Bushfire commission says Prime Minister should have had emergency powers

A royal commission sparked by last summer’s devastating bushfires has recommended the Federal Government have the power to declare a national emergency for such disasters.

Oct 30, 2020, updated Oct 30, 2020

Amid warnings such events will become more complex, more unpredictable and more difficult to manage because of climate change, the commission has also called for a more coordinated national response.

Governments at all levels should be engaged, along with indigenous and other communities, to ensure effective disaster management, action and recovery.

“Australia needs to be better prepared for these natural disasters. They may not happen every year, but when they happen, they can be catastrophic,” the commission said in its final report released on Friday.

“The summer of 2019-2020 – in which some communities experienced drought, heatwaves, bushfires, hailstorms, and flooding – provided only a glimpse of the types of events that Australia may face in the future.

“We have concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters.

“This does not mean that the Australian government should take over from state and territory governments.

“Rather, it means that we need whole-of-nation, whole-of-government and whole-of-society cooperation and effort.”

The commission said it should fall to the prime minister to declare a state of national emergency, which would be the catalyst for a more coherent, pre-emptive and expeditious mobilisation of federal government resources.

Ssuch a declaration would be an important signal to communities and individuals about the severity of the disaster and the need for government agencies, including the defence force, to be on high alert to help states and territories in the response and recovery efforts.

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The commission restated a previous recommendation that a body similar to national cabinet be established to take charge of high-level, strategic decisions.

States and territories should also establish their own senior ministerial forums to support the body cabinet and make decisions on how finite resources may be shared across jurisdictions and how best to communicate with the public.

The commission further recommended a standing national resilience and recovery body be set up to better co-ordinate national efforts in those areas.

Last summer’s fires raged across NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia and burned through 10 million hectares, claiming 33 lives and destroyed 10,000 homes and other structures.

More than 80,000 head of livestock were killed and millions of native plants and animals were lost.


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