The bushfires royal commission announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison will focus on “practical” issues including Commonwealth powers when responding to national emergencies.
Mr Morrison said the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements will be about improving natural disaster management coordination across all levels of government, improving Australia’s resilience and adaptation to a changing climate, and providing a legal framework for the Commonwealth.
This will include whether the Commonwealth should have the power to declare a state of emergency and how such a declaration would interact with state and territory emergency frameworks; and whether the Commonwealth should have clearer authority to take action such as deploying the ADF in a natural disaster.
“A legal framework as is necessary for the Commonwealth’s involvement in responding to national emergencies,” the prime minister said.
The royal commission will be led by Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, the former Chief of Defence Force.
He will be supported by two other commissioners, former Federal Court judge Dr Annabelle Bennett and climate change researcher Professor Andrew Macintosh.
The royal commission will look at the practical things that need to be done to keep Australians safer during the longer, dry summers, Mr Morrison told journalists.
He said the Commission “accepts, acknowledges and understands the impact of climate change more broadly” and would focus instead on “the practical things that must be done to keep Australians safer and safe in longer, hotter, dry summers”.
“That’s dealing with the practical things that need to happen, on everything from preparation to response and recovery.”
Six months have been set aside for the royal commission, with commissioners to report back at the end of August.
Working with states and territories
Mr Morrison said the royal commission is not about changing the roles of states and territories, but about how the Commonwealth can work together with them more efficiently.
“This is about how we work together even more effectively and we build on the disaster recovery arrangements that have been put in place by previous governments,” he said.
He also denied it was a criticism of the state and territory response during the Summer fires.
“What it is about is ensuring that the Commonwealth and the states have clear, clear understandings of the legal arrangements that enable the Commonwealth to act, for the states and territories to act, for us to work together,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is about having a national perspective to know what arrangements need to be made when a national state of emergency or disaster needs to be declared.
“There is no such power. There is no such declaration that currently exists and therefore no consequent powers, authorities or actions that would flow from such a declaration,” the prime minister said.
The cost of the royal commission are still being finalised, but Mr Morrison is expecting it to be around $25 million, which is half the amount of the Banking Royal Commission, which went for 12 months.
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