Developing a national response to extreme weather: coordination, roles and
This chapter considers the roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth,
state, territory and local governments in Australia, as well as coordination
between the different levels of government in managing and responding to
extreme weather events. This chapter also discusses progress towards effective national
coordination of climate change response and risk management, including areas
The division of responsibilities between different levels of government
This section considers the responsibilities of the Commonwealth, state
and territory and local governments in Australia in relation to extreme weather
events and climate change adaptation.
As the Commonwealth government has noted, 'identifying the roles of government
in adapting to climate change is the first step in building a coordinated approach'.
At the federal level, a number of departments and agencies have roles
and responsibilities relevant to managing and responding to extreme weather
events. The roles of key departments and agencies are set out below.
The Attorney-General's Department provides national coordination of
emergency management, enabling a 'whole-of-nation, resilience based approach to
preventing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters'.
Some of the Attorney-General's Department's work in this area includes the Critical
Infrastructure Resilience Strategy, which aims to ensure the resilience and
continued operation of Australia's critical infrastructure and the continuity
of essential services in the face of all hazards, including extreme weather
The Attorney-General's Department, through its Emergency Management
Australia Division also operates the Australian Crisis Coordination Centre
which is a 'dedicated all-hazards facility'. The Crisis Coordination Centre
'monitors and informs on domestic and international weather events which may
impact, or cause disruptions to Australians'.
The Centre also:
- centralises and coordinates information across the Australian government,
states and territories during a crisis in Australia;
- coordinates Australian government physical and financial
assistance for disaster relief – including Disaster Recovery Payments;
maintains the Disaster Assist website, which aims to provide
'better access to information about recovery assistance following a disaster';
- maintains response plans to provide Australian government
assistance to states and territories in response to an emergency—and, in
particular, the Australian Government Disaster Response Plan.
A number of agencies are involved in the dissemination of information
relating to extreme weather events. For example, as discussed in Chapter 2, the
Bureau of Meteorology is involved monitoring, assessment and forecasting of
Australia's weather and climate system, and provides forecasts and issues
weather warnings. It often works collaboratively with state and territory governments
when issuing those warnings.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and
particularly its Climate Adaption Flagship, undertakes research designed to
deliver 'the best available scientific information and expertise to support
Australia's efforts to adapt to climate change today in a practical and
The Department of Human Services, in the event of emergencies caused by
extreme weather events, has responsibilities to:
- ensure the continuity of payments and services, including
delivering emergency payments;
- support pharmacists in dispensing Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme medicines;
- participate in local and state/territory recovery committees,
including delivering services from established recovery centres; and
- support national emergency call centre surge capability to allow
federal, state and territory government agencies to divert excess call loads
received on their emergency (non-triple zero) call lines to the Department of
In 2011, the Department of Human Services implemented its own Emergency
Management Framework which outlines the command, control and coordination
arrangements for emergency responses.
The health implications of extreme weather events were considered in Chapter 3.
The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) submitted that, in the event of an extreme
weather event of 'national consequence', its primary role is to 'provide
leadership and national health sector coordination', including:
...provision of expert health advice and national policy
development, logistical coordination of extra jurisdictional health sector
resources (human, equipment and peripherals) and linkages to international
health authorities and bodies.
DoHA noted that the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,
which reports to the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council, has
produced the National Health Emergency Response Arrangements to 'articulate the
strategic arrangements and mechanisms for the coordination of the Australian
health sector in response to emergencies of national consequence'.
DoHA also advised that it had responsibilities in relation to aged care
service providers, including supporting them in relation to risk management for
emergency events to ensure continuity of care for people who receive aged care
services, with minimal disruption; and providing advice and education to
support them to develop adequate emergency management plans.
In terms of mental health, the department also noted that Commonwealth funded
mental health programs can be used in the medium to long term to support people
affected by loss and trauma as a result of extreme climate event.
The critical importance of telecommunications in the context of extreme
weather events was discussed in chapter 4. The Department of Broadband,
Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) noted that 'while the government
monitors developments, the maintenance and resilience of the commercial
telecommunications network is ultimately a matter for the telecommunications
That department also noted that the Commonwealth government has developed National
Guidelines for the Request and Broadcast of Emergency Warnings in
consultation with state and territory governments and peak broadcast media
bodies. The guidelines aim to improve the effectiveness and consistency of
arrangements between all broadcast media, and all emergency management
organisations, for the request and broadcast of emergency public warnings.
The committee notes that a number of other Commonwealth departments may
also be involved in managing and responding to extreme weather events,
including the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which provides
assistance and support to farm families in times of drought.
The Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Forces may also be
involved extreme weather events. Where civilian resources are inadequate,
unavailable or cannot be mobilised in time, emergency Defence Assistance to
the Civil Community arrangements enable the Australian Defence Force to
contribute in order to save human life, alleviate suffering and prevent loss of
animal life or property. Provision of Defence assistance follows a request from
the relevant state or territory government to Emergency Management Australia. Over
recent years, Australian Defence Force personnel have been involved in a number
of domestic natural disaster relief efforts, including, for example, after
Tropical Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland; and the Victorian bushfires in 2009.
Finally, the leading agency coordinating the Commonwealth government's
response in terms of adaptation for climate change is the Department of
Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
DIICCSRTE advised that climate change adaptation work across the Australian
government is guided by several key policy documents, including the National
Climate Change Adaptation Framework (Adaptation Framework) agreed by COAG
in 2007; and the 2010 Australian government Adapting to Climate Change: An
Australian Government Position Paper (Adaptation Position Paper).
The Adaptation Framework is discussed later in this chapter.
The 2010 Adaptation Position Paper notes that 'different levels of
government have different responsibilities and will therefore have different
roles in helping Australia adapt to the impacts of climate change'.
The Adaptation Position Paper identifies four key roles for the Australian
government in climate change adaptation:
- maintaining a strong, flexible economy and social safety net;
- leading national reform;
- managing Commonwealth assets and programs; and
- providing national science and information.
The Adaptation Position Paper identifies six national priority areas for
action: water, coasts, infrastructure, natural ecosystems, natural disaster
management, and agriculture.
In terms of natural disaster management, the paper simply states that 'action
is required to ensure that we have the capacity to respond to a likely increase
in natural disasters'. The paper also highlights the importance of embedding
adaptation considerations and responses within existing policy and
The Adaptation Position Paper also states that a 'Climate Futures
Report' will be produced every five years 'to track our progress on positioning
Australia to adapt to climate change' and 'to evaluate how effective our
collective adaptation efforts are'. It proposes that an initial Climate Futures
Report will be produced before the end of 2010.
However, at the time of writing, no Climate Futures Report appears to have been
between Commonwealth government departments
In terms of coordination between Commonwealth government departments in
relation to management of extreme weather events, DIICCSRTE advised that an
Interdepartmental Committee on Adaptation was established in 2008 to provide a
mechanism for whole-of-government consultation and coordination on climate
change adaptation policy and reform.
DIICCSRTE further told the committee that 'a strong focus of the Committee for
2012–13 was on agreeing a coordinated whole-of-government response to the
Productivity Commission's inquiry into barriers to effective climate change
However, some submissions called for a new independent Commonwealth
government agency to coordinate climate change adaptation responses. The
Australian Network of Environmental Defender's Offices (ANEDO), for example, suggested
that the role of the Climate Commission could be expanded:
...there is a need for an authoritative climate change
adaptation body, which will undertake investigation and planning, coordinate
other institutions and actors, and advise government and the public generally.
Presently, the Climate Commission has a limited remit along these lines, but
its functions and resources are limited and they are not targeted specifically
to the climate adaptation problem. The Climate Change Authority has a mandate
generally limited to review of mitigation efforts. What is required is an
institution...dedicated to development of adaptive capacity....The Climate
Commission could be developed into such an entity, providing advice and
recommendations on both mitigation and adaptation issues.
States and territories
Some submissions to this inquiry expressed the view that the
Commonwealth government has a limited role with respect to responding to and
managing extreme weather events and that primary responsibility rests with
state and territory governments in their emergency management capacity. For
example, the Attorney‑General's Department advised that:
...primary responsibility for the protection of life, property
and the environment rests with the States and Territories in their capacity as
first responders during times of emergency.
State and territory governments also have primary responsibility in the
areas of health, in particular the delivery of hospital care. DoHA advised that:
State and territory health authorities have well established
emergency management legislation, and well-rehearsed and integrated emergency
management arrangements. Jurisdictional health authorities have existing
command and control structures for the management of health facilities, public
health units and pathology laboratory services. Additionally, in some
jurisdictions ambulance services also come under the health authority response
DoHA further submitted that each state and territory is responsible for
determining its own internal coordination mechanisms to give effect to the
National Health Emergency Response Arrangements.
For example, the committee was advised that state governments have their own
heat plans—to provide information messages and to deal with the increased loads
State and territory governments also manage major infrastructure that
may be affected by extreme weather (for example ports, transport networks).
Finally, state and territory governments, in conjunction with local government,
are also responsible for a range of relevant regulation, including building
codes and land use planning regulations.
These issues are considered later in this chapter.
At the same time, the committee heard that some states may lack capacity
and coordination in the area of climate change adaptation.
For example, Associate Professor Laura Stocker expressed the view that the West
Australian government 'in general does not identify climate science and coastal
adaptation as a critical issue outside of the Department of Planning, who
happen to work in that area'.
Associate Professor Stocker expressed the view that this is particularly due to
concerns about liability.
This issue is discussed further later in this chapter.
Role of local government
The committee heard that local governments play a key role in dealing
with extreme weather events. Indeed, local government was described as being at
the 'front line' of climate change.
For example, the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) submitted
Local Governments are increasingly at the forefront of
climate change adaptation impacts, whether it is the impact on Local Government
asset such as roads or planning for sea level rise impacts on coastal
communities. Recently, it has become vital for Local Governments to prioritise
preparedness for extreme weather events as the number of instances continues to
The Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research noted that:
Local governments have a critical role to play in climate
change adaptation. The impacts of climate change are local and contextual.
Further, often local government has the best knowledge of the local
circumstances and is most closely in contact with those who will bear the costs
and benefits of climate change impacts. Thus, it is the most appropriate level
of government for many adaptation actions.
In particular, local governments coordinate and facilitate disaster
management in their local area and lead community recovery operations.
In some states, this role is stipulated through legislation; for example in
Western Australia local governments' key responsibilities in relation to
emergency management are stipulated in the Emergency Management Act 2005 (WA)
and Bush fires Act 1954 (WA).
Similarly, the Brisbane City Council submitted that, under the
Queensland Disaster Management Act 2003, it has an all hazards
management plan, which is reviewed and tested annually and includes
comprehensive disaster management arrangements for specific events. So, for
example, during the 2011 floods, the Brisbane City Council set up a Local
Disaster Coordination Centre to ensure a 'coordinated council and interagency
response' and which included 'relevant liaison officers from external agencies'
to ensure seamless communication and support.
However, as noted in chapter 2, local governments are calling for more
localised data to understand how climate change will affect them at the local
Local government is also responsible for the administration of relevant
local planning and development regulations, and building codes. Building codes
are discussed later in this chapter.
Some submitters called for more resources to support local government in
relation to planning and implementation of climate change adaptation measures,
including preparation and review of climate change adaptation plans and
disaster response plans, and standard planning instruments.
For example, ANEDO stated:
The status of local government and the resources, skills,
information and competence available to local governments need to be boosted
The Productivity Commission report recommended that:
To help clarify roles and responsibilities of local
government for climate change adaptation, the state and Northern Territory
governments should publish and maintain a comprehensive list of laws that
delegate roles to local governments. This would assist both state and local
governments assess whether local governments have the capacity to discharge
their roles effectively.
The Australian government agreed in principle to this recommendation,
but noted that it is primarily a matter for state and territory governments,
and that it would refer the recommendation to those governments for
Developing effective coordination between governments
Submitters noted the need for a nationally coordinated and collaborative
approach to deal with extreme weather events.
As the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) observed:
...the reality is that disaster mitigation and addressing
disasters really requires a partnership between the three levels of government.
One of the issues that often comes up is the debate around roles and
responsibilities between the three levels of government, but the reality is it
is supposed to be an integrated partnership between the three levels of
Similarly, the Local Government Association of Queensland recognised
that 'no one level of government is able to properly manage all elements of
disaster management, which include prevention, preparation, response and
recovery' and 'nor can any one element be properly managed in isolation'.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) submitted:
Planning for the impacts of climate change and extreme
weather requires efforts beyond any single agency or portfolio, and greater
efforts are required to achieve a whole-of-government approach and better
coordination across agencies and portfolios, and across different tiers of
Others also highlighted the importance of strong national leadership by
the Commonwealth government in relation to climate change adaptation and
responding to extreme weather events.
For example, the Conservation Council of Western Australia argued:
...it really requires a federal government process to comprehensively
assess what the risks are across different jurisdictions and in different
communities and then look at what the appropriate response is from a local
government to a state government to a federal government level and, in some
cases, it will be various combinations of those.
Dr Steven Hambleton from the AMA agreed:
In many cases it is a response at a local level...We cannot
rely on local governments and even state governments to get it right. There
needs to be some leadership at a federal level.
The committee heard that there have been a number of initiatives,
particularly by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), in recent years
attempting to improve the coordination in relation to the management of climate
change adaptation and extreme weather events. The committee heard that
coordination between different levels of government has increased in recent
years, but there is still room for improvement. Various initiatives and areas
for improvements are discussed further below.
Role of the Council of Australian
Several submitters and witnesses suggested that COAG can and should play
a role in improving inter-governmental coordination in relation to extreme
Indeed, the committee heard that have been a number of initiatives by COAG
recently to attempt to improve the coordination in relation to the management
of climate change and extreme weather events. These include the:
- Select Council on Climate Change;
- National Strategy for Disaster Resilience; and
- National Climate Change Adaptation Framework.
Select Council on Climate Change
COAG established a Select Council on Climate Change in February 2011.
The purpose of the Select Council on Climate Change was to:
- support an effective response to climate change policy issues
with national implications; and
- provide a forum for the Australian government to engage with
states, territories, local government and New Zealand on program implementation
As the Productivity Commission noted in its recent report on Barriers to
Climate Change Adaptation (as outlined in Chapter 1):
...the COAG Select Council on Climate Change provides a forum
for the Australia Government to work with state, territory and local
governments on implementing climate change programs.
In 2012, the Select Council on Climate Change adopted a statement on Roles
and Responsibilities for Climate Change Adaptation in Australia.
This document outlines the respective roles of the Commonwealth, state,
territory and local governments in helping Australia adapt to the impacts of
climate change. In terms of the Commonwealth's role, it largely reflects the
Adaptation Position Paper as discussed earlier in this chapter. It further
states that the focus for state and territory governments should be on:
...ensuring appropriate regulatory and market frameworks are in
place, providing accurate and regionally appropriate information, and
delivering an adaptation response in areas of policy and regulation that are
within the jurisdiction of the state. This includes key areas of service
delivery and infrastructure, such as emergency services, the natural
environment, planning and transport.
In terms of local government, the statement recognises that:
Local governments are on the frontline in dealing with the
impacts of climate change. They have a critical role to play in ensuring that
particular local circumstances are adequately considered in the overall
adaptation response and in involving the local community directly in efforts to
facilitate effective change. They are strongly positioned to inform State and
Commonwealth Governments about the on-the-ground needs of local and regional
communities, to communicate directly with communities, and to respond
appropriately and in a timely manner to local changes.
The Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research noted:
The Statement of Roles and Responsibilities is necessarily 'high
level' and meant to provide general guidance, but implementation of the
Statement needs to take account of the suitability of its approach for
application in the many situations in which there is not a clear line between
public and private and between local, state and federal jurisdictions, or where
there are 'gaps' in the allocation of requisite authority.
The committee notes that the last meeting of the Select Council was in
March 2013. DIICCSRTE advised that the Select Council on Climate Change has
recommended to COAG that a permanent body to discuss ongoing joint issues
related to climate change is not required and that climate change adaptation
work should continue under the COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water.
However, the committee notes that this does not appear to be reflected in the
current list of strategic priorities of the Standing Council on Environment and
The committee is also aware that the Productivity Commission has
recommended that COAG commission an independent public inquiry to develop an
appropriate response to managing the risks of climate change to existing
The Commonwealth government responded that it would 'consult with state and
territory governments on the best way to address this issue'.
National Strategy for Disaster
Another initiative by COAG frequently referred to in submissions is the National
Strategy for Disaster Resilience—Building the resilience of our nation to
disasters (National Disaster Strategy), endorsed by COAG in 2011. The
Attorney-General's Department explained that the purpose of the National
Disaster Strategy is to:
...provide high-level guidance on disaster management to
federal, state, territory and local governments, business and community leaders
and the not-for-profit sector. The Strategy focuses on priority areas to build
disaster resilient communities across Australia and recognises that disaster resilience
is a shared responsibility for individuals, households, businesses and
communities, as well as for governments.
The Australian-New Zealand Emergency Management Committee
is responsible for the implementation of the National Disaster Strategy. Implementation
is also being overseen by the Standing Council on Policy and Emergency
Management, which comprises responsible ministers from the Commonwealth,
states, territories, New Zealand and a representative of the Australian Local
Submitters were generally supportive of this strategy, expressing the
view that it had improved coordination. For example, Dr Steve Hambleton from
the AMA expressed the view that the National Strategy had 'improved
coordination' but told the committee it still has some significant gaps around
the health impacts of extreme weather events.
The Australian Red Cross believed that one of the strengths of the
National Disaster Strategy was that it recognises the importance of
Dr Michael Eburn also spoke positively about COAG providing high level
guidance through the National Disaster Strategy, saying the role of COAG is:
... to set that high level policy and to then encourage and
work with the states, who then have to encourage and work with their local
governments to give it effect and teeth.
Mr Peter Davies from the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency
Services described the situation in the Northern Territory:
...the relationship between the Commonwealth and the Territory
in terms of the flow of information has improved dramatically in recent years.
Emergency management has become far more professional in recent years through
the now Emergency Management Committee, and the cross‑fertilisation of
ideas has been really good.
However, the committee also heard that there is still considerable room
for improvement in coordination in relation to emergency management. For
example, the committee heard there is a need for better national coordination
of fire services. Mr Peter Marshall, National Secretary, United
Firefighters Union of Australia said:
It is our experience that the fire services are not
coordinated to the extent where there is a central body that has standard
policies and procedures. This was borne out in the royal commission here in
Victoria, where the interoperability of the fire services was virtually
non-existent. That is not in the interests of the public and it is not in the
interests of the government to fund the fire services...We do not have common
standard operating procedures across Australia. Each fire service does their
These differences in operating procedures impact the ability of
firefighters from one jurisdiction (for example NSW) to effectively assist in
fire operations in other states (for example Tasmania).
The committee notes that poor coordination in the area of emergency
management was considered at length by the Productivity Commission in its
report on Barriers to effective climate change adaptation. The
Productivity Commission observed that:
Each emergency service organisation has its own legislation,
organisational hierarchy, training programs, operational processes and
resources — which may result in a fragmented (or 'silo') approach to emergency
The Productivity Commission made a detailed recommendation that the
Australian government undertake a public and independent review of disaster
prevention and recovery arrangements.
Compatibility and interoperability between emergency service
organisations has been the subject of ongoing discussion. As noted in chapter
4, the committee examined this issue in part during its November 2011 inquiry
into the capacity of communications networks and emergency warning systems to
deal with emergencies and natural disasters. The committee also notes the
recent report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement examining
Spectrum for public safety mobile broadband.
The committee urges Australian governments to specifically address issues
of compatibility and capacity to facilitate the most effective interoperability
of emergency service organisations and their key personnel, especially for fire
The committee recommends that Australian governments specifically
address issues of compatibility and capacity to facilitate the most effective
interoperability of emergency service organisations and their key personnel,
especially for fire services.
National Climate Change Adaptation
In 2007 the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework (Adaption
Framework) was endorsed by COAG. The Adaptation Framework 'covers a range of
cooperative actions between all Australian governments to begin to address key
demands from business and the community for targeted information on climate
change impacts and adaptation options'.
The framework identified two priority areas for potential action: building
understanding and adaptive capacity; and reducing vulnerability in key sectors
and regions. It also promised the establishment of an 'Australian centre for
climate change adaptation'.
In terms of extreme weather events, the framework identified two
potential areas for action in relation to natural disaster management:
undertake research to improve knowledge on the nature and
expected extent of changes to existing risk profiles as a result of climate
change for key events such as bushfires, flooding, cyclones, storm surges, wind
and hail damage; and
incorporate climate change issues into the planning for natural
disaster response management, including the review of the 'National Disaster
and improving information for emergency services and communities to foster
awareness of climate change and adaptation responses.
Implementation of the framework
However, submitters generally argued more work is needed to fully
implement and build on the framework. The Climate Institute submitted that the framework:
...provides an adequate foundation for government action to
improve Australia's readiness for climate change. One of the most important
aspects of the Framework is as a tool to drive better coordination of action
across all levels of government. However, the lack of progress made in implementing
the Framework is deeply concerning.
The Australian Risk Policy Institute argued that Australia needs to
'move beyond' the framework; simply 'positioning' Australia to act on climate
change was not enough.
The AMA and the Climate Institute called for a 'refresh' of the framework.
The Hon Robin Chapple MLC, while describing the framework as a 'valuable and
key statement of intent' noted that 'it is unclear as to whether the aims
outlined in the Framework have been achieved'.
In suggesting that the framework be refreshed, the Climate Institute expressed
the view that:
Australia still lacks a nationally coordinated approach to
managing climate risks to major infrastructure, with much of the burden of
policy implementation left to local councils – the least-resourced and most
decentralized level of government. Information on Australia's preparedness for
likely climate impacts is fragmentary and dispersed.
At the local government level, the City of Melbourne submitted that
there are still opportunities for improvement in effective national
coordination of responses, strategies and support for adaptation activities.
The City of Melbourne expressed the view that 'advancements in this area have
not been felt at a local government level'.
Others, such as the Local Government Association of Queensland, noted that the framework
was due to be reviewed in 2011, but this 'does not appear to have occurred'.
However, DIICCSRTE advised that, between 2007 and 2012, the Commonwealth
government provided $126 million to establish the 'Australian Centre for
Climate Change Adaptation Program' to support the implementation of the
The committee notes that the DIICCSRTE website lists government 'initiatives
contributing towards the implementation of the framework'. It is stated that
- CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship—investment
of $44m over five years for CSIRO to develop scientific solutions to help Australia
adapt to the impacts of climate change and to inform national planning,
regulation and investment decisions.
- Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF)—a
Research Facility based at Griffith University in Queensland to bring together
national expertise to help Australia, our industries and communities adjust to
the impacts of climate change.
- Australia's Farming Future—provides $130m over four years
to improve the ability of primary producers to respond to climate change and
manage their emissions.
- Caring for our Coasts—helping local communities protect
the Australian coastline and prepare for the impact of climate change.
- National Coastal Vulnerability Assessment—to help better
understand how climate change may impact our coastal communities.
- Forest Industries Climate Change Research Fund—$5 million
to address major knowledge gaps about the impact of climate change on forestry
and forest industries in Australia.
- Local Adaptation Pathways Program—provided around $2m in
funding to help local government build their capacity to respond to the likely
impacts of climate change.
- Climate Change Adaptation Skills for Professionals Program—an
investment of almost $2m to fund tertiary education, training institutions and
professional associations to revise or develop professional development and
accreditation programs for architects, planners, engineers and natural resource
- Water for the Future—provides $12.9 billion and aims to
secure the water supply of all Australians, with four key priorities: taking
action on climate change; securing water supplies; using water wisely; and
supporting healthy rivers.
However, the committee also notes that some of these initiatives are no
longer being funded, including the National Climate Change Adaptation Research
National Climate Change Adaptation
As noted above, one of the key initiatives arising out the Adaptation
Framework, was NCCARF, which the committee understands is not being funded
beyond 30 June 2013.
The Commonwealth government provided $50 million to fund NCCARF which
was formed in 2008 to lead research in:
...a national interdisciplinary effort to generate the biophysical,
social and economic information needed by decision-makers in government, and in
vulnerable sectors and communities, to manage the risks of climate change
NCCARF has done this through three main programs:
- research to develop new information;
- networks that coordinate Australia's research community, build
capacity and support effective interaction between research and decision-making
NCCARF focused on delivering information to decision-makers to support
climate change adaptation investments and initiatives, and to allow end users
of the research to be involved. In this way, NCCARF sought to build the
capacity of the Australian community to adapt effectively to climate change
NCCARF's research portfolio of 142 projects involves 33 Australian
universities, 61 Commonwealth, state and local government entities, and 26
private institutions. These are focussed on adapting to the impacts of extreme
events, which are predicted to be a key outcome of climate change.
This has built research capacity within universities about adaptation, and also
amongst decision makers and communities
and was described by the Director of NCCARF, Professor Palutikof, as placing
'Australia in a globally leading position with respect to climate change
with the corollary being an understanding of extreme events.
NCCARF supported eight thematic networks that have around 5000 members.
These thematic networks were:
settlements and infrastructure;
social, economic and institutional dimensions (including climate
change adaptation as it relates to Australia’s Indigenous communities);
water resources and freshwater biodiversity;
marine biodiversity and resources;
terrestrial biodiversity; and
These networks played a significant role in facilitating communication
between researchers and those implementing appropriate adaptations. As the
committee was told, NCCARF has interpreted scientific information to make it
meaningful to the practitioner community and has acted as a:
...broker between the scientific community and the practitioner
community to ensure that there is a common understanding of needs and also to
act as an interpreter of the information about future climate change on behalf
of decision-makers. We can work with decision-makers to help them to understand
how much we know about climate change going forward, where the uncertainties
lie and how practitioners can work with those uncertainties in order to
maximise the benefit of climate model output.
Many saw the value in the interdisciplinary work that NCCARF was
facilitating, contributing to a cohesive research agenda around adaptation for
extreme weather events. Witnesses expressed concern about the future of this
good work once funding for NCCARF ceased, and especially about the capacity of
decision makers to make evidence based decisions.
Professor Bruce Thom, an expert on coastal management, representing the
Wentworth group, expressed his regret at the imminent conclusion of NCCARF,
stating that '...we are going to leave lots of decision making, both in the
private sector and in the public sector, in the lurch'.
He went on to say:
The CSIRO have their adaptation flagship, so there is an
entity there, but that does not do the same sort of thing that NCCARF did,
which was coming out of those types of projects that were very much linked to a
lot of local government concerns. When you have these sorts of programs and you
start them up for four years, you are really only just getting going.
Professor David Karoly also pointed out the contribution that NCCARF had
made in relation to preparedness for extreme weather events:
The NCCARF had a disaster management and emergency response
network in addition, and that will also disappear as a network. That was one of
the few that were really coordinated across Australia in terms of research on
changes in natural disasters in response to climate change.
Associate Professor Stocker explained the gap which would occur with
NCCARF have done an important job in hosting regular
conferences, where we have all been able to meet and share ideas and
information. The lack of ongoing funding for NCCARF is a problem for climate
adaptation. The CSIRO is also doing good work and a lot of universities are
doing coastal and climate adaptation work. But NCCARF had been the agency that
was bringing all of that together and trying to coordinate it.
Associate Professor Stocker highlighted the importance of NCCARF's
The process of collaboration is incredibly important with
climate adaptation because it is such a complex and interdisciplinary area. You have physical oceanographers, you have meteorologists, you
have geomorphologists. Then there is the whole social side of the research
about institutional arrangements and what institutional arrangements are best...
We need mechanisms whereby we can have collaborative coproduction of knowledge.
The committee was advised that NCCARF was only ever intended to be a
five year program, and had been extended by a further year to the end of June
2013. Further funding was not allocated to NCCARF in the 2013–14 federal
Gaps in the framework
The committee also heard there are gaps in the National Climate Change
Adaptation Framework which need to be addressed. For example, Save the Children
Australia pointed out that the Adaptation Framework 'does not mention children,
families, or schools anywhere in its consideration of building understanding
and adaptive capacity, nor in reducing sectoral and regional vulnerability'.
The AMA commented that although COAG committed to including a national
strategy for health and climate change in the Adaptation Framework, this has
...a critical shortcoming in the current Adaptation Framework
is the failure to develop a National Strategy for Health and Climate Change.
The AMA recommends that this strategy be developed to complement the National
Adaptation Framework, and to ensure Australia can better respond to the future
health impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.
Dr Steve Hambleton of the AMA explained that the Australian government
...develop a comprehensive and coordinated national strategy
for climate change and health. We need policy leadership at this level to drive
action and co-operation across all tiers of government—state governments, local
governments and local sectors, with local groups being engaged.
The AMA argued:
Despite the profound health risks posed by climate change and
extreme weather events, the response to these risks has been characterised by a
lack of national coordination and policy leadership... the national framework
perpetuates the silo mentality that demarcates policy into discrete areas, and
provided little impetus for the whole-of-government response needed to respond
to climate change...It is critical a refreshed national framework supports
improved communication and joint planning between portfolios, including health
and ageing, environment, and infrastructure. Greater consideration is also
needed to link the framework into other relevant national strategies and
actions plans, and to articulate the respective roles and responsibilities of
different tiers of government.
Ms Fiona Armstrong from the CAHA also called for a national strategy on
how to respond to the health risk of climate change:
Certainly there needs to be engagement across the sectors and
between portfolios. We think it is regrettable that there is not currently much
interaction between the climate and health portfolios. We could be developing
policy that is very effective in terms of meeting our climate commitments and
addressing and improving public health at the same time, but unless we have
integration between these portfolios that will not occur. A national plan for
climate and health would sit, I imagine, within the health portfolio but it
would need to integrate closely with a whole range of other sectors to be
However, DoHA submitted that it is currently conducting an assessment
across jurisdictions of the 'readiness of the Australian health system to
respond to climate change'. DoHA explained that the assessment has a primary
focus on governance and planning mechanisms within the health system and will
enable identification of actions required to improve the health system's
responsiveness to climate change.
Other areas for improvements to
Submitters also suggested a number of other areas where there is a need
for better coordination and responses between and across governments. These
legislative and regulatory reform at the national level;
- coordination and dissemination of information;
- construction standards and building codes; and
land use planning.
These are considered in further detail below.
Legislative and regulatory reform
A number of submitters argued that legislative and regulatory reform at
a national level would assist in the coordination of climate change management.
For example, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) said 'the
consensus is that the establishment of systems, standards and legislative and
regulatory frameworks to effectively coordinate and empower key sectors (in
particular local government) is overdue'.
Brisbane City Council similarly argued national legislation and
standards would improve coordination. Mr Jason Cameron, Manager, Disaster
Operations told the committee:
Consistent nationwide disaster and emergency management
legislation and standardisation would provide increased opportunities for
interoperability and support between states and territories across Australia.
Consistency in the areas of responsibility, terminology, naming conventions,
funding and strategic program arrangements would further assist local areas in
enhancing preparedness and achieving greater community resilience. Examples of
these areas may include incident management systems, terminology, levels of
activation, interoperability between agencies and a nationalised disaster
management set of standards.
Finally, Dr Michael Eburn argued that the Commonwealth has 'not clearly
defined its role' in responding to extreme weather events and that 'effective
national coordination of response to extreme weather events caused by climate
change' ideally requires overarching Commonwealth natural disaster legislation.
Dr Eburn pointed out that Australia does not have an individual statutory
officer to manage and coordinate the federal response, unlike countries like
the United States.
He believed Commonwealth legislation should be enacted to provide for a
national coordinator 'with the necessary powers to require agencies and states
to be coordinated'.
Dr Eburn gave the following example to illustrate the need for legislation
that defines and clarifies Commonwealth powers and key roles and responsibilities:
Assume there were some disaster in Australia and we needed to
fly in a supply of medication that had not gone through the therapeutic goods
assessment process but needed urgent clearance, and it was going to be flown
into Sydney airport outside the curfew hours. I think there were 11 separate
emergency declarations that had to be made by different ministers declaring
that this was an emergency, rather than having the ability of the Commonwealth
to declare: "This is an emergency. All these things will come into
As noted earlier in this chapter, submitters and witnesses also identified
the need to clarify concerns about liability, which may be stymying
coordination between state and territory governments. Dr Eburn noted that his
research indicated that liability issues are 'horribly overstated':
If you actually look at how often litigation occurs it is
incredibly rare and, so far, liability has not been established against these
agencies, because the courts recognise they are making tough decisions in tough
times in imperfect situations.
Nevertheless, the committee heard that liability concerns affect both
state and local governments. The ALGA stated that councils are concerned about
liability stemming from planning decisions when looking at adaptation to
Associate Professor Stocker commented that liability issues are also a
concern for state governments. She expressed the view that the Western
Australian government 'is certainly keen to divest itself of all responsibility
and liability in terms of storm surge or sea level rise'. She further noted
Local government is very anxious that that liability is going
to end up on their plate. They neither have the financial nor technical
capacity to make the responses that they need to make now. They also very
concerned about injurious affection. If they make decisions that disadvantage,
for example, a developer, they are worried about being sued by that developer.
They are very concerned about legal liability. Whether they act to respond to
sea level rise or whether they do not act, they are concerned about legal
liability either way. They would like the Commonwealth government, as it is
expressed to me, to clarify and alleviate their concerns about liability.
ANEDO similarly submitted that:
Among other changes that need to be implemented in respect of
local government are development of uniform national provisions for local
government liability for climate-related impacts...
The committee notes that the Productivity Commission recommended that:
Local governments' uncertainty about their legal liability is
a barrier to effective climate change adaptation. State governments should
clarify the legal liability of councils with respect to climate change
adaptation matters and the processes required to manage that liability.
The Australian government noted in its response to the Productivity
Commission report that it had funded two reports to help clarify legal
liability issues of concern to local government, but acknowledged that 'local
governments' current uncertainty about their legal liability is a potential
barrier to effective climate change adaptation'.
The committee notes that the Productivity Commission rejected
suggestions of a systematic review of regulations to identify constraints to
effective climate change adaptation, noting that it had already identified a
number of regulatory barriers and proposed reforms to address them.
However, as noted earlier, the Productivity Commission did recommend, for
example, that the Australian government commission an independent review of
disaster prevention and recovery arrangements.
Coordination and dissemination of
The committee was informed that there could be better coordination and
dissemination of information relating to extreme weather events.
The committee notes that data collection, research and projections in relation
to extreme weather events have also been discussed in chapter 2. For example,
the Australian Local Government Association argued councils need more data on
the likely impact of weather changes at the local level to help them 'make more
The committee also heard that improvements could be made in relation to
flood warnings, mapping and monitoring. For example, local governments carry
much of the responsibility when it comes to flood risk management. The Bureau
of Meteorology noted that local governments are responsible for issuing flash
Flood risk mapping in NSW is the responsibility of councils.
Similarly in Queensland, the LGAQ argued the 'burden of data collection,
modelling and analysis' for local planning has been left to local governments
The Bureau of Meteorology noted that flood level monitoring is one area
that could be improved. The Bureau relies on river level data from state
agencies and local governments which vary in capacity; for example most
agencies are unable to service monitoring equipment 24 hours a day seven days a
There is also a lack of consistency around flash flood warnings—many local
governments 'lack the resources and technical expertise' to deliver quality
flash flood warnings.
The Bureau of Meteorology concluded that the current problems associated
with flood monitoring are not due to a lack of effort or goodwill, but rather
'there are simply too many players with varied responsibilities and capacities,
for an adequate, let alone future-ready, national flood monitoring network to
The committee also heard examples of where stakeholders are working
together to improve flood coordination. For example, the Floodplain Management
Association works with local, state and federal governments to 'develop and
implement appropriate policies to reduce flood risks in the future'.
The organisation has a membership of around 100 local councils, flood
mitigation trusts, businesses and catchment authorities.
The committee is also aware that the Productivity Commission considered
this issue in its report on Barriers to Effective Climate Change Adaptation.
The Commonwealth government, through Geoscience Australia, is establishing a
flood risk information portal, to 'provide a single access point to flood
mapping data' and to 'improve the quality, availability and accessibility of
flood mapping information in Australia'.
As the Productivity Commission noted:
This is an important initiative. Better coordination of flood
mapping across Australia will allow for improved management of flood risk in
the current climate. It will also provide a stronger basis for future measures
to adapt to changes in flood risk due to climate change.
The Productivity Commission further considered that:
...this initiative should also be expanded over time to
encompass other natural hazards (particularly bushfires). A single source for
natural hazard information would make it easier to assess the quality and
consistency of existing information and identify areas for improvement.
In response, the Commonwealth government noted that:
... the coordination and dissemination of natural hazard
information, including flood risk, coastal inundation, bushfires and extreme
weather elements, will continue to be a core role for the Australian government.
Construction standards and building
A number of submitters and witnesses raised the need for improved and
nationally consistent construction standards and building codes.
For example, insurance industry representatives argued coordinating building
codes (to improve the durability of houses to withstand extreme weather events)
would help reduce future risk.
The Brisbane City Council argued 'there is a key role for the State Government
in developing and maintaining building standards for buildings in flood risk
The experience of recent natural disasters demonstrates the value of
improved construction standards. Associate Professor David King, Director of
the Centre for Disaster Studies, James Cook University, described how older
homes in North Queensland suffered increased damage from Cyclone Yasi:
Yasi hit all the way from Cairns down to Townsville. All of
that whole coast was within the cyclone impact and suffered fairly extensive
damage. But the houses stood up. Wherever you went afterwards, the post-1980s
houses were relatively undamaged....There was remarkable security and stability
in the housing stock of North Queensland.
He attributed this to improvements in building codes:
There was legislation. There was a code. You had to build
that way from around 1980—the late seventies onwards. Most of the damage was to
houses that were pre-1970s, flimsily built houses—fibro, timber. The older
houses were the ones you see in the pictures of total destruction. When you are
looking at the whole of the community, you can see these pockets of total
destruction and the majority of the houses are virtually untouched. So building
codes work. From that, I conclude the legislation works.
Mr Davies of the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services also
noted that nationally coordinated building codes have assisted in preparedness
for cyclones. He argued the construction standards have led to less damage from
The building codes issue has been taken up nationally. We
subscribe to national building codes, so where they are adjusted in regard to
those sorts of projections the NT government follows along. For cyclones, for
instance, we are region C. That drives the way our houses are constructed up
here. As you would have seen from recent events on the east coast, the houses
built to those construction standards performed very well in quite major
Several submissions supported the need for national coordination in
terms of developing uniform standards.
The committee notes that there is a National Construction Code, which has been
developed and maintained by the Australian Building Codes Board, which reports
to the COAG Building Ministers' Forum. The Productivity Commission recommended
that this forum should 'develop a work program to embed consideration of
climate change in the National Construction Code'.
The Commonwealth government noted in its response that the Building Ministers'
Forum has agreed to the inclusion of climate change adaptation in their forward
Land use planning
A number of submitters and witnesses raised the importance of risk
informed land use planning in preparing for climate change and the impact of
As outlined earlier in this chapter, land use planning is a responsibility of both
state and local governments. However, CSIRO noted that:
A key issue is that the ability of one tier of government to
make a decision (within its respective responsibility) is constrained or even
compromised by decisions at another level of government. For instance where
local governments have statutory responsibilities for local planning and
development controls, they do not generally have the capabilities to manage
many of the legal and financial risks generated from those decisions. This is
particularly the case in implementing planning controls on private property for
storm surge events and coastal inundation where local governments have
repeatedly looked to State Government to provide adequate legislative
protection, regulatory clarity and or financial support to guard against legal
action arising from local decisions made in the public good to limit risk.
The committee was also concerned to hear that local governments do not
always have the capacity or resources to adequately plan for climate change or
extreme weather events when making planning decisions.
Professor Palutikof, from the National Climate Change Adaptation
Research Facility, argued that a lot of people working in local government
'lack the support that they need in terms of policy, regulation and legislation
in order to feel that they are able to act around adaptation'.
ANEDO submitted that there is a need for standard planning instruments to
provide guidance to local government on matters such as coastal planning in the
context of climate change.
Submitters noted the need for land planning to consider the risk posed
by extreme weather events; and for the community to be informed of these risks
when choosing to live there. For example, the Northern Alliance for Greenhouse
Action identified an:
...urgent need for climate change impacts, including extreme
weather events, to be incorporated into local governments' planning and
implementation of infrastructure and services, as well as urban planning and
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC)
argued emergency services can only do so much if people continue to live in
areas of high risk. Mr Paul Considine told the committee that AFAC considered
land use planning to be 'an extremely important issue':
...choices are being made by people and by governments across
Australia about the use to which people may put land and about the areas which
will and will not be developed...What we want people to understand is that using
land which is subject to natural catastrophes comes with risks and that those
risks cannot be deferred to emergency services or passed on. They have to be
accepted. If the decision is made to use the land in a particular way, the
risks should be understood and it should be understood that emergency services
cannot fill that gap.
The ALGA believed that there has been less cooperation and discussion
around planning and climate change adaptation since the dissolution of the COAG
Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council. The ALGA called for the
resurrection of that forum to discuss planning issues, particularly in relation
to natural disasters and climate change.
For example, the South Australian State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) noted
that the ministerial council had published guidelines on 'Planning Safer
Communities', which suggests, among other matters, that land use planning
consider strategic controls on the use and development of land in high risk
The committee notes, once again, that the Productivity Commission
considered land-use planning issues in its report on Barriers to Effective
Climate Change Adaptation. The Productivity Commission stated that:
Local governments should consider the impacts of climate
change in land-use planning decisions and should also consider changes to
land-use planning regulations.
The Productivity Commission further recommended that:
As a priority, state and territory governments should ensure
that land-use planning systems are sufficiently flexible to enable a risk
management approach to incorporating climate change risks into planning
decisions at the state, territory, regional and local government levels.
Consideration should be given to:
- transparent and rigorous community consultation processes
that enable an understanding of the community’s acceptable levels of risk for
different types of land use
- the timeframe of risks and the expected lifetime of
proposed land use
- the costs and benefits of land use.
State and territory governments should provide appropriate
guidance to local governments to implement these provisions in local government
The Commonwealth government agreed in principle to this recommendation
in its response, noting that it would refer the recommendation to the states
and territories for consideration.
Need for collaboration with the community
Finally, the committee heard that solutions to climate change at the
local level require a collaborative research response from scientists and local
communities. Associate Professor Laura Stocker explained why collaboration is
No one person has all the answers, so we actually need a
vehicle for coming together and working together, not just as scientists, but
with a community. Local people have knowledge, Indigenous people have
knowledge. We need mechanisms whereby we can have collaborative coproduction of
knowledge. That knowledge that emerges from those collaborative exercises is
critical in terms of generating knowledge which is both applicable and local
and, therefore, usable by local governments. That is what we are struggling
with at the moment. We are pulling all the different types of information
together and making it applicable and locally relevant to, say, the City of
Mandurah or the cities of Bunbury or Busselton.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) argued that governments
need to collaborate more with the third sector when it comes to emergency
planning, response and management. Dr Cassandra Goldie, Chief Executive
Officer, explained ACOSS's position:
...we think really important planning must be done around
collaboration and coordination. I am struck by the number of times when I have
listened to government leaders talk about these events they talk about the role
of the SES and the police—all the important emergency services—and the impact
on businesses and farming communities, but it is rare for them to talk in any
shape or form about this really important third sector of community
organisations. Our expertise is in collaboration and coordination and human
relationships. In the end, that is what is going to make the difference in
terms of whether we recover quickly and well and we are stronger after that or
we are going to be worse off and for a long time. So participation of our sector
is absolutely vital.
Similarly, the Australian Red Cross recommended that a stronger focus is
given to the role of community organisations as contributors to emergency
management policy and practice development.
For example, the Australian Red Cross noted that the National Strategy
for Disaster Resilience recognised that emergency management and disaster
resilience is a partnership between communities, agencies, the private sector
and governments. It felt that membership of relevant committees, including, for
example, the Australia New Zealand Emergency Management Committee should
reflect this 'shared responsibility'.
The committee notes that the role of businesses, households and the community
is recognised in a number of relevant initiatives outlined in this chapter,
including the COAG statement on Roles and Responsibilities for climate
change in Australia and the National Disaster Strategy.
Indeed, the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research
noted that the emphasis in current policy is on 'shared responsibility' for
disaster risk management and adaptation, involving business, households,
industry and community organisations as well as government.
The Centre agreed that all Australians need to take some level of
responsibility, but noted that:
...this does not negate the need for government involvement,
especially in the areas of strategic planning, risk mitigation and provision of
resources. In many cases government, particularly at a federal level, is more
appropriately positioned to access and collate information, assess and broker
insurance needs, and implement large scale or resource intensive risk
mitigation measures. Further, some sections of the community are not in a
position to mitigate risk, because of age, infirmity or poverty. This is an
issue of particular note in regions at risk, such as in rural and remote areas
and for highly vulnerable communities.
Australia has experienced severe extreme weather events in recent years;
and the evidence to the committee suggests that we are likely to experience
them in greater frequency and/or intensity in the future. Preparing for, and
responding to, extreme weather events requires cooperation, collaboration and
coordination across a range of sectors and governments.
At the same time, national leadership by the Commonwealth government is
also required. The Commonwealth government's own position paper on climate
change adaptation identifies the importance of leadership at a national level
in terms of managing and responding to extreme weather events. Rather, during
the course of the inquiry, it became apparent to the committee that the
Commonwealth government's oversight of its response to climate change and
extreme weather events has not achieved all that is required. Key documents,
such as the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework, have not been
reviewed or properly implemented. Promised reports measuring Australia's
progress on adapting to climate change, such as the 'Climate Futures Report',
have not materialised.
The committee notes that a number of initiatives designed to implement
the National Climate Change Adaptation Framework have been discontinued,
including NCCARF. The committee agrees that NCCARF has created valuable
opportunities for researchers, practitioners and academics to share their
knowledge and experiences, to identify gaps in policy and practice and to build
capacity around adaptation for extreme weather events. NCCARF also did this by
publishing easy to read and understand fact sheets and practice guides, and
providing accessible forums and seminars on a range of topics related to
While the committee is pleased to see improvements in recent years in
terms of coordination between different government agencies at the local, state
and territory and Commonwealth level, particularly work by COAG, there is
clearly still room for improvement.
The committee agrees with evidence that COAG should coordinate responses
across governments to climate change and extreme weather events. The committee
notes evidence that climate change adaptation work will continue under the
Standing Council on Environment and Water. The committee considers that COAG should
continue to play an important role in improving coordination across governments
in relation to climate change adaptation and managing extreme weather events. A
number of areas where such coordination could be improved have been discussed
in this chapter.
In this context, the committee notes that the Productivity Commission
made a number of recommendations in its report on Barriers to Effective
Climate Change Adaptation (please see Appendix 3 of this report). These
recommendations were designed to help clarify roles and responsibilities of
various levels of government in Australia in relation to climate change and
extreme weather events. The committee broadly endorses the recommendations of
the Productivity Commission and, where possible, suggests that the Australian
government implement those recommendations as soon as practicable.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government works
with state and territory governments to continue to implement the recommendations
of the Productivity Commission report, where possible, to improve coordination
in relation to climate change adaptation.
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