The federal government has agreed to implement the bushfire royal commission’s recommendation to establish a standing national resilience and recovery agency to help Australia better prepare for future natural disasters and drive long-term resilience policy outcomes.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and emergency management minister David Littleproud on Friday announced a number of reforms to “enhance and strengthen” the commonwealth’s emergency response and recovery capacity, as part of the federal government’s response to the bushfire royal commission’s final report.
This includes legislation which, if passed, will give the federal government the power to declare a national emergency.
The royal commission made 80 recommendations, including 14 specific to the federal government and 41 shared between federal, state and territory governments.
One recommendation called for the creation of a new commonwealth agency focused on long-term disaster risk reduction and resilience. The government has accepted that recommendation, announcing a National Resilience, Relief and Recovery Agency will be established by July 2021 to drive the reduction of natural disaster risk, enhance natural disaster resilience and ensure effective relief and recovery to all hazards.
The entity will incorporate the functions of the existing National Bushfire Recovery Agency. It will also integrate the functions of the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, as well as the Department of Home Affairs’ disaster recovery and risk reduction functions.
National bushfire recovery coordinator Andrew Colvin said that while the existing bushfire recovery agency would be involved with the establishment of the new entity, it would remain committed to bushfire recovery.
“We’ve learnt a lot this year about recovery on a national scale — that valuable knowledge and the positive relationships we’ve built won’t go to waste,” he said.
“Bushfire affected communities will not be forgotten. We will keep doing the job the prime minister asked us to do and work alongside you, local governments, non-government and not-for-profit sectors, and community groups to help communities recover in their own way.
“Our coordination role will continue with our recovery support officers remaining on the ground, and liaison officers working to support locally-led recovery.”
Another royal commission recommendation called for the responsibilities of Emergency Management Australia (EMA) to be enhanced. In its response, the government said national coordination arrangements within EMA would be strengthened to streamline requests for commonwealth assets to assist states and territories in their preparation and response to disasters.
A Resilience Services function will also be set up to provide EMA and the new National Resilience, Relief and Recovery Agency with climate and disaster risk information and services.
“‘Resilience Services’ will better connect and leverage the commonwealth’s extensive data, information and capabilities to manage climate and disaster risk, including those of the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Statistics,” the government response said.
A National Emergency Management Ministers Meeting will also be established. Initially, the meeting will be responsible for driving and coordinating implementation of the royal commission’s recommendations, and will ensure Australia is “preparing for future disasters at the highest levels” in the future.
As The Mandarin has previously reported, the bushfire royal commission’s final report makes 67 separate references to the phrase “climate change”, and informs a number of recommendations.
While the government’s response to the report acknowledges that “we will collectively face more frequent and intense natural disasters in the future” due to the changing climate, former NSW fire commissioner and Emergency Leaders for Climate Action founder Greg Mullins has accused the government of largely ignoring climate change in its response.
“The federal government has responded to some recommendations that give it more powers, evaded others such as developing Australia’s large aerial firefighting capability, but steadfastly refuses to tackle what the royal commission detailed as being the root cause of why extreme weather is worsening in the first place,” he said.
Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said the government is “putting its head in the sand on climate change”.
“If this government does not start looking around at the states, territories, and overseas to our major trading partners like the US, the UK and China, who are taking progressively stronger action — its legacy will be one of failure,” she said.
“Failure to address climate change, failure to protect our economy, failure to protect jobs and failure to protect Australian lives.”