MP welcomes bushfire royal commission interim report

2 Sep 2020

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has welcomed the Interim observations released by the Bushfire Royal Commission this week.

“Mayo experienced enormous losses in the Black Summer Bushfires in both the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island. The bushfires burnt through more than 300,000 hectares, around 185 homes were destroyed, and three people lost their lives,” Rebekha said.

“Many of the observations in the interim report echo the feedback I have received from the landholders, government stakeholders, emergency services and recovery agencies.”

Of the nearly 150 observations, Rebekha noted the commission’s comments on:

  • The need for clarity about the roles and responsibilities of various levels of government and better co-ordination of resources sharing.
  • The benefit of having a single national body responsible for natural disaster recovery and having recovery programs that quickly and effectively deliver recovery assistance.
  • The recognition that successful recovery is community-centred and requires structured and uniform support from all levels of government and non-government organisations.
  • The need to make hazard information publicly available so landholders can make informed decisions.
  • The need for nationally consistent bushfire warning and rating systems.
  • The need to modestly increase Australia’s nationally based aerial firefighting capability.
  • The need for more investment in nationally interoperability of communications equipment.
  • The need for greater collaboration to overcome information gaps on wildlife management and species conservation.

“One of the biggest challenges my community faced during the initial recovery was the release of funding to local government areas,” Rebekha said.

“I repeatedly found myself bounced between State and Federal Governments when trying to secure additional funds for bushfire-affected councils, and it quickly became apparent that the left hand wasn’t talking to the right when it came to funding arrangements.

“I am not blaming either Government, but I do want to highlight the pain and frustration caused by the bureaucracy.”

Early in the recovery, Rebekha also wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, asking the Federal Government to consider increasing its annual commitment to aerial firefighting capabilities beyond the $26 million committed in the 2019/2020 financial year.

“Evidence shows that our fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, and Australia is going to need its own aerial resources sooner, rather than waiting for resources to complete contractual obligations in the Northern Hemisphere,” Rebekha said.

“I also asked the Government to consider allocating extra funding to the States and Territories to provide more resources to the more than 200,000 volunteer firefighters and support staff working for fire service organisations across Australia.

“The Government needs to heed the Commission’s observations on firefighting resources.

“Loss of communication during the bushfire and for days and weeks afterwards was another issue raised by my community.

“Inter-operable communications for emergency personnel is obviously a communications priority but I would like to see the Commission make future recommendations for more resilient communication platforms for communities living in the fire-affected areas.”

Rebekha supported the Commission’s recommendation to prioritise a standardised national warning system and fire danger rating system and the call for a national communication education campaign.

“More investment is also needed into communication platforms that proved more resilient during the Black Summer Bushfires, including ABC AM radio and mobile NBN satellite equipment,” Rebekha said.

“I’ve previously written to the State Premier about the importance of real-time monitoring during a disaster and how it could provide the early warning signals needed to ensure people leave at the earliest opportunity.

“The technology exists today, and I think a nationally consistent system would be a sensible investment in the long-term recovery and resilience of disaster-prone communities be it fire or flood.”

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements released its "interim observations" report on Monday after receiving 1,700 submissions and hearing evidence from 290 witnesses over the past six months.

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