The future of Australia’s only dedicated bushfire research centre remains in limbo after the worst fire season on record.
The Bushire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) was funded after the devastating Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.
It works with state emergency service agencies, universities and governments to help Australia better prepare itself for fire seasons, which are expected to become longer and hotter.
But it runs out of federal funding after June next year, and the government has said it cannot have its funding extended under the legislation that governs CRCs.
On Wednesday, Labor senator Kim Carr echoed calls from experts to provide long-term funding for the centre, arguing it was essential after the deadly summer bushfires.
He told the ABC the government needed to use another funding source to keep the centre going in its current form.
“We can’t get a more important research project, given what we have just come through,” Senator Carr said.
“We have got this enormous threat to this country in terms of increasing numbers of bushfire days, increasing intensity in bushfires.
“Surely, if anything brings home to this government just how serious the situation [is], then the summer we have just been through highlights that point.”
Senator Carr asked bureaucrats in Senate estimates to explain why the Bushfire CRC had to be wound up “given it has been a fairly active time”.
A federal government review of CRCs in 2015 recommended that funding for the centres should be limited to 10 years.
“That review made 18 recommendations, they were all accepted by this government, … [including] there would be no extensions to CRCs, they would be limited to 10-year terms,” said David Wilson, a senior bureaucrat with the Department of Industry.
The bushfire centre is slated to close on June 31, 2021.
Mr Wilson said the CRCs were expected to transition into the corporate and education sectors and continue their work with universities or companies.
Mr Wilson said the department recognised the Bushfire CRC had been “highly effective” in bringing together universities, state emergency services and federal government agencies to study fires and natural disasters.
But the department told Senate estimates that despite the centre preparing to lose its federal funding, it had not slowed its research efforts, including a world-first study on the mental health of emergency service workers.
The Department of Industry’s Jane Urquhart said the CRC had been in active conversations with the Government over future funding collaborations.
“Those discussions are very active and future funding from the government would be a matter for consideration,” she said.
The Minister for Emergency Management last year told the ABC a decision “not to fund” the centre had not been made.