Ex-Home Affairs staffer says ‘compassionate politics’ needed to deal with climate change

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday January 14, 2020

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The federal government has been criticised for failing to adopt a 2018 plan on preparing for natural disasters, including bushfires.

Back in April 2018, the government announced a National Resilience Taskforce would be established within Home Affairs. The taskforce developed a National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, which was published shortly before the leadership spill which saw Scott Morrison take the top job of prime minister from Malcolm Turnbull.

The framework introduction noted:

“More than ever, limiting the impact of disasters now and in the future requires a coordinated effort across and within many areas including land use planning, infrastructure, emergency management, social policy, agriculture, education, health, community development, energy and the environment.”

The document argued that natural hazards were “becoming more frequent and more intense, driven by Australia’s changing climate”.

It proposed four priorities, including “governance, ownership and responsibility”, which called for a national mechanism to oversee and guide disaster risk reduction efforts and cross-sector dependencies, as well as consistent reporting on disaster risk reduction efforts and outcomes.

It also proposed the development of a  national implementation plan for the framework, which was set to be released in 2019. The government has failed to publish such a plan, and has been criticised for its lack of action on the measures outlined in the framework.

Former Home Affairs staffer and leader of the framework, Mark Crosweller, recently told AFR Weekend public policy on climate change at all levels of government has been “confusing and difficult”.

He argued it had been impossible to get proposals adopted “so that significant work can be done in preparation and mitigation”, and “compassionate politics” was needed.

“There’s still a big gap within the context of existing leadership capability. We need a step-change in addressing climate change in the future,”  he noted.

“We’ve got to get out of the habit of living in ignorance of what’s possible.

“We’ve got to sit down with people and discuss what are we prepared to lose and what are we not prepared to lose. Because the reality is we will lose things, and nobody wants to talk about that. But that is the reality of living in the Australian landscape.”

Read more: Handling the ‘pariah’ policy of climate change

In an interview with the ABC’s David Speers, the PM denied that the framework had been “collecting dust” over the last 18 months.

“That’s not true, David,” he said on Sunday. “In the last budget we put $130 million in to establish this risk framework. It has gone to the Emergency Minister’s Council, and was supported by them only in June of this year and now they’re working through the details with local governments to put this in place.”

“This is a longer term risk framework model which deals with one of the big issues in response to climate changing and that is the resilience and the adaption that we need in our community right across the country to deal with longer, hotter, dryer seasons that increase the risk of bushfire.”

A Home Affairs spokesperson told AFR the government was “working with states and territories, as well as industry and the community sector, on a national action plan that sets out specific actions to implement the framework”, but did not say when the plan would be published.

Following the May election, the department reportedly warned its minister, Peter Dutton, of “more frequent and severe heatwaves, bushfires, floods, and cyclones” in an incoming government brief.

“The physical effects of climate change, population growth, and urbanisation mean that without effective action more Australians’ livelihoods will be impacted by disasters into the future and the cost of those disasters will continue to grow,” the document stated.

“Coordinated national action to drive efforts to reduce these risks and improve national resilience is required.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Mark Crosweller had criticised the federal government, whereas the AFR had made the criticism.

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