Report calls for Indigenous-led fire strategy, major disaster law to hold feds to account

By Shannon Jenkins

July 30, 2020


A group of more than 150 experts and community members has launched a national plan calling on governments across Australia to address climate-fuelled bushfires.

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) developed the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan at the recent National Bushfire and Climate Summit 2020 — a joint effort between ELCA and the Climate Council, which was attended by former and current emergency leaders, Indigenous fire practitioners, health professionals, farmers, community leaders, social service providers, economists, local mayors, climate scientists, bushfire survivors and more.

The report directs 165 recommendations to governments, fire and land management agencies and communities to help mitigate and adapt to worsening fire conditions through more effective bushfire readiness, response, and recovery.

Deloitte Access Economics partner Nicki Hutley noted the economic cost of extreme weather events in Australia would likely grow to $39 billion per year by 2050, while public health physician Dr Kate Charlesworth said that in the long term, the climate-crisis was the biggest threat to people’s health.

“Reducing emissions, building community resilience, and boosting emergency resourcing can help us avoid huge economic impacts and damage in the future, while creating clean new jobs right now,” Hutley said.

The plan’s key recommendations to governments included:

  • Create a national climate disaster fund to meet climate-fuelled disaster costs and build resilience, to be paid through a fossil fuel producer levy,
  • Better resource fire and land management agencies to manage fuels, detect and attack outbreaks,
  • Add medium and large aerial firefighting capability to Australian fire services,
  • Set up an Indigenous-led National Cultural Fire Strategy to complement and inform fuel management by agencies,
  • Establish an independent insurance price monitor so that Australians in disaster-prone areas can insure and be more resilient,
  • Continue Telehealth so that people in bushfire-affected areas can access remote healthcare.

Climate Councillor and former Fire & Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins said some recommendations could be implemented by all levels of government “right now” to better protect communities.

“Climate change has pushed Australia into a new bushfire era where we must fundamentally rethink how we prepare for and manage this growing threat,” he said.

“It’s important that the federal government takes these recommendations seriously and acts on them urgently. First and foremost, the federal government must tackle the root cause of climate change by urgently phasing out fossil fuels to reach net zero emissions.”

The report called for a new federal law that “provides a clear role and accountability for the federal government before, during and following a major disaster, including triggers for when it is required to assist state and territory governments”.

Read more: Public servants advised at conference ‘not to discuss the link between climate change and bushfires’

It also suggested a National Security Strategy be created for a broader framing of security inclusive of food, water, health and economic security, with “appropriate priority” given to climate and other environmental risks, and involvement from the Department of Defence.

“Defence should be enabled to contribute effectively to domestic disaster response, as appropriate, including through identifying gaps in current disaster response capabilities that could be filled and supported by Defence, undertaking exercises for domestic disaster response, and appointing permanent military liaison officers to state level planning authorities,” it said.

Federal, state and territory governments should increase funding for volunteer recruitment, training and retention programs, the plan said, as well as establish and fund permanent community resilience hubs in every local government area in vulnerable parts of the country.

In a section on landscape management in the age of climate change, the plan recommended increased funding for the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO to enable partnering with state and territory government agencies and Emergency Management Australia — or a new national coordination agency — while expanding predictive services as a basis for short, medium, and long-term planning.

ELCA hopes its findings will be included in the Royal Commission’s final report, which is set to be delivered to the government next month.

Read more: Recruiting and working remotely for 75% of its existence: how Bushfire Recovery Victoria has risen amid two crises


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