Bushfires inquiry calls for national body

A body such as the national cabinet set up to deal with coronavirus should be tasked with managing the response to future bushfires.

That’s the view of the royal commission into national natural disaster arrangements, which provided some interim observations on Monday.

“The functions of the national cabinet, or a similar peak intergovernmental decision-making body, could be adopted for the national management of future natural disasters,” the commission said in its report.


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Fires that raged across 10 million hectares last summer took the lives of 33 Australians and destroyed 10,000 homes and other structures.

More than 80,000 head of livestock were destroyed and millions of native plants and animals were lost, including severe impacts on many World Heritage areas.

The report said trying to set up agencies while natural disasters are unfolding can be “disruptive, delay necessary and immediate assistance and create confusion”.

“There may be benefit in a single, scalable standing body responsible for natural disaster recovery and resilience at the Australian government level,” the commission said.

“Such a body would be responsible for Commonwealth recovery co-ordination, prioritisation, policy and collation of relevant data.”

The commission is also considering how best to be able to declare a “national emergency” that has a more than symbolic role.

“We are considering how any national declaration would interact with state and territory emergency management frameworks, and whether the Australian government should have clearer authority to take action ‘in the national interest’.”

The commission has also flagged how to make the role of the Australian Defence Force in bushfires, and the legal framework behind its role, clearer for all involved.

“Some state government agencies and some local governments did not understand what tasks the ADF could perform, how to seek ADF assistance or how best to interact with the ADF once it was deployed, during both the response and recovery phases,” the report said.

The commission is also working on recommendations regarding wildlife management, mental health, disaster recovery funding arrangements, land management, aerial firefighting and the use of emergency warning apps.

© AAP 2020