What is betterment?
Betterment allows local governments and state agencies to rebuild essential public assets to a more resilient standard to help them withstand the impacts of future natural disasters.
Examples include improvements to vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges and floodways. These can vary from stabilisation of low-lying roads to reduce erosion and scouring, upgrades to drainage structures to increase capacity or replacing gravel with reinforced concrete to improve resilience.
Queensland Betterment Funds are jointly funded (50:50) by the Australian and Queensland Governments.
Benefits of betterment
Queensland leads the nation in building resilience in its communities through betterment programs. Queensland’s experience with betterment funds shows that an upfront investment in rebuilding impacted assets to be more resilient saves money for all levels of government in future disasters.
Since the first betterment fund was established in 2013, more than 531 projects across 70 local government areas in Queensland – with a betterment value approximately $434 million – have been approved, helping create stronger, more resilient Queensland communities.
- increase the resilience of our communities to natural disasters
- reduce future costs of natural disasters on asset restoration
- reduce incidents, injuries and fatalities during and after natural disasters
- improve asset utility and connectivity during and after natural disasters.
Proven success of betterment programs
A key test for betterment projects is whether they leave infrastructure and communities less vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters.
As at July 2023, 423 projects have been subsequently impacted by natural disasters. In total, there have been 1173 impacts to betterment sites from 44 events, with 79 per cent suffering no damage or only minor or superficial damage.
In some cases, assets have been subsequently impacted multiple times, including, for example, Aurukun Access Road, which has been hit 10 times.
Of the betterment projects that have been re-impacted, an investment of $174 million has generated approximately more than $397.5 million* in savings or avoided costs, which is a great outcome for all levels of government, as well as Australian taxpayers.
It is worth noting that some of the re-impacted projects completed since 2017 or 2019 have already highlighted the benefits of betterment. Given the number of natural disasters that impact Queensland each year, the avoided costs are expected to continue to increase.
Not only has betterment achieved substantial cost savings through more resilient infrastructure, it has also improved the lives of those living in impacted communities. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure are able to withstand weather events, and return to functionality much sooner in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
Further, the avoided costs figure is based on estimated reconstruction costs only and does not include the many intangible benefits associated with having more resilient infrastructure. This can include social, economic, and environmental benefits such as more connected communities, continuity of telecommunications, road networks and other essential services, increased consumer confidence and business activity, and reduced impacts on the environment (for example, erosion and run off into creek beds and other waterways). If these intangible benefits were included the total avoided cost figure would be much higher.
History of betterment in Queensland
The Queensland Government, through the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, initiated the first Queensland Betterment Fund in February 2013 following Severe Tropical Cyclone Oswald, which caused more than $2 billion in damage to essential public assets. Many of these assets had been repeatedly impacted and restored after earlier disasters in 2011 and 2012, only to be damaged again in 2013.
The 2013 Queensland Betterment Fund provided $80 million for assets to be built back better, enabling assets to be built back to a standard that would be more disaster resilient, reducing risk to the community and future reconstruction costs from subsequent events.
Under the fund, assets such as roads, water supply infrastructure, bridges and drainage systems were identified by local governments for betterment that would provide resilience and risk reduction benefits for their communities.
Including the initial program, Queensland has now approved more than 520 betterment projects across six programs:
- $170 million Betterment Fund established in 2022 following the Central, Southern and Western Queensland Rainfall and Flooding; Ex-Tropical Cyclone Seth Flooding; and the South East Queensland Heavy Rainfall and Flooding event.
- $20 million Betterment Fund established in 2021 following the 2020-21 disaster season
- $102 million Betterment Fund established in 2019 following North and Far North Queensland Monsoon Trough (in delivery)
- $41.85 million Betterment Fund established in 2017 following Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie
- $20 million Betterment Fund established in 2015 following Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia
- $80 million Betterment Fund established in 2013 following Severe Tropical Cyclone Oswald.
Betterment is a great example of all levels of government working together to improve the resilience of Queensland communities.
Through the various betterment programs, local governments have been empowered to assess, plan and implement disaster resilience at a grass-roots level, enabling work to begin as soon as possible following a natural disaster, helping to mitigate the impact on their local communities.