September 2, 2020
The 2019-20 fires that devastated our country are sometimes called ‘Black Summer’. But the name doesn’t quite fit. Because those fires started in spring. The first fires broke out in Queensland on September 6, last year. That’s a year ago this Saturday.
We are just starting to recover from the last season, and yet the next fire season is upon us. Already, a bushfire is burning in Duranbah, New South Wales. That’s why today I am tabling the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan, and I now seek leave to table that document.
Over recent months, a group of former fire chiefs calling themselves Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, together with the Climate Council, have run a series of workshops and produced the Bushfire and Climate Plan.
The Plan makes 165 recommendations that together would transform the way we prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from bushfires. Among others, they recommend the establishment of permanent community resilience hubs in every bushfire-prone local government area in the country.
They recommend greater investment in bushfire risk and mitigation firefighting, and early detection system using a network of automated sensors, and increased funding to help recruit, train and retain volunteer firefighters.
But the first and the most important recommendation is that the federal government must address the root cause of worsening bushfires through a national commitment to stronger emissions targets and greater ambition to reduce emissions abroad.
This point is timely. Just on Monday, the Bushfire Royal Commission released its interim observations, stating:
“Changes to the climate are projected to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in Australia. Floods and bushfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense. Additionally, as the 2019-2020 bushfire season demonstrated, bushfire behaviour has become more extreme and less predictable.”
In April 2019, the former fire chiefs who wrote this report, came to government and warned we were facing a catastrophic fire season. They called for stronger action on climate change, and increased emergency response capabilities.
But they were not listened to. And as the horrors of the long, Black Summer unfurled as they did, and as was predicted, we were not ready.
Well,the fire season is back. And those leaders are back with another warning. And another call to action.
Last time, the government failed them and they failed the country. The question is this time: will they listen? Will we all listen? We must listen.