The government has yet to show it is taking the findings of the bushfire royal commission seriously, 33 ex-fire and emergency service chiefs have said.
The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) group has also argued authorities seem to have rejected the report’s core recommendation to create a larger national firefighting fleet to be shared between states and territories.
The landmark investigation, released in October 2020, also criticised the slow progress towards creating a new hazard warning system, which was first called for in 2004.
ELCA founder and ex NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins said, “The federal government’s ‘accountability document’ is welcomed, however, its response shows that many recommendations are only supported ‘in principle’ or have merely been ‘noted’.
“Particularly worrying is the federal government’s apparent rejection of a strong recommendation to develop a local aerial firefighting capability due to longer fire seasons worldwide reducing access to large aircraft at times that we need them most in Australia.
“The federal government must clarify whether it accepts all the recommendations it is responsible for, and commit to the urgent climate action that is needed to tackle the root cause of Australia’s worsening extreme weather and bushfire crisis.”
Peter Dunn, ex ACT emergency services authority commissioner, said the government has ignored the finding that climate changed fuelled the 2019-20 bushfire season.
“The science says that Australia must get to net zero emissions well before 2040, but the government still refuses to commit to a net zero target, which every state and territory has already done, along with countries that buy more than 70 per cent of Australia’s fossil fuel exports,” said Dunn.
“From the Black Summer fires that ravaged the east coast last year to the fires raging in the Perth Hills right now, bushfire survivors, emergency service workers and volunteers are living the consequences of accelerating climate change.
“ELCA will continue to ask critical questions about how the federal government proposes to improve bushfire response and work toward a safer climate.”
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was first proposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February 2020 and was 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 was the call for a new “sovereign aerial firefighting capability” that can be easily shared between areas in need.
Meanwhile, the ELCA group released its own report in July 2020, which argued that Australia needs to radically change its bushfire strategy to concentrate on extinguishing blazes when they’re still small.
The investigation also said the country must invest in automated sensors that can allow for the immediate deployment of firefighting aircraft.