Coalition intends to honour 'legacy' of bushfires and support royal commission recommendations

Morrison government will establish a national disaster recovery agency to oversee federal bushfire, flood and drought bureaucracy

Firefighter conducting back-burning measures
The Morrison government will establish ‘Resilience Australia’, a new central point of information and scientific data to help emergency services prepare for and respond to disasters. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
The Morrison government will establish ‘Resilience Australia’, a new central point of information and scientific data to help emergency services prepare for and respond to disasters. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Fri 13 Nov 2020 01.43 EST

The Morrison government says it has accepted the 80 recommendations of the bushfire royal commission and will bring legislation to parliament that would allow it to declare a national state of emergency during times of natural disaster.

It will also establish a national disaster recovery agency that will bring federal bushfire, flood and drought bureaucracy into a single agency by July next year.

Responding to the royal commission’s report, which was handed down in late October, the emergency management minister, David Littleproud, said the government “intended to support the recommendations and implement them”.

“It’s important to leave a legacy from this tragic event over the summer, to make sure we learn the lessons, and to build on that, to build a more resilient Australia,” he said.

“That legacy must be achieved, not just by the federal government, but the state governments. We all have a role to play.”

The commission’s 80 recommendations included 14 that were specific to the federal government, 23 joint recommendations for state and federal governments, 41 recommendations for the states and two for industry.

Littleproud said the government would move legislation before Christmas to give the federal government power to declare a national state of emergency during crises such as last summer’s severe bushfires.

In addition to creating a national disaster recovery agency, he said the government would establish “Resilience Australia”, which will be a new central point of information and scientific data from 10 agencies to help emergency services prepare for and respond to disasters.

The bushfire royal commission report found last summer’s fires were just a glimpse of what could be expected in Australia into the future under the worsening effects of global heating.

That view was further validated by a new report on Friday from the nation’s two climate agencies – the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. The State of the Climate report warned extreme weather events, like last summer’s bushfires, are likely to become the norm in Australia courtesy of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

While Littleproud said on Friday the government accepted all 80 recommendations, the detailed written response appears to include some caveats, with the government writing for each individual recommendation that it either supported, supported in principle, or noted the recommendation.

For example, the government “noted” a recommendation from the commission to develop a national aerial firefighting capability.

“The commonwealth government acknowledged, before the Royal Commission, the maturity, experience and effectiveness of the operational response capabilities of the states and territories,” the report states.

“The commonwealth has no desire to replicate or replace these capabilities, including in aerial firefighting.”

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Friday the states held the firefighting aircraft assets and each year the fire chiefs made recommendations.

“What all the premiers and chief ministers and myself agree is the firefighters and the fire chiefs are the best people to tell us what we need ... We’re basically going to continue to be guided by the fire chiefs on these things and they’re not calling for that.”

When the commission released its report, former fire chiefs called on the government to respond by tackling the root cause of more extreme natural disasters by cutting carbon emissions.

The prime minister was asked if the government would commit to a net zero emissions by 2050 target given the findings of the royal commission.

He responded by saying that one of the findings of the report was that “the locked-in impacts of climate change already that are there largely set an elevated risk for the next 20 years”.

“And the report actually says that, regardless of what might happen in terms of emissions reduction, that is a known quantity,” he said.

“And as a result, a key part of dealing with climate change in this country is dealing with the resilience to what is already there.”

He said the government’s commitment was that it would “like to achieve” net zero emissions as soon as possible.