Call for national response to catastrophic bushfires
THE risk of catastrophic bushfires can be reduced but not eliminated by hazard reduction burns and land management, according to a new report.
A Royal Commission into national natural disasters arrangements following last summer's devastating blazes which killed 33 people and destroyed more than 3000 homes has also called for better national co-ordination when fires and storms strike.
Interim observations released yesterday also warned that the record dry and hot conditions before the catastrophic bushfires, which started in Queensland last August, were "no longer unprecedented".
"Catastrophic fire conditions may become more common, rendering traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective," the report says.
The report, which delivered "preliminary views" rather than draft recommendations, said National Cabinet or a similar peak intergovernmental body, could better respond to future natural disasters.
"Current arrangements do not provide a clear mechanism to elevate matters to national leaders," the report says.
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud welcomed the call and said states, which had operational management of disasters, had already "done a lot of the legwork" towards better co-ordination.
"They have done an outstanding job over some trying circumstances and we will continue to support them and continue to formalise where those trigger points are where the Australian government can help and support," he said.
The report said land management and hazard reductions could reduce bushfires risks but their effectiveness depended on factors such as weather and cost, community awareness, regulatory settings and "shortening of seasonal windows".
It said states and territories were primarily responsible for regulating land management but the "practical implementation rested with the land manager".
"There is a need for further education and research to improve understanding of the effectiveness of these activities under severe to catastrophic bushfire weather conditions," it says.
The report said 2019-20 set a "new benchmark for an extreme fire season in Australia's temperate forest" with many communities also getting hit by hailstorms or flooding.
The fires killed 33 people, destroyed more than 3000 homes and buildings and wiped out or displaced an estimated three billion animals.
Insured losses topped $2 billion while the economic cost on tourism, hospitality, agriculture and forestry was about $3.6 billion with a further $2 billion in health costs, the report says.
"Government agencies and non-government organisations have struggled to provide a full and clear picture of the devastating impact of these bushfires, in part because of inconsistencies in how data about natural disasters are collected, collated and shared across the nation," it says
The release of the interim report was aimed to improve Australia's disaster preparedness before the coming bushfire season.
The final report is due on October 28.
Originally published as Call for national response to catastrophic bushfires