26 Nov 2020

Bushfires Royal Commission hands down final report – where to next?

By Jo Teagle and Bree O'Connell

How have Governments and industry responded to the Bushfires Royal Commission's final report and what are the likely next steps towards implementation of the report's recommendations?

The final report of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (also known as the Bushfires Royal Commission) was tabled in Parliament on 30 October 2020, setting out 80 recommendations to improve Australia's national natural disaster arrangements, and there are early signs that many of them will be implemented over the course of the next 12 months.

Federal Government Response

The Federal Government announced on 13 November 2020 support (or support in principle) for most of the 55 recommendations directed at Government, including

  • national co-ordination arrangements;
  • improvements to collection and sharing of national disaster risk data;
  • enabling the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency;
  • national register of fire and emergency services personnel and equipment;
  • a Public Safety Mobile Broadband capability;
  • employment protections for volunteers;
  • increased role of the Australian Defence Force;
  • supply chain review to ensure supply of essential goods during natural disasters;
  • community education;
  • evacuation planning;
  • an Australian Fire Danger Rating System;
  • national air quality monitoring and forecasting;
  • Indigenous land and fire management;
  • land use planning and building regulation to address natural hazards risks;
  • single national scheme for regulation of charitable fundraising;
  • nationally consistent delivery of recovery services and financial assistance.

The Federal Government also announced a number of measures it will be implementing:

Bushfires Royal Commission report

[1] Bringing together the functions of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency

[2] Bringing together data from the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Statistics

 

Response of State and Territory Governments

A number of States have already responded to the Bushfire's Royal Commission's final report:

Bushfires Royal Commission report

As the Royal Commission confirmed that the primary responsibility for disaster response lies with the State and Territory Governments, we expect that in addition to the National response (which the States and Territories are intended to play a key role in) all States and Territories will consider the recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission's final report and provide formal responses shortly. Victoria's Inspector-General for Emergency Management is also currently conducting an independent inquiry into the 2019-202 Victorian fire season, with Phase 2 of that inquiry due to provide its report by 30 June 2021.

Industry and Not-For-Profit Response

A number of industry and not-for-profit organisations have also responded to the Bushfires Royal Commission report:

Bushfires Royal Commission report

Where to next?

The Royal Commission expects natural disasters to become more complex, more unpredictable and more difficult to manage, and its findings suggest we are likely to see more compounding disasters on a national scale and Australia needs to be better prepared. The Royal Commission has identified a number of Government measures that will be necessary across land-use planning, infrastructure, emergency management, social policy, agriculture, education, health, community development, energy and the environment.

There is clearly a significant amount of work to be done to implement the Royal Commission's recommendations, by Federal and State and Territory Governments.

We expect there to be an initial focus on legislative review – Governments will, if they haven't already, undertake reviews of their legislation and processes relating to vegetation management, bushfire mitigation and hazard reduction, to ensure clarity for land managers. We also think it is likely that Governments will begin reviewing building regulations and planning laws – one of the Royal Commission's findings was that 90% of buildings in bushfire prone areas have not been built to bushfire planning and construction regulations.

We also note the Federal Government's support for the Royal Commission's recommendation that the insurance industry should produce clear guidance for consumers about what they can do to mitigate the risk of natural hazards to their homes, which then be reflected in reduced insurance premiums. It will be interesting to see how the insurance industry responds.

Finally, it is likely that we will see an extensive procurement program for the various goods and services required to implement the Royal Commission's recommendations.

It is still early days, with a number of State Government yet to issue their response to the Bushfires Royal Commission report, but there are signs that many of the recommendations will be promptly implemented.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.