Will the findings of the Bushfire Royal Commission create much-needed change, or is the Morrison Government just "polly waffling" until the next disaster strikes? Managing editor Michelle Pini reports.
WITH THE blackest of summers – in which bushfires extinguished the lives of 33 Australians, destroyed 3,000 homes, annihilated 19 million hectares, obliterated wildlife and smoke inhalation claimed a further 450 lives – plus a Royal Commission behind us, what has changed?
Well apart from the climate, which is transmuting at an alarming rate and signalling further calamities, it seems very little has changed.
Today, in a nightmarish repeat of last year’s catastrophic events, dozens of fires rage across Australia, with Queensland's Fraser Island – a unique ecosystem and World Heritage site – currently burning out of control.
BEDS OF COAL
Nonetheless, our Federal Government, led by a PM whose allegiance to coal borders on fixation, is still talking up “gas-led” recoveries and the “benefits” of coal, while simultaneously denying the science and ignoring renewable energy solutions.
Despite our counterparts around the world embracing innovations and recognising the severity of the situation, the Coalition Government is sticking to the past with frightening fervour. And Australia’s response to climate change is now, embarrassingly, ranked the worst in the OECD.
This time last year, IA outlined 11 proactive steps Scott Morrison could have taken to assist the bushfire emergency that had engulfed the nation at the time.
- declaring a national state of emergency;
- providing sufficient resources for emergency services in a coordinated national response;
- accepting that his Government's policies are exacerbating the risk, frequency and intensity of bushfire events; and
- formulating a long term strategy – incorporating action on anthropogenic climate change – to deal with future events.
And now, with experts signalling another year of record temperatures and extreme weather events, we need to add a most imperative suggestion for Mr Morrison:
- Enact the recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission!
A BURNING REPORT
Some of the key findings of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, on which the Federal Government needs to take responsibility, echo our earlier recommendations and include the establishment of:
- legislation enabling the federal government to declare "a state of national emergency";
- a national data system to share knowledge of climate change (the existence of which is accepted as fact in the report);
- a national register that shows the number of emergency services personnel, equipment and aerial assets that can be drawn on, or moved around if needed; and
- a national aerial firefighting fleet 'to be tasked according to greatest national need'.
The emphasis of these findings is on national leadership that draws together state and territory resources and coordinates emergency efforts to avoid last summer's devastation.
While the Royal Commission advised an Australian-based aerial firefighting capability be established, Minister Littleproud has only “noted” the recommendation, indicating that he is comfortable with the current aerial firefighting arrangements.
Former A.C.T. Emergency Services Commissioner and spokesperson for Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, Peter Dunn, told IA that the findings are the result of a very thorough Royal Commission, following lots of engagement with experts, but that the Federal Government is not taking the recommendations seriously enough.
Mr Dunn said:
"There is too much "polly waffling" and no leadership.
The Government has told emergency services, 'Just ask and we'll provide'.
But it is not stepping up to provide a plan and the resources needed...
...A national domestic aerial fire-fighting capability is essential."
IA posed the question of the Royal Commission's national aerial capability recommendation to Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, who responded with the following:
‘Aerial firefighting strategies are the responsibility of state and territory governments.
The state and territory fire chiefs have the experience and expertise therefore we will seek advice from fire chiefs.
This is not a decision for politicians, it is a decision for fire commissioners.’
Peter Dunn says:
"Are we now going to gloss this over and keep doing the same thing?
We just can't leave it all up to the chiefs to organise extra planes.There needs to be coordination and leadership."
Vocal critic of the Government's response to the Bushfire Royal Commission, Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management, Murray Watt, agrees.
He told IA:
Australia faces a high risk of natural disasters in the months ahead. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see Scott Morrison yet again refusing to take proactive steps to prepare...
We know that last summer requests for help were denied because there weren’t enough aircraft available to fight the fires.
Scott Morrison must stop dawdling and start acting on the Royal Commission’s advice to lead a national aerial firefighting fleet.
Senator Watt added:
Eighteen months after the Government announced the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund, it has failed to spend a cent.
The Morrison Government is gambling with lives by not investing in evacuation centres, cyclone shelters, fire breaks and other valuable mitigation projects.
There are communities that faced bushfires last year having to crowd-fund for essential life-saving facilities because the Government won’t cough up the cash.
With regard to providing what is required for bushfire mitigation, Minister Littleproud said:
BEDS ARE BURNING
But Senator Watt says:
'We saw what happened when Scott Morrison wasn't prepared for last year’s bushfires.
Australians cannot afford for him to repeat his mistakes this year.'
Has anything changed since Black Summer?
Peter Dunn is not convinced:
"We don't know what's changed [since last year's bushfire emergency] but recent conversations with David Littleproud and [Energy Minister] AngusTaylor, which focus on gas-led recoveries and more coal, indicate that nothing's changed."
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