The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements has published its report, with 80 recommendations to improve Australia’s national natural disaster arrangements and make the nation safer, including for Australian workers impacted by the 2019–20 bushfires. Commission Chair Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC said there was an important role for all levels of government in relation to managing natural disasters. “While state and territory governments have primary responsibility, and accountability, for emergency management, we have concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters,” Binskin said. “This calls for the Australian Government to play a greater role than it currently does.”
Over 35 days of hearings, the Chair and fellow Commissioners Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC and Professor Andrew Macintosh heard from more than 270 witnesses, including individuals directly affected by natural disasters, current and former representatives of state and territory fire and emergency management agencies, and experts in a range of fields, including climate science and the health impacts of bushfire smoke.
The Commission received evidence from more than 270 witnesses, almost 80,000 pages of tendered documents and more than 1750 public submissions. It recapped the damage wrought, including more than 24 million hectares burnt nationally, 22 human deaths (potentially many more due to smoke haze over much of eastern Australia), approximately three billion animals killed or displaced, more than 3000 homes destroyed, and communities isolated without power, communications or ready access to essential goods and services.
Additionally, there was an estimated national financial impact of over $10 billion. The report also found that every state and territory suffered fire to some extent, stating that “on some days, extreme conditions drove a fire behaviour that was impossible to control”. Binskin said effective national coordination will be critical in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences, adding that arrangements need to be clear, robust and accountable. “We have taken a principled approach that entrusts the implementation of our recommendations to the respective stakeholders,” Binskin said. “This approach ensures those who are best placed to effect improvements can do so.”
Binskin added that governments, essential services, providers, insurers, charities, communities and individuals should consider what steps they must take across all phases of natural disasters to improve national natural disaster arrangements. “Progress on implementing our recommendations should be monitored, transparent and communicated nationally," Binskin said. “Australian, state and territory governments need to commit to action and cooperate, and hold each other to account.”
The Commission has made a range of recommendations; for government, they involve changes across land use planning, infrastructure, emergency management, social policy, agriculture, education, physical and mental health, community development, energy and the environment. The report also includes recommendations related to workers specifically, such as around the importance of nationally consistent air quality information, health advice and interventions that can be used for protecting people in workplaces, together with discussion of the impact on workers on the frontlines — fighting fires and in health care — subsequent funding projects such as around the physiological impacts of bushfire smoke on emergency responders and outdoor workers.
The full report is available here, via the Royal Commission’s website.
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