Australia’s Prime Minister wants to establish bushfire Royal Commission

Some Australian firefighters are urging the PM not to call for a Royal Commission

smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires, by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.

Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, wants to establish a Royal Commission to evaluate the country’s response to the unprecedented number of bushfires that have plagued the eastern part of the continent since September.

In a statement issued in mid-January the United Firefighters Union of Australia said there have already been numerous bushfire-related inquiries over the past two decades. One more commission would likely come up with the same issues, they said.

The union believes there should be instead, an audit all of the existing recommendations that haven’t been implemented. They said Royal Commissions are expensive, can take hundreds of days, force witnesses to relive the trauma, and the commission has no binding power to implement recommendations.

Below is an excerpt from The Australian published January 28, 2020:

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday that would otherwise have been ­expected to outline the government’s agenda for the year, Mr Morrison will focus on the government’s longer-term response to the devastating bushfire season and the future national emergency response plan.

The speech will not include new announcements on climate change policy but will pitch his message to middle Australia by ­focusing on practical measures.

It will recognize climate change and broader environmental issues as threats to people’s livelihoods.

Natural disaster response and climate resilience will now feature as key planks of the Coalition’s broader approach to national and economic security.

While res­ponses to natural disasters are ­already an issue for cabinet’s ­national security committee, Mr Morrison is expected to say they will now have greater emphasis.

He will say that findings from previous inquiries into natural disasters have been “forgotten and prioritized over time”.

“One of the first tasks of a royal commission will be to audit the ­implementation of previous recommendations, drawing on work that has already been done in this area,” Mr Morrison will say. “As the years pass, the bush grows back and fuel loads increase, people move in still larger numbers to live in fire-prone areas and dangerous fires occur again in a cycle which must be broken.

“We must continue to learn from this fire season so we are ­better prepared for the next one, whether that be the deployment of the ADF, local hazard ­reduction, access to resources such as aerial firefighting equipment, consistency of disaster recovery ­arrangements or resilience in the face of a changing climate.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that residents of NSW Sara Haslinger and Michelle Wright both said if the commission is created one of the issues to be looked at is why Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to meet with the fire chiefs who were warning months ago that the firefighting resources available were not adequate to deal with the bushfire season that was developing. Paul Preston of Victoria said he would like to see the military activated sooner next time.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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