Insurance companies dispute whether Townsville flood water is actually "storm" water.
In the wake (no pun intended) of the massive flooding of thousands of homes in northern Queensland, some insurance companies have been trying to find ways to minimize their payout obligations.
Some, however, have likely taken it a bit too far, claiming that some homeowners may have been insured against storm damage, but not floods.
We aren't going to argue about the legal validity of this claim, but if the recent rainstorm was not the proximate cause of the flooding and consequent damage to property, we have to wonder what the cause could have been.
Queensland Deputy Premier Jaclyn Trad has asked insurance companies to treat people with respect and compassion.
Her office has heard reports of conflicts between insurance companies and flood victims about the terms of their policies, and said she has "grave concerns" about the way insurance companies are handling the situation.
Given the recent royal commission report on the financial sector's greed and corruption, companies are likely to face severe backlash if they try to get too tricky about denying coverage.
Ms Trad said people are looking for a higher standard of ethics following last week's report. She said banks and insurers should show compassion.
"If they want to rebuild trust with Australians, then it's going to start here in Queensland, in Townsville and in the north-west.
"After every disaster here in Queensland we tend to get these arguments and these conflicts where people, after being traumatised, are trying to deal with insurance companies without documentation, they've had their documentation washed away in the floods.
"What we expect from insurance companies is a level of sympathy and compassion and responsiveness to the people of Queensland right now in their time of need."
While it may be unrealistic to ask corporations for a lot of sympathy when their bottom line is at stake, many Australians probably share her opinion right now.
Deb Frecklington (we'll never get enough of that name), leader of the Queensland Liberal National Party, also called on insurers to "ditch their tricky tactics", including disputes over the definition of "storm water", and pay out on the policies.
"These hard-working family businesses have done the right thing, they've paid their premiums and now they've been devastated by this disaster.
"The insurance companies are already saying we're not going to pay out your premiums."
Rob Whelan, CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, said he had talked to Ms Trad about insurance claims and flood coverage, and wanted to assure Ms Frecklington insurers were doing their best to help everyone, regardless of whether they had flood coverage.
That's a pretty amazing claim, which remains to be seen.
He said, "I have explained that flood insurance cover is readily available to all householders and businesses in Townsville. This cover is risk rated, the same as in any other part of Australia."
Which hardly seems very reassuring.
However he also said, "Customers who decided against purchasing flood cover, or choose to opt out, should still lodge a claim through their insurer or insurance broker. Most policies include storm cover," which is slightly better.
He then said that where flood cover was not purchased by the property owner, it would "typically be tested by the insurer through an independent hydrology process. This will determine if the inundation that caused the damage is to be classified as flood water or as storm water."
Again, not very reassuring. How a "hydrology process" could distinguish storm water from flood water, when a reasonable person would probably say they are exactly the same things, is a bit of a mystery.
More than $165 million, in nearly 14,000 claims, have been lodged already.
And more than $4 million in hardship payments have already been made. But that figure is dwarfed by the insurance claims. Apparently more than $16 million in insurance claims has already been paid out.
17,000 homes were without electricity, though about 15,000 of them have already had it restored.
Ms Trad said banks and insurance companies should "lift their socks" and be "good corporate citizens".
"How many more natural disasters, how many more Queenslanders are going to be left without home and contents, having to rebuild their lives without the assistance of insurance companies when they have paid so much money?
"As we've seen in the recent banking royal commission report, banks, insurance companies, financial lenders, mortgage brokers, they all need to lift their socks and start treating customers appropriately."
Anna Bligh of the Australian Banking Association said banks are ready to help farmers, some of whom have lost their livestock in the flood.
"Banks stand ready to help cattle farmers and others affected by these floods and other natural disasters through deferred loan repayments, waiving fees and other arrangements.
"Banks have dedicated hardship teams ready to assist, however it's important that customers contact their bank directly to flag they are experiencing hardship."
Aerial drops of fodder to surviving but stranded livestock are already taking place.
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