Insurance giant QBE withdraws its support for Warragamba Dam wall raising

Warragamba Dam. Picture: Simon Bennett
Warragamba Dam. Picture: Simon Bennett

Another of Australia's leading insurance companies has withdrawn its support for the plan to raise the Warragamba Dam wall.

The World Heritage Listed Blue Mountains area, including the iconic Burragorang Valley, will be flooded if the NSW Government's plan to raise the dam wall is approved.

QBE released its Environmental and Social Risk Framework last week, stating it was committed to protecting world heritage sites.

"Protected areas, such as World Heritage Sites, are recognised for their unparalleled beauty, global environmental and cultural significance and/or biological diversity, and for the important economic, social and environmental benefits they provide to people," the document said.

"These sites deliver critical environmental services such as stabilising soils, preventing floods and capturing carbon, all of which increase our resilience to the most harmful impacts of a warming climate."

The QBE document stated that the company also recognised the importance of cultural heritage for current and future generations "and seeks to protect areas of significant cultural heritage and value from the adverse impacts of project activities".

"QBE will not knowingly directly insure or directly invest in projects in severe risk sectors (oil and gas, mining and large-scale hydropower) located in World Heritage Sites or their buffer zone, unless there is a prior consensus with both government and UNESCO that such projects will not adversely affect the outstanding universal value of the site," the company said.

The state government has proposed raising the dam wall in an effort to mitigate the risk of flooding in the Hawkesbury Valley region.

However indigenous residents, scientists, environmental action groups, local councils, politicians and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have raised various concerns about the plan.

The Insurance Australia Group (IAG) withdrew its support for the plan last year.

The IAG's chairwoman Elizabeth Bryan said at an AGM held in 2020 that the organisation would no longer support the plan to raise the dam wall.

"In discussions with The Colong Foundation for Wilderness, and others more closely involved with this debate, it has become clear that a decision to raise the height of the Warragamba Dam wall could well result in the destruction of both large areas of natural environment and also important cultural heritage sites," she said.

"In the past we have expressed support for the raising of the wall, however we now have additional information concerning the probable loss of significant cultural heritage sites, and important natural habitats."

Colong Wilderness Foundation's Taylor Clarke and Harry Burkitt take Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Andrew Hall on-country in the Burragorang Valley. Picture: Supplied

Colong Wilderness Foundation's Taylor Clarke and Harry Burkitt take Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Andrew Hall on-country in the Burragorang Valley. Picture: Supplied

The Insurance Council of Australia has also backflipped on its support for the NSW Government's plan to raise the dam wall.

Colong Foundation for Wilderness campaign manager Harry Burkitt said he was pleased some of Australia's leading insurance companies had withdrawn their support for the plan.

"We have been able to convince companies like QBE that the protection of World Heritage through a careful choice of insurance customers is something that needs to occur the world over," he said.

"Insurance companies should not be supporting dams, mines or any other destructive developments in World Heritage areas.

"It is because of our campaign that QBE has now committed to implementing the World Heritage Centre's Principles for Sustainable Insurance into the future.

"The Insurance Australia Group (IAG) will hopefully be committing to these same principles for the protection of World Heritage later in the year because of our campaign."

A NSW Government spokesman told the Advertiser late last year that the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley was the most flood-exposed region in NSW, if not Australia.

"More than 130,000 people currently live and work on the floodplain," he said.

"Research has shown the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam to temporarily hold back floodwaters is the most effective long-term option to reduce flood risk and protect lives, homes and livelihoods.

"The impacts of a temporary increase in upstream inundation - and options to manage, mitigate or offset those impacts - will be detailed in the EIS currently being prepared.

"The NSW Government looks forward to the public exhibition of the EIS, which will allow all interested stakeholders to provide comment when all information is equally available.

"The final decision on the dam raising proposal will only be made after all environmental, cultural, financial and planning assessments are complete."

This story Insurance giant QBE withdraws its support for Warragamba Dam wall raising first appeared on Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser.