In September 2020 we reported on the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and its calls for greater operational capacity and planning to prevent and respond to bushfire risks. Since that time, the final report of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was tabled in Parliament on 30 October 2020, setting out 80 recommendations to improve Australia's national natural disaster arrangement. There have since been early signs that many of the recommendations will be implemented over the course of the next 12 months on a Commonwealth, State and Territory level.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, also known as the Bushfires Royal Commission, was established on 20 February 2020 in response to the highly publicised extreme bushfire season of 2019-2020 which resulted in devastating loss of life, property and wildlife, and environmental destruction across Australia.
Australian Government Response
On 13 November 2020, The Australian Federal Government announced its support, or support in principle, for most of the Report's 55 recommendations directed at the Government, including
- National co-ordination arrangements;
- Improvements to collection and sharing of national disaster risk data;
- Enabling the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency;
- National register of fire and emergency services personnel and equipment;
- Public Safety Mobile Broadband capability;
- Employment protections for volunteers;
- Increased role of the Australian Defence Force;
- Supply chain review to ensure supply of essential goods during natural disasters;
- Community education;
- Evacuation planning;
- An Australian Fire Danger Rating System;
- National air quality monitoring and forecasting;
- Indigenous land and fire management;
- Land use planning and building regulation to address natural hazards risks;
- Single national scheme for regulation of charitable fundraising;
- Nationally consistent delivery of recovery services and financial assistance.
The Federal Government also announced a number of measures it will be implementing including
- New laws to declare a national state of emergency. This declaration will fast-track national responses to bushfires, cyclones and floods, allowing the provision of capabilities beyond those of states and territories;
- Enhance national co-ordination arrangements with Emergency Management Australia;
- Establishing a National Resilience, Relief and Recovery Agency by July 2021;
- Establish a virtual and climate risk services centre by July 2021;
- Providing AUD26 million annually to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre;
- Funding to traditional land owners to share knowledge and understanding of Indigenous fire management processes.
State Government Response
The NSW Government has announced it will work closely with the Australian Government to respond to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, in a way that complements the work already underway following the NSW Government’s Bushfire Inquiry.
The Bushfires Royal Commission report confirmed that the primary responsibility for disaster response lies with the State and Territory Governments, it is therefore expected that similarly to the Commonwealth response and measures outlined above, that all State and Territory Governments will provide formal responses to the recommendations of to the Royal Commission Report in the near future.
Next steps and key implications
The Royal Commission report noted that it expects natural disasters to become more complex, more unpredictable and more difficult to manage. The Royal Commission has identified a number of Government measures that will be necessary across land-use planning, infrastructure, emergency management, social policy, agriculture, education, health, community development, energy and the environment.
Environment and Planning
We can expect that building regulations and planning laws will be one of the main focuses of legislative review and reform on a Federal, State and Local government level. One of the findings of the report was that 90% of buildings in bushfire prone areas have not been built to bushfire planning and construction regulations.
Similarly to findings from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, the Royal Commission Report supports further review into legislation and processes relating to bushfire mitigation, hazard reduction and vegetation management.
The Royal Commission recommended that the insurance industry should produce clear guidance for consumers about what they can do to mitigate the risk of natural hazards to their homes, which could then be reflected in reduced insurance premiums. The Federal Government endorsed this recommendation and it will therefore be interesting to note the response of the insurance industry, both in Australia and globally.