The 2019-2020 bushfires started in Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Much of the country was in drought, and the first bushfire started in the middle of winter. Over the following months, fires burnt across tens of millions of hectares of land, threatening and displacing hundreds of communities. Many thousands of volunteers and professional emergency responders worked tirelessly and made great sacrifices to save lives, homes and precious natural landscapes.
For many communities, the bushfires were not the only disaster they faced that summer. After the drought and the fires came storms and floods, and before the last fire was extinguished, Australia announced its first case of COVID-19. Australia’s ability to coordinate nationally, learn and adapt, in the face of deep uncertainties and rising risks, had been tested.
The Commission has concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters. This does not mean that the Australian Government should ‘take over’ from state and territory governments. Rather, it means that we need ‘whole-of-nation’, ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-society’ cooperation and effort.
The Australian Government should lead in the development and coordination of a long-term, national strategic policy directed at making Australia resilient to natural disasters. It is uniquely placed to see the national picture, the national risks, and the impacts on all Australians. However, like all governments, it should also increase its capacity to address the complex and long-term strategic problems in disaster risk management and resilience.