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 Orroral Valley Fire is one of the biggest ecological disasters in ACT history. About 80% of Namadgi National Park has been burnt.
Environment Minister Mick Gentleman has been tasked with leading the ACT Government response which will be focused on Park renewal and recovery. pic.twitter.com/uVQXrlSUra
— Andrew Barr MLA (@ABarrMLA) February 10, 2020
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.”