12 February 2020

Bushfire royal commission needs greater focus on climate change, says Barr

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr gave his tentative support for a bushfire royal commission but included six caveats. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

A bushfire royal commission will need to consider climate change mitigation strategies and clarify the circumstances under which states and territories can request Commonwealth assistance during a disaster, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

Mr Barr gave his tentative support for a bushfire royal commission but included six caveats, telling Scott Morrison that the most efficient way to coordinate national action during emergencies would be to examine the mountains of evidence already presented at previous inquiries.

A royal commission must examine environmental policy that would allow Australia to reduce its overall emissions, Mr Barr said.

“As it currently stands, the draft Letters Patent ignores the important role Australia must play in reducing global emissions to minimise the extent of climate change and its potential impacts on the Australian community,” he said.

“Omitting climate change mitigation from the scope of the royal commission overlooks one of the key national drivers in determining the frequency and severity of future natural disasters.”

The scope and circumstances in which the federal government is allowed to act during an emergency have been a cause of controversy this bushfire season, with Mr Morrison calling for more emergency powers.

The Prime Minister was criticised for not responding fast enough when the bushfires broke out last year but he maintained that the Commonwealth had to wait to be asked by the states for assistance under existing laws.

The ambiguity around these clauses is something the ACT wants examined and clarified.

“The royal commission should consider the circumstances and thresholds under which the states and territories can call on the Commonwealth for support,” Mr Barr said.

“[It should also] examine opportunities to improve the availability of Commonwealth, State and Territory resources and infrastructure in the instances of an emergency.

“The ACT considers that the current mechanisms and criteria to request national involvement in emergencies is unclear and should be reviewed, given that the frequency of future national disasters is likely to be higher.”

The appropriate coordination of these resources during a disaster would also require a deeper investigation to help minimise duplication and inefficiencies.

“The Letters Patent should instruct the Commissioner to examine appropriate coordination of recovery arrangements for natural disasters, as this is a crucial stage in the process of rebuilding communities and the economy following natural disasters,” Mr Barr said.

The Chief Minister also said the Commissioner should not have a stringent timeframe, in opposition to Mr Morrison’s original claim the royal commission would be wrapped up in under six months.

“An August 2020 deadline will be challenging, particularly noting that many communities and workers are still fighting fires or beginning their recovery,” Mr Barr said.

“The ACT would support the royal commission providing a draft report or interim recommendations in August 2020, with a final report developed by late 2020.”

The letter also revealed that Mr Barr has sought access to the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA), an agreement between the Federal and State Governments in which the Commonwealth provides financial assistance of up to 75 per cent to eligible expenditure on disaster relief and recovery assistance.

“As a result of [the significant bushfire in the Namadgi National Park], I wish to activate all available support including DRFA funding for small business grants and loans, automatic deferral of ATO payments and lodgments and Disaster Recovery Payments for which the ACT is now eligible,” Mr Barr said.

“In relation to DRFA supports for the Orroral Valley Bushfire, ACT officials will shortly lodge this request with the Emergency Management Authority.”

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rationalobserver10:20 am 13 Feb 20

Let us all accept for a moment that climate change and it’s knock on effect with respect to bush fires are real. So what? As far as I know, these effects are not reversible and I’m sure no one is suggesting we build our entire climate change response around bushfires, so let’s please leave that aspect out of this for now.
Banishing all climate change sceptics to a gulag or hounding them into submission might feel like a win for some, but it will not stop fires. Nor will it help put them out.
The issue then becomes what to do within that parameter, or new normal. This conversation needs to be far more sophisticated than it has been.
“We cant complete the hazard reduction burns recommended by the last gazillion royal commissions because the window is reducing”.
Fine. What needs to change so that we can complete them? Deal with the root cause, not the effect, and listen to the experts as the climate change advocates are want to tell us.
Break up the large tracts of inaccessible land locked in national parks. Find a way to get more manpower involved inside that reduced window. Spend money on risk mitigations (like fire breaks) so HRB’s do not escape. Reduce red tape hindering HRB’s. Take a more practical and balanced risk position. Educate the public on the importance of doing HRB’s. Listen less to NIMBY’s and uninformed philosophical objectors. Stop deferring to retired fire chiefs who are condemned by their own inactions when they were in a position to do something. Build economic, social and environmental resilience. Get it done. Now.

RO – your approach is simplistic. The ultimate cause of the unprecedented fire season is climate change. A response, obviously, needs to look at the cause; ultimately useless just looking at the effect. You have obviously missed the irony of your statement about retired fire chiefs, experts in their field, who warned Morrison that this unprecedented fire season was on the way and to prepare for it – Morrison ignored the warnings from experts; so not a good look to repeat the error, don’t you think? Simplistic comments about ‘just getting more manpower’ in a reduced hazard reduction season don’t make sense either. If the conditions aren’t safe to burn then you just can’t do it without risking lives and property, doesn’t matter how many people you have to do it.

HiddenDragon9:21 pm 12 Feb 20

From Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s address to the National Press Club today –

“Make no mistake, this will be the biggest engineering challenge ever undertaken. The energy system is huge, and even with an internationally committed and focussed effort the transition will take many decades.”

https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/news-and-media/national-press-club-address-orderly-transition-electric-planet [see p. 7 of the PDF of the address]

The current fire season is not over, and the next one is not too far off, so a Royal Commission focused on more immediate issues, rather than being hijacked by people who want yet another forum in which to debate and posture about carbon emission reduction targets and related taxes, might be more useful.

So, he doesn’t support it.

Focusing on climate change in a bushfire Royal Commission would make the whole exercise pointless, considering there are no recommendations that could be put that Australia could enact that would unilaterally make any difference.

It solely relies on the ability of all countries to reduce global emissions and the potential impacts wouldn’t be felt for decades making the royal commission more of a thought exercise that would achieve absolutely nothing on the ground.

Local adaption and management techniques should be the sole focus.

Capital Retro10:32 pm 12 Feb 20

With Indonesia, China and India already building dozens more coal fired electricity power generators it is totally pointless to even think about reducing emissions.

The only component that can be reduced is fuel load and the suggestion that the bushfire focus should be about local adaption and management techniques is a sound one.

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