Bushfire inquiry falls short on climate change action, says Barr

Ian Bushnell 20 February 2020 25
The Orroral Valley fire

The Orroral Valley fire burnt 80 per cent of Namadgi National Park. Photo: Gary Hooker ACT RFS via ESA Twitter.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has criticised the terms of reference of the Bushfire Royal Commission for not giving a higher priority to action on curbing climate change. He also questioned the practicality of setting a deadline of 31 August for the final report.

Mr Barr said he had written to the Prime Minister last week with feedback from the ACT on the Royal Commission’s draft terms of reference.

“It is good to see that some suggestions have been acted on; however, I note that a deadline of 31 August for this Royal Commission to hand down its final report remains highly challenging,” he said.

Mr Barr said the final terms of reference had expanded on interactions between the States and Territories and the Commonwealth relating to requests for assistance, deploying the ADF and emergency declarations.

“However, I am disappointed to see no changes to the broader question of climate change mitigation strategies,” Mr Barr said.

While acknowledging the role of climate change in the devastating season of bushfires, the Royal Commission announced today by Prime Minister Scott Morrison will focus on “practical matters” such as preparedness, adaptation and mitigation, federal-state coordination and whether the Commonwealth needs extra powers to deal with similar sorts of emergencies.

Calling the emergency the Black Summer bushfires, Mr Morrison said the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements will be led by former Defence Force chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin (Retd), assisted by former Federal Court judge Dr Annabelle Bennett, and the ANU’s Professor Andrew Macintosh, a specialist in climate risk and impact management.

The fires killed 34 people and destroyed 3500 homes and nearly 6000 outbuildings across five states.

“The inquiry acknowledges climate change, the broader impact of our summers getting longer, drier and hotter, and is focused on practical action that has a direct link to making Australians safer,” Mr Morrison said.

“That’s why we need to look at what actions should be taken to enhance our preparedness, resilience and recovery through the actions of all levels of government and the community for the environment we are living in.”

Mr Morrison faced a barrage of criticism during the emergency for a tardy response to the bushfires that eventually saw the Defence Force and Army Reserve deployed, but the Prime Minister referred to a ”constitutional grey zone” that inhibited his government’s response.

“We need to consider the need to establish new powers for the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency to trigger direct Federal Government responses to national disasters, including the direct deployment of the Australian Defence Force,” he said.

“Currently, there are no such powers and federal responses are supposed to only be undertaken in response to state requests and authorisations.”

Mr Morrison said the inquiry would look at three key areas:

  • Improving natural disaster management coordination across all levels of government
  • Improving Australia’s preparedness, resilience, and response to natural disasters, across all levels of government, and
  • The legal framework for the Commonwealth’s involvement in responding to national emergencies and how that works with state and territory legal frameworks.
Cobargo destroyed by fire

Fire laid waste to Cobargo on the South Coast on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Facebook.

“The overwhelming majority of the actions to protect Australians from bushfires are undertaken at a State level,” Mr Morrison said. “Everything from resourcing our fire services and hazard reduction, to land clearing and planning laws.

“Even the declaration of emergencies, the areas that are designated to receive payments and in most cases the assessment and delivery of those payments, even when they are funded by the Federal Government, are all undertaken by the states.

“I believe Australians are wanting us to look at ways we can work together to give Australians greater assurances at a national level that these important tasks are getting done.”

A key issue will be whether volunteer-based Rural Fire Services are capable of conducting such a long campaign across many states.

As well as covering hazard reduction, wildlife management and habitat protection, and planning rules, the Royal Commission will also consider the use of Indigenous burning practices to prevent or mitigate bushfires.

When it comes to federal assistance or intervention, the inquiry will look at the thresholds for and obstacles to the states and territories asking for help, and whether the Commonwealth should have the power to declare a state of national emergency and a clearer authority to take action including around the deployment of the ADF.

It will work with other inquiries announced by the states and also review the work and recommendations of previous inquiries.

The Prime Minister has written to all Premiers and Chief Ministers inviting them to establish concurrent commissions under their respective legal frameworks for Royal Commissions.

The Royal Commission is due to report no later than 31 August 2020.


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25 Responses to Bushfire inquiry falls short on climate change action, says Barr
David Poland David Poland 3:17 pm 26 Feb 20

Black Summer fires? Perhaps they should be called the Black Climate Fires.

Jose Vega Jose Vega 6:39 pm 24 Feb 20

Waste of money the federal government has already written the conclusions and recommendations and is now spending my tax payer dollars to justify their preferred outcome.

Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 8:53 pm 20 Feb 20

Its going to be totally wasted opportunity and nothing will change and in 8 to 12 years time it will all happen again

Bob Cheney Bob Cheney 8:34 pm 20 Feb 20

Politics will always come first and not the protection of the bush and the people

Gwen Byng Gwen Byng 8:22 pm 20 Feb 20

The devastation is and will be for some time. People are definitely not in "a good place"

Shaun Hazell Shaun Hazell 7:53 pm 20 Feb 20

If you stop every thing in Australia and revert back to the stone age nothing will change it won't change the temperature of the planet one bit. So forget about your intermittent power sources and useless virtue signaling we need practical things like hazard reduction burns. Stop the councils from rezoning farmland next to national parks meaning people can't clear their own land. Stop locking the country side up and just let nature take its course creating massive fuel loads. Open the parks up and fix the fire trails and allow grazing back into some areas.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 3:05 pm 21 Feb 20

    Shaun Hazell Spot on. We can’t have any but the tiniest of effects on global warming, but we can certainly take action to deal with the consequences.

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:31 pm 20 Feb 20

Yes, from what I can tell, it isn't even looking at logging land clearing as contributing factors.


Nola Coulson Nola Coulson 7:21 pm 20 Feb 20

First time I would agree with Mr Barr

Should absolutely be included


Jim Jim Jim Jim 7:07 pm 20 Feb 20

The states will come under scrutiny for their backlog of fuel load under their management plans. Victoria is said to have been massively behind. They will look like hypocrites after all the prancing around in the media they did blaming the feds. One thing is certain politics is dreadful at all levels.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 7:26 pm 20 Feb 20

    They really won't because most of the fires all started in areas where hazard reductions burns would never have been done in the first place because they are too remote. Very few firefighting experts are saying a lack of hazard reduction burning was the issue. Also imagine the consequences if a hazard reduction burn gets out of control and destroys property and kills someone. The problem is the solution the federal politicians want is far too simple.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:32 pm 20 Feb 20

    Justin Watson ...and also many fires started on private land or in logged State forests.

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 7:34 pm 20 Feb 20

    Justin Watson Victoria recently refused to release its plan. That says volumes. It will now.

    Jude Beck Jude Beck 4:36 pm 21 Feb 20

    Justin Watson that’s how Shane Fitzsimmons father was killed, in a hazard reduction burn that went terribly wrong

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:51 pm 21 Feb 20

    Jim Hosie it had been said again and again and again during the fires by people who know: IT WAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LACK OF HAZARD REDUCTION!

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 8:57 pm 21 Feb 20

    Robyn Holder really? So why won’t Victoria release it’s fuel load management plans? Don’t stress so much Robyn, all will come out in the Royal Commission...

John Taylor John Taylor 6:49 pm 20 Feb 20

National aerial firefighting capability. Windows for hazard reduction burns are smaller and smaller. If you can’t control the likelihood of the risk, you mitigate the consequence as much as you can. Risk management 101.

Kathy Schneider Kathy Schneider 6:24 pm 20 Feb 20

Didn’t see that one coming!!!

Iain Saunders Iain Saunders 6:15 pm 20 Feb 20

They are not investigating fairies at the bottom of the garden either .theyre both imaginary.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:26 pm 20 Feb 20

    Iain Saunders how do you know how less you investigate. Fairy’s only the garden may well be real.

    Kim Mchugh Kim Mchugh 6:40 pm 20 Feb 20

    Iain Saunders lol . I think you should be imaginary

    Iain Saunders Iain Saunders 6:56 pm 20 Feb 20

    Kim Mchugh maybe I am

    Andrea Lloyd Andrea Lloyd 7:27 pm 20 Feb 20

    Iain Saunders wishful thinking unfortunately. If you are really concerned about rural communities I suggest you speak with those affected by the climate change extreme weather/bushfires this season!

    David J Le Roy David J Le Roy 8:29 am 21 Feb 20

    Loftie - just consider yourself lucky that Iain has ruled you out from Scotty’s investigation then. 😬

David Brown David Brown 6:08 pm 20 Feb 20

It was always going to. After all, it was designed by Scotty from Marketing.

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