The bushfires royal commission has called for adequate resourcing for local government to reduce fire risks, respond to disasters and steer communities back to recovery.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Report, handed down last Friday, says governments have a clear role in disaster mitigation, response and recovery, with primary responsibility lying with state and territory governments.
However a large part of state and territory responsibility is – and should be – delegated to local government, which plays a central role in areas including land use planning, roads management, emergency centres and emergency relief.
“State and territory governments should take responsibility for the capability and capacity of local governments to which they have delegated their responsibilities in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from natural disasters,” it recommends.
“Ultimately, state and territory governments remain accountable, and should therefore ensure local governments have the support and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities.”
The report confirms the role of local government in roadside vegetation management, evacuation planning and mental health support after a disaster.
It says along with state and territory governments, local councils should be required to consider disaster risks in planning decisions for new developments, and they should engage with traditional owners on Indigenous fire management practices.
“Australian, state, territory and local governments should explore further opportunities to leverage Indigenous land and fire management insights, in the development, planning and execution of public land management activities,” the report recommends
Meanwhile, there should be greater representation by the Australian Defence Force in local government exercises, briefings, and planning for natural disasters.
State and territory governments should also ensure arrangements are in place for sharing resources between their local governments during natural disasters.
LGNSW welcomes report
LGNSW President Linda Scott says the commission’s recommendations underline the fact that local government will be on the frontline of changing climate conditions and an increased risk of natural disasters.
She applauded the commission for acknowledging the importance of funding for a locally led response.
“The royal commission also highlighted the reliance of local governments on the ability to access a ‘surge capacity’ during disasters and identified a pressing need for the state government to review existing arrangements around the sharing of council resources,” she said.
Cr Scott said NSW councils also welcomed recommendations for improved data sharing and mobile broadband capability; more use of ADF resources; better management of donated goods and an increased investment in post-disaster mental health support.
The report also calls for a National Cabinet-style forum for strategic decision making about disaster management.
“Equally important is for local government to have a seat at the National Cabinet, in line with the Commission’s recommendation for a senior ministerial forum to make strategic decisions about national natural disaster arrangements,” Cr Scott said.
More than 100 Local Government Areas were impacted by the 2019-2020 bushfires, which burnt across tens of millions of hectares of land, killing 33 people and destroying more than 3,100 homes.
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