Labor vows to 'untangle' bushfire insurance maze

From left, NSW Upper House MP Helen Westwood, Blue Mountains Labor candidate Trish Doyle, supporters Alec Gardiner, Kim Cowper, Angelique Henson, NSW finance and services spokesman Peter Primrose and Pamela Gardiner at Ms Cowper's Valley Heights home in bushland last week.
From left, NSW Upper House MP Helen Westwood, Blue Mountains Labor candidate Trish Doyle, supporters Alec Gardiner, Kim Cowper, Angelique Henson, NSW finance and services spokesman Peter Primrose and Pamela Gardiner at Ms Cowper's Valley Heights home in bushland last week.
Tackling insurance issue: From left, NSW Upper House MP Helen Westwood, Blue Mountains Labor candidate Trish Doyle, supporters Alec Gardiner, Kim Cowper, Angelique Henson, NSW finance and services spokesman Peter Primrose and Pamela Gardiner at Ms Cowper's Valley Heights home in bushland last week.

Tackling insurance issue: From left, NSW Upper House MP Helen Westwood, Blue Mountains Labor candidate Trish Doyle, supporters Alec Gardiner, Kim Cowper, Angelique Henson, NSW finance and services spokesman Peter Primrose and Pamela Gardiner at Ms Cowper's Valley Heights home in bushland last week.

The state Labor opposition has promised to take the initiative to bring stakeholders together to untangle complex insurance issues so homeowners in bushfire prone areas can be confident of their capacity to rebuild after a bushfire.

"The aftermath of the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires highlighted the complexity of the process for homeowners trying to adequately insure their home," said opposition finance and services spokesman Peter Primrose.

"A Labor government will make it a priority to work with the insurance industry and other stakeholders to make it easier for consumers to correctly estimate the costs of rebuilding a home destroyed by bushfire."

But while the insurance industry has welcomed moves to take part in discussions it has put the onus for informing consumers firmly with local councils.

"The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) is happy to take part in discussions on insurance in bushfire-prone areas and developing practical solutions," said an lCA spokesperson.

"The ICA believes the responsibility for advising homeowners on the zoning of their land as bushfire-prone land lies with local councils."

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage dismissed the initiative.

"Labor is proposing little more than one of its famous talkfests with little evidence of any real action," she said.

"NSW Labor had 16 years to try and address the insurance issues affecting homeowners. As with so many things like transport and infrastructure - they did nothing. Now suddenly they seem full of ideas.

"The Baird government is committed to practical measures and working with the insurance industry to ensure the best outcomes possible are secured for homeowners."

Since 2009 all developments on land designated as bushfire prone must meet the Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating - which heavily influences materials that must be used and the standards adhered to reconstruct. Consequently, re-building now often costs considerably more than it would have prior to BAL ratings being put in place.

"Homeowners are expected to know how council classifies the land, then work out the BAL rating - which is complex - and ensure those special rebuilding requirements are adequately calculated in their insurance," Mr Primrose said.

"The vast majority of homeowners have gone to the effort of getting insured - but the current system is too complicated. We need a better model. I am very hopeful that we can do this by consultation rather than regulation.

"The 2013 fires showed that while around 97 per cent of homeowners were insured, up to 50 per cent found they did not have sufficient insurance to rebuild what had been destroyed.

"This could happen to any other bushfire-prone community in NSW. We must streamline the processes so other communities do not unknowingly find themselves in the same situation.

"The Baird government's approach is to simply wait for the insurance industry to fix the problem - Labor isn't prepared to sit back and watch this situation repeat itself every summer.

"Labor will take the initiative to get insurers and other stakeholders together to resolve the issues that prevent homeowners from calculating their BAL rating and getting adequate insurance - so that people can be assured that they will be able to rebuild in the unfortunate event of a bushfire."

Labor candidate for Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, said many locals lack confidence in their insurance estimates.

"I've spoken to many locals who are anxious about whether they are adequately insured," said Ms Doyle

"People don't trust their own estimates and insurance companies can't provide reassurance that BAL ratings have been taken into account.

"Better co-operation between the NSW government, councils and the insurance industry will go a long way to improve the calculation tools available so homeowners have peace of mind."

The ICA spokesman said "many insurers online home insurance calculators, as well the ICA's own Understand Insurance home building calculator, provide an inflation factor for sum insured guidance for properties that may be located in bushfire-prone areas".

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