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

Dominic Giannini 12 February 2020 38
Braidwood

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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38 Responses to Bushfire royal commission needs greater focus on climate change, says Barr
Bill Pappas Bill Pappas 8:52 pm 13 Feb 20

Ya think Morrison will listen to Barr?

rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:20 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.

    astro2 astro2 11:44 am 16 Feb 20

    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.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:21 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.

Marg Mahoney Marg Mahoney 7:02 pm 12 Feb 20

I thought the ACT government's response was good, but suspect that the State governments will have most of the say.

Denise Bourke Denise Bourke 5:48 pm 12 Feb 20

he'll give it's due consideration and meanwhile get support to those who are reskilling and looking to recovery .... plenty of info from all the other royal commissions before he has to commit to anything

Jeannou Zoides Jeannou Zoides 3:39 pm 12 Feb 20

Unfortunately Barr will lose Labour the election he is so totally clueless

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 10:18 pm 12 Feb 20

    Jeannou Zoides Yeah not sure you get what he is saying. He is making a point while not being obstructionist. I’m sure the ACT gov don’t think we need one, but just saying No is straight out of the LNP playbook.

    Trevor Watson Trevor Watson 10:40 pm 12 Feb 20

    We had one after the 2003 fires and did we follow any reccomendations? No instead we built a big moth and an owl.

David Brown David Brown 3:30 pm 12 Feb 20

Great work Andrew. We certainly need another one. The others clearly did not work.

Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 1:24 pm 12 Feb 20

I think Andrew Barr’s request to investigate climate change is a bad idea. It would take years. Why bother to have an IPCC? Much better to assume the climate is getting worse and ask the commission to investigate how to cope with that. That way you might get some results before the next lot of fires.

grim123 grim123 11:49 am 12 Feb 20

So, he doesn’t support it.

Darron Marks Darron Marks 11:43 am 12 Feb 20

Yeah Nah he is definitely NOT going to have a royal commission into his inaction on climate change. It will be completely focused on what the stated/territories didn't do that contributed to the bushfires.

He will also use it as an excuse not to introduce or release any substantial changes to climate policy. Because he will simply now deflect any and every question on the issue that he is now "Waiting on the outcome and recommendations of the royal commission into the bushfires."

Only question is just how long past the next election he can stretch out that royal commission ?

Mark my words on that one kind of clever marketing, one might say don't you think ?

    Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 1:20 pm 12 Feb 20

    Darron Marks actually he wants the Royal commissioner to report quickly. There’s a fair chance that a Royal commission into climate change would take years, and would conclude that if Australia cut its emissions to zero, it would have no effect on the climate, unless the major emitters actually did something.

    Darron Marks Darron Marks 2:05 pm 12 Feb 20

    What makes you think that the major emitters will do anything if countries like Australia don't shame them into reducing their carbon emissions ?

    I mean that is essentially how we have got to this point of signing up to the limited emissions target reductions we already have. So it is in my opinion a valid line of counter argument to your logic ?

    A chicken and an egg situation as are most difficult international agreements. The problem is that in this scenario we are essential like one of the low lying countries that would be most affected by rising sea levels.

    For example we are acutely exposed to the worst effects of climate change necessitating our active participation in pushing for the worldwide adoption of harder targets. Rather than advocating ways of fiddling the emissions reductions targets whilst the country burns to the ground.

    We are the canary in the mineshaft so to speak as to the worst we can expect from climate change due to our pre-existing dry climate.

chewy14 chewy14 11:23 am 12 Feb 20

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 Retro Capital Retro 10:32 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.

Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 11:10 am 12 Feb 20

Watch the states, who’ve been prancing around in the media and blaming the feds, duck for cover when their fuel load management comes under scrutiny...’The climate science’ will this be the same science as the BOM advice that said we’d get no rain until April?

Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 10:49 am 12 Feb 20

Set up an Agency the same or similar to FEMA

    Ian McTaggart Ian McTaggart 3:10 pm 12 Feb 20

    Cary Elliot Johnson it already exists under Peter Dutton. It is called Emergency Management Australia (EMA). It was set up under General Stretton after Cyclone Tracey in the 1970s. Has been operating ever since. It already has the power and plans to preposition assets and prepare for predictable and or predicted emergencies and natural disasters.

Harley Josh Harley Josh 10:12 am 12 Feb 20

Fuel management is far more important than climate change in the short term! Heat, Oxygen and Fuel are required for a fire. We can’t do much about the oxygen, we can do little about the heat, so that leaves fuel as the only majorly manageable item

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 10:15 am 12 Feb 20

    Heat and fuel can both come from climate change. Are you a firefighter?

    Troy Summerfield Troy Summerfield 10:18 am 12 Feb 20

    We should take away the oxygen by pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere. That’ll stop fires.

    Trace Hawker Trace Hawker 10:46 am 12 Feb 20

    Troy Summerfield plus if I'm not mistaken Plants need CO2 to grow. So let's kill the plants by reducing CO2. 😂

    Troy Summerfield Troy Summerfield 11:04 am 12 Feb 20

    There’s so much conflicting science that I don’t know what’s better. More or less CO2. More means less oxygen for fires and less means less fuel for fires 🤔

    Alan Hartcher Alan Hartcher 11:28 am 12 Feb 20

    Peter Marshall no peter, what hes saying is that heat and oxygen arent 'manageable' whereas the fuel load is.

    Heat and oxygen levels will change with the climate, managing that is a whole different problem that will have flow on effects everywhere, both positive and negative

    Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 1:16 pm 12 Feb 20

    Peter Marshall we could cut our emissions to zero tomorrow and unless the major emitters do something it will have no effect. Even if they all began to cut drastically, it will take decades to have any effect on the problem we face. So having some lawyer investigate climate change is a waste of resources. Better to focus on what can be done before the next fire season.

    Andrew Toal Andrew Toal 1:20 pm 12 Feb 20

    Peter Marshall "in the original scientific paper, RCP8.5 had just a slim 3% chance of becoming reality."

    Climate science does an about-face: dials back the ‘worst case scenario’

    Anthony Watts / 3 hours ago February 11, 2020

    A surprising comment published January 29th in the leading scientific journal Nature said; “Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading – Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy.” This has thrown a monkey wrench in hundreds of studies and media stories that previously predicted dire climate consequences in the future due to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere.

    The consequences were predicted by a computer model called Representative Carbon Pathways (RCP) and the worst case scenario model, RCP8.5 had been cited over 2500 times in scientific journals and in hundreds of media stories as the primary need for “urgent action” on climate. Predictions from RCP8.5 model suggested maximum global temperature increases of nearly 6°C (10.8°F) by the year 2100

    But, in the original scientific paper, RCP8.5 had just a slim 3% chance of becoming reality. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00177-3

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 10:14 pm 12 Feb 20

    Harley Josh fuel load is really not as manageable as you want to believe. We have forests the size of countries. It’s impossible to manage the fuel load to prevent fire and it’s going to cost a lot of money which I’m sure won’t come from federal coffers.

Mark Goodman Mark Goodman 9:59 am 12 Feb 20

As long as it is not going to be used to create a backdoor entry on National Security grounds. The legal and Constitutional separation between States/Territories and the Federation of Australia is somewhat important in our open democracy.

Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 9:55 am 12 Feb 20

Why bother?

They’re ignoring the Aged Care Royal Commission and are lying about it recommending privatising aged care assessment teams (which the PM is going ahead with so all aged care will be private sector owned and operated) when that RC is not even completed. And the aged care RC have said they haven’t recommended more privatisation and it was a lie.

So these are monumental wastes of money to get people believing the government will do something and shut everyone up for two years while they go along as before.

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 9:45 am 12 Feb 20

Unless the RC looks at the issue of Climate change, emmissions, the relevant science, increased land clearing rates, urban sprawl, planning policies and the cuts to NPWS & RFS funding and expertise in the previous couple of years leading up to the Fire season, there's no point.

Jamie Mcgahey Jamie Mcgahey 9:42 am 12 Feb 20

Had royal commission after royal commission and csiro reports on fuel loads for the last 15yrs anc all been ignored.....

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 10:14 am 12 Feb 20

    Well that was in Victoria, and NSW is a different context. Also 11 years on, climate change is a much greater issue, and even more urgent due to lack of action in the intervening years.

    Jamie Mcgahey Jamie Mcgahey 10:24 am 12 Feb 20

    Peter Marshall work on facts not hype.

Aldo Milin Aldo Milin 9:15 am 12 Feb 20

What is this Royal Commission going to cost and who are the beneficiaries going to be one may ask. It's definitely going to be a cash cow for the usual suspects. We had a RC into the black Saturday fires and how many of the recommendations were implemented? More action to properly manage forests is the best solution to the problem which requires considerable resources on all fronts.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 10:12 am 12 Feb 20

    You meant action on climate change.

    Aldo Milin Aldo Milin 11:19 am 12 Feb 20

    Peter Marshall No one is disputing anthropogenic climate change which has exacerbated the horrific conditions we've experienced however intelligent forest management is still an absolute necessity which has not occurred in recent years.

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