovery, Jimmy Higgins, conceded responses to claimants might seem slow, but about 72 per cent of claims had been finalised.

"What we are hearing from our clients, like most insurers at the moment, is that the speed between assessing and building needs to pick up. "That period between assessment and repair is an issue, but the thing is, it is the most important part of the process that takes the most time."

The insurance hearing will be at the Community Support Centre, 13-17 Donald St, Innisfail, on September 29 from 1pm to 4.30pm. Information about the inquiry can be found at An online survey can be found at


Another example where middle management, this time via the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA) is proving useless. The intention of Government is well meaning but the result is less than satisfactory. I would like to know what is the (QRA) reconstructing that existing bodies like local authorities and government instrumentalities cannot do.

One would think that if the (QRA) was doing its job, the CEO would pick up the phone place a call to the Insurance company and have the matter resolved within days.

What we get instead is governance one removed from responsibility, 'due process' while the aggrieved are racked with despair.

It is this sort of  'Yes Minister'  attitude that is disenfranchising the very residents that need assistance. Local representatives in these circumstances are proving usless hamstrung by process.

Ross Parisi

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