1 September 2023

Audit office praises government’s Black Summer Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program

| Andrew McLaughlin
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A blackened East Boyd/Timbillica State Forest.

The East Boyd/Timbillica State Forest as it recovers from the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: David Gallan.

Design and implementation of the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program following the deadly 2019-2020 Black Summer Bushfires has been largely praised by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

In a report published on 23 August, the ANAO said the fires had burnt up to 33 million hectares over that season, and $200 million has subsequently been allocated to assist native wildlife and habitats recover.

A previous government study found that 471 species of plants and 191 invertebrate species were severely affected by the fires. The most severely affected species lost more than 30 per cent of their habitat. A University of Sydney study published half way through the fire emergency conservatively estimated that more than a billion animals had died as a direct result of the fires, of which more than 800 million animals were in NSW including one-third of the state’s koala population.

READ ALSO Cold fronts had ‘persistent effect’ on Black Summer bushfires, new study finds

The ANAO said the funding was allocated through a combination of competitive and non-competitive grants, payments to state and territory governments, and procurements. It said the audit was conducted to provide assurance to Parliament on the design and implementation of the program, and to assesses whether the department was monitoring whether ongoing objectives were being met.

The ANAO found the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water’s (DCCEEW) administration of the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program was largely effective. It said the planning undertaken for the development of the program was appropriate, arrangements to support its implementation were largely effective, and monitoring and reporting arrangements for the program were partly effective.

It also praised the program’s planning stages, saying the finding was allocated based on priority natural assets and actions, scientific datasets and project proposals from advice by an expert panel.

“The department sought the expert panel’s advice on project proposals and adopted the advice in providing funding recommendations to the minister,” the report read. “The department also developed and used decision support tools to guide funding decisions.”

READ ALSO Report finds Indigenous Australians disproportionally affected by Black Summer bushfires

The ANAO made five recommendations from the report, including developing a stakeholder engagement plan; implementing guidance on risk management; developing processes to ensure documentation of procurement approval; improving collection of data and reporting of progress towards achievement of outcomes; and developing a plan to capture lessons learned for future programs.

The DCCEEW has agreed to all five recommendations.

“Implementation of the recommendations has already commenced, improving existing processes and procedures as well as earmarking considerations for design and implementation of future programs,” the department said in response. “Implementation will be overseen by the department’s audit committee.”

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