Australian bushfire inquiry forwards 80 suggestions

FILE PHOTO: A wallaby eats after NSW's National Parks and Wildlife Service staff air-dropped carrots and sweet potatoes in bushfire-stricken areas around Wollemi and Yengo National Parks, New South Wales, Australia January 11, 2020. NSW DPIE Environment, Energy and Science/Handout via REUTERS

The landmark royal commission into Australia’s “Black Summer” bushfires has handed down its final report on Friday, where it made 80 recommendations to prevent future disasters.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, which was established in the wake of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires in February, made the recommendations, including establishing a national fleet of aerial firefighting resources and introducing a nationally consistent disaster warning system.
Thirty-three people died, including nine firefighters, in the 2019-20 bushfires, which burned from July 2019 to March 2020.

According to the report, the smoke blanketed much of Australia, including capital cities, and contributed to hundreds of deaths.

“Nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced, and the fires harmed many threatened species and ecological communities,” it said.

The inquiry found that global warming caused an increase in catastrophic fire weather and compromising traditional fire fighting techniques.

Commission chair Mark Binskin said the inquiry looked into the future where extreme weather events will “regrettably, be more frequent and more severe”.

“What was unprecedented is now our future,” he said.

“Every state and territory suffered fire to some extent. The fires did not respect state borders or local government boundaries.

“On some days, extreme conditions drove a fire behavior that was impossible to control.

“We heard harrowing personal accounts of devastation and loss. Over 24 million hectares were burnt. Many Australians were impacted, directly or indirectly, by the fires.

“Over 3,000 homes were destroyed. Estimates of the national financial impacts are over A$10 billion,” Binskin added.

According to The Australian newspaper, of the 80 recommendations, 14 relate to the federal government, 23 to states and territories and 41 are joint responsibilities.

The remaining two relate to the insurance industry and Australian Building Code Board.

Responding to the report, Emergent Management Minister David Littleproud said the government was committed to acting on its recommendations and intended to work together with the states.

The report called for greater coordination between all government levels during future emergencies, a real-time national air quality monitoring system, and all states and territories to develop an emergency warning smartphone application.

In order to prevent future similar disasters it said the federal government should be given the power to declare a state of national emergency.

“The prime minister should make the declaration, and legislation should be clear about the circumstances in which a declaration may be made, and the actions that the Australian government can then take to support state and territory governments,” the report said.

However, it warned that the declaration “should not purport to give the Australian government the power to determine how the resources of states and territories are to be used or allocated, without their consent”.

Littleproud said such powers would not mean that the federal government would be “coming in to take over and fight fires”.

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