News National National state of emergency plan after ‘black summer’ of bushfires

National state of emergency plan after ‘black summer’ of bushfires

The bushfire royal commission made 80 recommendations in its final report. Photo: AAP
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The federal government says it will create a new law that will allow it to declare a national state of emergency if needed during future natural disasters.

The idea was one of a raft of recommendations made by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, called in the wake of the 2019-20 bushfire season.

The national state of emergency would allow the government to take action and provide help to states and territories facing threats, even if they have not asked for it.

In its response to the commission’s final report, the government said it would introduce legislation to enable the declaration.

“The Commonwealth government supports and welcomes this recommendation which recognises that such a declaration is necessary in an ‘all hazards’ approach to national natural disaster events, including those beyond fires and floods,” it said.

“A national emergency declaration will facilitate expeditious national responses, allowing provision of capabilities beyond the capacities of individual states and territories.”

It said the Commonwealth would work with states and territories to look at what it could do to best “complement actions” made by jurisdictions in emergency situations where the declaration is made.

The 80 recommendations from the commission provided advice on a range of areas, from the coordination of all levels of government during emergencies, warning systems for the public, climate data, the role of the Australian Defence Force and how charities and other groups can best respond in the wake of disasters.

The commission recommended a national aerial firefighting fleet and the purchase of additional aircraft.

No support for national aerial firefighting fleet

While the government supported, or supported in principle, most of the 55 recommendations directed at it specifically or all levels of government, it will not take on board the recommendation to establish a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet.

In its final report, the commission suggested the Australian, state and territory governments should create a national firefighting fleet, and resource it with at least one very large or large air tanker and extra pilots and support staff.

At the moment, states own specific firefighting planes and lend them to other jurisdictions when in need, but the states and territories also rely on being able to borrow extra-large air tankers from other countries.

The government noted the recommendation, but said it acknowledged the “maturity, experience and effectiveness” of the current aerial capabilities of the states and territories.

“The Commonwealth has no desire to replicate or replace these capabilities,” it said.

“The Commonwealth encourages states and territories to work collaboratively and with industry to build Australian-based aerial firefighting capacity, consistent with their sovereign obligations to maintain appropriate operational response capabilities.”

It also noted a suggestion that Emergency Management Australia should be in charge of managing the new fleet, saying it was “comfortable” with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre retaining control.

“The Commonwealth will continue its annual contribution of $26 million to the NAFC, indexed from 2020-21,” it said.