Special analysis which maps insurance data and natural peril risk levels across local government areas in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland reveals millions of residents across the three states are living with some sort of risk from floods, storms, bushfires and earthquakes.
Compiled by the research and consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning and released exclusively to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the data break down the risk in local council areas and the potential economic impact from natural disaster.
More than 1.6m Sydney residents are at high risk of flooding or bushfires, the analysis shows, with warnings that without pre-emptive action even more people will face threats posed by natural disasters.
Outside greater Sydney, there are another 1.7m people in NSW at risk of flooding, with many of these living along the north coast, including in the Clarence and Richmond valleys.
Across the greater Melbourne area, the analysis suggests 220,000 people—many living in areas such as Eltham, Greensborough, Wallan, Lilydale and Belgrave—have a high risk of bushfire with another 266,000 at medium risk.
The highest risk of bushfire in Victoria is faced by 243,000 people in areas such as Daylesford, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Euroa, Bright, Mansfield and Yea.
About 2m Brisbane residents face extreme risks from cyclones, as do about 610,000 people in parts of northern Queensland.
More than 4.4m people in NSW and Queensland live in local council areas with extreme or high risk of cyclones, which apart from the physical threat to individuals have proven highly disruptive to the agricultural, tourism and mining sectors. Cyclones including Yasi and Debbie have caused billions of dollars worth of damage in recent years.
There are a few parts of Victoria and NSW considered to face the highest-rated risk of earthquake. The most economically valuable are the South Gippsland, Baw Baw and LaTrobe council areas of Victoria, which combined produce A$8.1bn ($5.7bn) of economic activity.
Queensland is the most natural disaster-prone state in the country, just ahead of NSW, although there has been an increase in Victoria.
SGS national partner Terry Rawnsley said much of the Australian population was facing some form of natural peril.
While governments had gone to substantial lengths to manage the impact of such risks, large parts of the country were still exposed, with the focus being on rebuilding and repairing rather than protecting communities, Mr Rawnsley said.
He said all governments had focused too much on post-disaster reconstruction while under-investing in mitigation strategies.
"The rebalance of this spending allocation is a national priority,” he said.