Groups rally behind bushfire inquiry

30 October 2020

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Environmental groups, bushfire victims, firefighters, governments and scientists have all backed recommendations from a royal commission into last summer’s fires.

The report has also prompted widespread calls for greater action on climate change and for a more coordinated approach to managing the increasing risk posed by all natural disasters.

Former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins said Australian governments must get on a “unity ticket” on emergency management, preparations for natural disasters and climate action.

Mr Mullins said all 80 recommendations must be implemented, including those to boost fire fighting resources and better use the defence force.

But amid warnings natural disasters will become more complex, more unpredictable and more difficult to manage, he says governments must grapple with the fundamental problem of climate change.

“The federal government absolutely must act on the root cause of worsening bushfires in Australia, and take urgent steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“If these recommendations are ignored, we can expect more bushfires like this into the future.”

Among its recommendations, the royal commission proposed the federal government have the power to declare a national emergency for such disasters.

It also called for Australia to develop its own aerial firefighting fleet, and introduce more consistent warnings and fire danger ratings across the country.

Jack Egan, who lost his North Rosedale home south of Bateman’s Bay to the NSW fires, backed both those recommendations, saying clearer and more consistent messaging was especially important to border communities.

The changing fire regime also increased the likelihood that more regions would be hit by serious fires at the same time, he said.

“Better coordination is essential to better fighting fires and limiting the disruption, impact and loss for communities,” Mr Egan said.

“We heard some very disturbing stories from people in border areas where the information they could get was limited and they were in greater danger.”

Mr Egan said the royal commission had drawn a clear line between the increasing severity of bushfires and global warming and hoped all governments would now take more serious action.

“I think that a primary school kid can join the dots,” he said.

Environment group Greenpeace called for a levy on the coal industry to help pay for the cost of bushfires, while the Australian Conservation Foundation also urged genuine action on climate change without delay.

La Trobe University ecologist Michael Clarke welcomed the report but said he was disappointed it included just one recommendation related to the impact of the fires on wildlife and wildlife habitat.

The commission called for greater consistency and collaboration between governments on the collation of data related to Australian flora and fauna.

“I would have liked to see some additional recommendations related to the recovery and protection of our wildlife, not just the documenting of its demise,” Professor Clarke said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her government would respond positively to the commission’s recommendations.

“The last thing people want to see is important reports handed down and ignored,” she said.

“We will do the opposite. There is too much at stake – protecting lives and properties has to be an absolute priority and that’s what we will do.”

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said his government would examine how the federal recommendations aligned with those in the state’s own bushfire inquiry, which had already prompted a $100 million spend to minimise the impacts of future fires.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the report presented an opportunity for Australia to develop its own firefighting resources.

“In recent years, we have had to do things we never had to before, competing with the northern hemisphere for machinery and equipment because we have had fires at almost the same time,” Mr Andrews said.

“So the more we can do to be as self-sufficient as possible, we are absolutely ready to play our part in that.”

Australian Associated Press

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