NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and his Queensland counterpart Campbell Newman are exposing communities to greater risk from extreme weather because of their refusal to accept climate change, according to Greens leader Senator Christine.
Senator Milne's comments follow a testy response by Mr O'Farrell at a media event on Tuesday when the Premier was asked about climate change and the floods.
“Let's not turn this near disaster, this episode that has damaged so many properties and other things, farm properties and other things, into some politically correct debate about climate change,” he said. “Give me a break.”
Senator Milne, though, said both premiers had weakened planning rules, such as allowing more development in vulnerable coastal areas, and failed to act adequately on calls from the insurance industry to spend more to mitigate risks from floods and other extreme events.
“Barry O'Farrell should give the community a break and admit that he's been wrong on climate change,” Senator Milne said. “They're not fit to be leaders... if they're not going to have the courage to face what's coming and do something about it.”
Australia's summer of extremes continues with large areas of Queensland and NSW mopping up after heavy rains from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald triggered flooding from north Queensland to the mid-NSW coast. Earlier this month, Australia posted seven consecutive days of average maximum temperatures above 39 degrees, smashing previous records for heatwave duration, while much of the country's south-east faces weeks more of high fire dangers.
Late last year, Senator Milne secured support for a senate inquiry into recent trends in, and preparedness for, extreme weather events. Public hearings will start next month.
“If ever there was a need for a look at Australia's preparedness it is now,” Senator Milne said, adding that the coalition led by Tony Abbott had opposed the inquiry.
“Here is the person who wants to be prime minister of this country who was not prepared to support an inquiry into our level of preparedness,” Senator Milne said. “He is putting Australia at grave risk.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has today set an election date for September 14 in a surprise move.
The Senator said Mr Abbott's visits to bushfire areas and flood rescue sites contrasted with his reluctance to accept the science that suggests a warming planet is likely to create more such extreme conditions.
“If you continue to pretend it is not happening as Tony Abbott, O'Farrell, and Newman and co do, we're just going to see more and more of this every year,” she said.
“They have to be called to account because they are exposing communities to greater impact than would otherwise occur if they had been realistic about the situation we're facing because of climate change.”
Senator Milne's criticism of Coalition leaders was echoed by the head of a national flood planning lobby group, who said it was "almost impossible" to get government spending on mitigation efforts.
“I am fed up with the hypocrisy of our state and federal governments who show great concern for flood victims while the TV cameras are rolling during a flood, but ignore the issue during the rest of their elected term,” Ian Dinham, chairman of the Floodplain Management Association, said.
“We have been offering advice to NSW government ministers since the last election and have met with a brick wall of total disinterest. Yet, every flood is met with a helicopter visit by the Premier and sometimes the Minister for the Environment.”
Mr Dinham, who is also director of engineering for NSW's Moree Plains shire council, said floods cost the country about $400 million a year in damage to public assets alone but government outlays to limit the damage remained minimal.
The NSW government set aside just $8.6 million a year for flood mitigation efforts, he said, adding that most of the funding went into research rather than public works. Moreover, flood planning information remains almost impossible to find on the government's websites, he said.
"I don't think (the leaders) fully understand the implications of climate change," particularly when it comes to flooding, Mr Dinham said. Meanwhile politicians have developers putting pressure on them to release land "that is not really suitable for residential buildings."
For instance, Brisbane's 1974 floods inundated 4000 houses, while a lower flood in 2011 swamped 14,000 residences, he said. "The lessons from 1974 obviously weren't learnt," he said.
The association has some 90 members nationwide, including local councils and engineering consultants, Mr Dinham said.