Published: 13:00, October 30, 2020 | Updated: 13:00, June 5, 2023
Aussie wildfire probe findings urge better disaster response
By Reuters

A file photo taken on Nov 19, 2019 shows a helicopter dropping fire retardant to protect a property in Balmoral, 150 kilometers southwest of Sydney. (PETER PARKS / AFP)

SYDNEY - Australia needs national coordination of disaster responses, a change to laws to allow country-wide state of emergencies and simplified climate-change projections, an inquiry into its worst bushfire season in a generation found on Friday.

Australia should legislate to allow for a national state of emergency to communicate the seriousness of a disaster and enable action without a state or territory request for assistance, a commission said

Inevitable climate change meant more frequent disasters and higher costs and more impact on hundreds of thousands of homes, a royal commission of inquiry concluded in its final report, calling the outlook “alarming”.

The commission, in its 1,000-page report, offered wide-ranging lessons from what the prime minister called a “black summer” when wildfires destroyed more than 24 million hectares, killed 33 people and billions of animals, and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes from September 2019 to March.

ALSO READ: Australia bolsters bushfire defenses as economic costs soar

“What was unprecedented is now our future,” Mark Binskin, a former air force chief who chaired the inquiry, wrote in the report, which called for changes to climate modeling and a role for the military in disasters, among other things.

A file photo taken on Nov12, 2019 shows residents defending a property from a bushfire at Hillsville near Taree, 350 kilometers north of Sydney. (PETER PARKS / AFP)

“Australia’s alarming disaster outlook requires these improvements. This opportunity should not be lost.”

Federal emergency minister David Littleproud said the government would “carefully and methodically” consider the report and was “committed to responding to and actioning many of the recommendations as soon as possible”.

Many of the recommendations involved improving co-ordination between state and federal authorities after criticism of confusion between organizations responding to blazes that often flare across state lines.

ALSO READ: Floods as storms lash some bushfire-hit regions in Australia

Australia should legislate to allow for a national state of emergency to communicate the seriousness of a disaster and enable action without a state or territory request for assistance, the commission said.

A file photo taken on Nov12, 2019 shows locals watching as bushfires impact on farmland near the small town of Nana Glen, some 600 kilometers north of Sydney. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

A national body was needed to consolidate advice about disasters, while consistent terminology about threats, evacuations and sheltering orders was also needed.

READ MORE: Australia bushfire smoke shoots Sydney into top 10 global pollution index

The commission also called for harmonized data platforms to better share information about risks, adding that governments should simplify climate projections to enable decisions based on an agreed common set of climate trajectories and timelines.

The fire season now arrived three months earlier than it did in the middle of the last century and further warming was inevitable, it said.