The bushfire royal commission’s final report has recommended Australia creates a new national aerial firefighting fleet funded by state and federal governments.
The long-awaited investigation said it had heard evidence that existing aircraft weren’t shared between states and territories last year because of the intensity and length of the ‘black summer’ bushfire season.
It also criticised the slow progress towards creating a new hazard warning system, which was first called for in 2004.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was first proposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February and is currently headed up by former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, leading environmental lawyer Andrew Macintosh and ex-ADF chief Air Chief Marshal (Ret’d) Mark Binskin.
The commission received more than 1,700 submissions and heard from more than 290 witnesses.
The most significant recommendation is the call for a new “sovereign aerial firefighting capability” that can be easily shared between areas in need.
“The increasing duration of fire seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres, and the increasing duration and severity of fire seasons in Australia, will make it increasingly difficult to share aircraft domestically, and to acquire aviation services when we need them, particularly at short notice,” read the report.
“We, therefore, believe that there is merit in the Australian, state and territory governments together ensuring the development of a sovereign aerial firefighting capability of sufficient size and versatility to better meet national needs.
“We define Australia’s sovereign aerial firefighting capability as the collective Australian-based aerial firefighting capabilities of the states and territories, supported by a national capability which is jointly funded by the Australian, state and territory governments. These capabilities should be maintained through procurement and contracting strategies that support the Australian-based aerial firefighting industry.
“The development of a modest Australian-based and registered national fleet of VLAT/LAT aircraft and Type-1 helicopters, jointly funded by the Australian, state and territory governments, will enhance Australia’s bushfire resilience.”
The commission names climate change as a major factor in the increased severity of bushfires and cites evidence Australia has warmed by 1.4 degrees since 1910.
“State and territory governments should urgently deliver and implement the all-hazard Australian warning system (AWS),” the report states, which would better help make Australians aware of bushfires or natural disasters near them.
Friday’s report comes after the interim findings, released in September, argued Australia had become too reliant on firefighting aircraft loaned from other countries – and warned longer seasons worldwide may make it harder to obtain aircraft in future.
Earlier this year, a new paper by former senior fire and emergency service leaders argued the country needs to radically change its bushfire strategy to concentrate on extinguishing blazes when they’re still small.
The investigation, written by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) group, argued Australia must invest in automated sensors that can allow for the immediate deployment of firefighting aircraft.
“This is a major change in our approach and requires significant investment in early detection and rapidly deployable aerial and ground firefighting forces,” the report argued.
Australian Aviation has also revealed that there were more accidents and safety incidents involving aerial firefighting aircraft in the financial year covering the last bushfire season than any in the previous 20.