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Circling back to: the 2019/20 bushfires

The 2019-20 bushfire season saw some of the worst bushfires in Australian history, with state of emergencies declared in New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. The fires resulted in the loss of lives, extensive property damage, and economic losses. It was also estimated that the fire season contributed to 306 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted. 

Additionally, the 2019-20 bushfire season saw a surge in misinformation, with misleading reports and discourse including the exaggerated extent of arson, blocking hazard reduction efforts, and misleading infographics and maps (plus much more). 

So, what’s happened since the 2019-20 bushfire season on a government level? Let’s circle back. 

Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements

Also known as the Bushfires Royal Commission, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was announced and established in 2020 to look further into the management of natural disasters in relation to the 2019-20 bushfire season. The inquiry started in February 2020 and ended in October last year. 

A total of 80 recommendations were made, with each of the 22 chapters of the report having between one and seven recommendations each. Some of the chapters of the report included supporting better decisions; national emergency response capability; essential services; community education; and Indigenous land and fire management. 

It has been seven months since the final report of the Royal Commission was handed down. Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said last month, “the Federal Government responded to all of the recommendations within weeks, and committed to boosting our federal emergency management capabilities, driving risk reduction and mitigation initiatives, and improving how people experience the recovery journey”. Additionally, he added “we are six months down the track and on track to deliver what we promised”. The Government provides a document that tracks recommendation implementation, you can view the latest document here.

In May 2021, a National Emergency Resilience, Relief and Recovery Agency was announced by the Federal Government to provide support to local communities during the relief and recovery phases following major disasters. The new agency will additionally provide advice to the Government on policies and programs to mitigate the impact of future major disaster events. The agency was established as part of the recommendations made in the Bushfire Royal Commission.  

State inquiries  

Both Victoria and New South Wales established their own independent inquiries into the 2019-20 bushfire season. The NSW report had 76 recommendations that were accepted in principle, with further work to be done on specific timelines. The Victorian inquiry was separated into two phases that span 18 months in total. The first phase was titled ‘Sector and community preparedness and response’ that delivered 17 recommendations, all of which the Victorian Government accepted. The second and current phase now focuses on emergency relief and recovery arrangements.  

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