2019–20 Australian bushfires—frequently asked questions (updates)

2 July 2021

PDF version [453 KB]

Dr Daniel May
Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Section

This paper updates and adds to the March 2020 Parliamentary Library research paper entitled 2019–20 Australian bushfires—frequently asked questions: a quick guide.


How much land was burned?
How many species have become endangered/extinct?
What caused the 2019–20 Australian bushfires?


What inquiries were conducted?

State and territory inquiries

What were the health impacts from the bushfires?
How much was donated to charities, and what issues arose?
What should the 2019–20 fires be called?
Further resources 

All links in this paper were valid as at 2 July 2021.

How much land was burned?

Establishing how much land was burned in a bushfire can be difficult. There are several factors behind this. Generally, bushfire analyses have tended to focus on individual bushfire events on the most catastrophic day, rather than an entire bushfire season which can stretch across several months across multiple states. Black Saturday in 2009, for instance, was the worst day of that bushfire season in Victoria. It comprised a number of separate fires (some ignited on the day, some already burning) and containment efforts lasted several months following the day, however, much analysis tends to be confined to the day itself. In contrast to this, the 2019–20 bushfires occurred across a range of fire regimes from July 2019 to late February 2020.[1]

In ascertaining the affected area of the 2019–20 bushfires, some media commentators and government agencies include the area burnt in northern Australia—which is problematic given the prevailing monsoonal fire regimes are quite different to those of south-eastern Australia.[2] It is typical for extensive parts of the tropical north (especially savanna) to burn (one paper estimates that 25–45 million hectares is burnt in northern Australia on an annual basis).[3] Indeed, the Northern Territory had a relatively average 2019–20 bushfire ‘season’.[4] It is, therefore, debatable whether northern Australia should be included in this assessment. If the 2019–20 bushfire season is being regarded on a continental level, then it would be appropriate to include figures from northern Australia. However, including such figures may overshadow the figures from eastern and southern Australia and distract from what made these particular fires unusual.

It is also important to note that discussions of area ‘burnt’ or ‘burned’ should reflect the nuances of Australia’s fire ecology. Entire ecological communities were burned and may face an increased risk of extinction (see ‘How many species have become endangered/extinct?’ below). However, many Australian species and ecological communities are surprisingly resilient to fire and may survive seemingly devastating bushfires,[5] while others require consistent specific patterns of fire to propagate.[6] Therefore, it may be inappropriate to refer to these areas as having been ‘destroyed’.[7]

Similarly, bushfires may not have uniform effects over an area, due to differences in topography, vegetation, moisture content, fire history, and wind.[8] There can be some ambiguity around the terms used to describe fires and their variable impacts on ecological communities, for example, ‘fire intensity’ usually refers to the physical properties of a fire (that is, the amount of energy it released) and, due to the above concerns, many fire ecologists may use the term ‘fire severity’ to describe the effect of this energy on an ecological community.[9]

For the 2019–20 bushfires, the Commonwealth Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements ‘struggled to obtain consistent burnt area data on a national scale’, and found estimates of area burnt that ranged from 24.3 to 33.8 million hectares.[10] There were inconsistencies and gaps in data between different state and territory jurisdictions.[11] Some estimates included unburnt patches within larger burnt areas. In tropical savannas and arid grasslands, fire mapping relied on satellite measurements, while in temperate forests, fires were mapped by a combination of satellite measurements, aerial surveys, and ground crews.[12] The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment subsequently developed the National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Datasets in 2020, which estimated 39.8 million hectares were burnt in the 2019–20 fires.[13] An alternative analysis, relying solely on satellite data, estimated that 30.38 million hectares was burned across the entire Australian continent.[14]

Regardless of the uncertainties over the total extent of area burned, it is likely that the impact of the 2019–20 fires on Eucalyptus forests was unprecedented in Australian written history,[15] and burnt an unprecedented percentage of any continental forest biome.[16] 25% of NSW’s native forest was burnt in the 2019–20 bushfire season, as was 19% of Victoria’s native forest.[17] A study utilising satellite data beginning from 1988 found that, while the proportion of forest burnt at high severity was not higher than previous fires recorded, the ‘sheer size of the 2019–20 fires means that an unprecedented area of south-eastern Australia experienced high-severity fire in a single season’.[18] The authors speculated that the 2019–20 bushfires may have transformed between 15% and 23% (28–43 thousand hectares) of south-eastern Australia’s temperate rainforest to an alternative state, ‘requiring centuries for recovery, if recovery is at all possible under south-eastern Australia’s drying climate’.[19] The Gospers Mountain blaze, ignited by lightning in the Blue Mountains of NSW, may have been Australia’s largest forest fire from a single ignition point—even before it joined with other massive blazes.[20]

However, area burned is not necessarily indicative of the relative level of damage caused by a bushfire. For instance:

The total burned area and number of fires in 2019/20 were not abnormal for South Australia. The burned area and number of fires were below or close to average values, 765,719 hectares and 1,152 respectively. Number of fires and area burnt are usually dominate [sic] by remote fire in arid parts of South Australia which have minimal impact on human lives and are not normally actively suppressed by fire agencies. However due to the proximity to higher density population and associated economically valuable land uses, houses and lives lost were above average for SA—more than 10 times higher for the houses lost and 4 times higher for the lives lost.[21]

How many species have become endangered/extinct?

The 2019–20 fires had both direct and indirect effects that will have had impacts on the vulnerability of species. Direct effects include the impact of radiant heat, smoke inhalation, and stresses associated with fleeing and coping with passing fires.[22] Indirect effects include post-fire impacts such as increased soil erosion and runoff into waterways, reduced availability of, and increased competition for, food resources, lack of shelter from predators, lack of suitable resources for nesting, and destruction of fencing which previously limited the range of invasive species.[23] The impact of these effects upon species will be dependent upon species traits (such as if a species is dependent upon lengthy intervals between fires to re-seed) and other characteristics (such as if a species has limited range).[24]

It may be some years before the full scale of the ecological damage of the 2019–20 fires becomes apparent. Few studies available at the time of writing incorporated ground-based or observational surveys. Such surveys are expensive and time-consuming, and the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted data collection.[25]

In January 2020 Sussan Ley, the Federal Minister for the Environment, asked the Threatened Species Commissioner to convene a Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel (Expert Panel) to identify species in most urgent need of intervention and to provide advice on prioritisation of recovery actions.[26] The Expert Panel prepared a range of reports which utilise remote sensing and modelling and should thus be regarded as providing a broad overview to be supported by later studies.

The Expert Panel identified 486 species requiring immediate action to assess impacts and support recovery.[27] Such taxa were known to occur in fire‑affected areas and had ‘more than 80% of their range burnt, or were listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered under the EPBC Act or state/territory listings, or were listed as HIGH risk under two or more of the criteria assessed’.[28] These include species like Forrester’s Bottlebrush (Callistemon forresterae) and Grey Deua Pomaderris (Pomaderris gilmourii var. cana) which are described as being at ‘imminent risk of extinction’ because they were already exposed to other significant threats and ‘all of their known or modelled range has been burnt’.[29]

The fires burned fire-sensitive ecological communities, including half of NSW’s warm temperate and dry rainforests, one-quarter of NSW’s subtropical rainforests, and over 20% of NSW’s alpine vegetation.[30] For example, the Blue Mountains in NSW contain 4,105 hectares of temperate highland peat swamps on sandstone, a landform which can take centuries to form and recover from fire.[31] Of those wetlands, a preliminary analysis showed that 2,139 hectares (52%) were burnt; 1,472 of which was subjected to a very high severity burn where the upper portion of the peat was incinerated.[32]

The Expert Panel also assessed animal species that require action. Their most recent list identified 119 animal species as requiring ‘urgent management intervention’—this includes reptiles, crayfish, mammals, birds, and other species.[33] Of these 119 species, the Panel describes some as being at ‘imminent risk of extinction’ as ‘most of their range has been burnt, they were already highly threatened, and they are susceptible to fire and its after effects [sic]’.[34] This includes species such as the Kangaroo Island Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni) and the Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis).[35]

Amid concerns that invertebrate data is poorly known and poorly knowable,[36] the Expert Panel also released a list of 191 invertebrate species confirmed or estimated to have been severely affected by the fires, including spiders, snails, bees, and other species.[37] Using different criteria, the Australian Museum assessed the area burned in the fires in NSW and estimated that there were 29 species of invertebrates which only had occurrences within those areas, with another 46 species having at least half of their known occurrences within the burnt areas.[38]

What caused the 2019–20 Australian bushfires?

Any assessment of the cause of the 2019–20 bushfires must acknowledge that a fire requires multiple factors to burn. Fire scientist Ross Bradstock conceptualises four ‘switches’ that must be activated for bushfire to occur: biomass production, its availability to burn, fire-conducive weather, and ignition.[39] This section will focus upon ignition.


There are some factors which complicate any assessment of the causes of ignition for the entire Black Summer. For instance, many fires merged over time, including the Gospers Mountain fire in the Blue Mountains, which burned 512,000 hectares, but also joined with other fires for a total burn area of 908,231 hectares.[40] Furthermore, the entire season comprised many thousands of individual ignitions, some of which had little impact. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry noted that, during the 2019–20 fires, there were 11,774 fires across NSW alone. The Inquiry, therefore, selected only the most significant fires (due to their size, scale or impact) to analyse.[41] Similarly, the terminology used to record ignition cause is not uniform across agencies and law enforcement, and there can be considerable room for confusion around the use of terms such as ‘deliberately lit’ and ‘arson’.[42]

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry stated that ‘Lightning was the suspected, immediate cause of ignition for the vast majority of the largest and most damaging fires across NSW in the 2019–20 season’.[43] The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) reported the causes of 32 significant fires to the NSW Inquiry, accounting for roughly 4 million hectares of area burned in the 2019–20 fire season.[44] Of these 32 fires, 24 were started by lightning, accounting for 92% of the sampled burn area.[45] Nevertheless, some damaging fires were deliberately lit or started accidentally. For instance, a man was jailed for three and a half years for deliberately lighting the Ebor Guyra Road bushfire in November 2019 which burnt through 22,800 hectares.[46] The Orroral fire which burned 80% of Namadgi National Park in the ACT was accidentally started by heat from an Australian Defence Force helicopter’s landing light.[47]

What inquiries were conducted?

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy resolved on 5 December 2019 to conduct an inquiry into vegetation management (especially hazard reduction burning).[48]

Following an escalation of the bushfire disaster over December 2019 and January 2020, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established on 20 February 2020.[49] Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin (Retired), Dr Annabelle Bennett and Professor Andrew Macintosh were appointed as Commissioners.[50] The House Standing Committee made way for the Royal Commission and wound up its inquiry on 26 February 2020.

The Royal Commission released a number of publications including five background papers (covering cultural burning practices, hazard reduction burning, constitutional issues, prior inquiries, and disaster responsibility arrangements) and four issues papers (covering the constitutional framework for state of emergency declarations, health care arrangements, the role of local government, and firefighting and emergency services personnel and equipment).[51] The Royal Commission released its final report on 30 October 2020.[52] The Commonwealth Government released its response on 13 November 2020.[53]

The Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee established an inquiry into Lessons to be Learned in Relation to the Australian Bushfire Season 2019–20.[54] The Committee is required to report by 2 December 2021; it published a substantive interim report on 7 October 2020.[55] The Government response to this interim report was published on 6 May 2021.[56] The Committee re-opened submissions on 11 December seeking further information on hazard reduction, the 2019–20 bushfire season, mitigation infrastructure and land-use planning, insurance issues and aerial firefighting.[57] At time of writing, the Committee has held eight public hearings and received 187 submissions.[58]

State and territory inquiries

Various state governments also announced reviews, most of which were targeted and did not seek to encompass a broad array of issues or call for wide public participation.

What were the health impacts from the bushfires?

In general, bushfires can cause a range of health impacts beyond death. These can include burns from radiant heat, dehydration and heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation, and the immediate and ongoing effects from trauma—both physical and psychological.[68] The hazard from bushfire smoke and air pollution is of particular concern.[69] In addition to containing pollutants such as carbon monoxide and ozone, bushfire smoke can contain a large amount of small particulate matter—including fine (under 2.5 microns; abbreviated to PM2.5) and ultrafine (under 1 micron) particulate matter.[70] This can disperse far from the fire itself, cause eye irritation and, when inhaled, can penetrate into lungs and enter the bloodstream, inducing physiological responses such as inflammation.[71]

There is evidence to show bushfire smoke causes increased visits to doctors and hospital admissions for respiratory symptoms, particularly for asthma, bronchitis, dyspnea (shortness of breath), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.[72] There are also concerns around the effects of bushfire smoke on the cardiovascular system, although evidence to date is inconsistent.[73] Similarly, there is partial evidence of PM2.5 exposure having negative impacts on neurological functions and birth outcomes.[74] However, there are significant knowledge gaps, particularly around the long term effects of bushfire smoke exposure.[75]

The 2019–20 bushfires caused repeated exposure to substantial amounts of bushfire smoke across many weeks. For instance, Canberra residents experienced the worst air quality in the world on several occasions over the summer, and more than one third of all summer days in the ACT were rated to have ‘hazardous’ air quality.[76] Smoke from the bushfires affected population centres across south-eastern Australia and had noticeable impacts as far away as New Zealand.[77]

Hospital data from NSW shows a large increase in the number of patients presenting with respiratory problems over the summer, and pharmacy sales figures for inhalers used to treat asthma (such as Ventolin or Asmol) nearly doubled in particularly polluted weeks in the ACT.[78] While detailed epidemiological data is not yet available, some researchers estimate that bushfire smoke was responsible for 429 premature deaths, 1,138 hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems, 2,092 hospitalisations for respiratory problems, and 1,532 presentations to emergency departments for asthma.[79] The techniques for this kind of estimation are well-established.[80] It should also be noted that such estimates do not account for the costs of less severe asthma episodes. For example, many asthma sufferers may self-manage their symptoms by following official advice to minimise exposure to smoke.[81]

In addition to these impacts from smoke, there were significant increases in calls to mental health crisis support hotlines during the fires, and an additional Medicare item was introduced to allow specific access to mental health services.[82] While the full impact of the 2019–20 bushfires on mental health will also not be known for many years, previous bushfire disasters in Australia have had long-term impacts on those directly affected. Survivors of previous bushfires have reported high rates of depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[83]

How much was donated to charities, and what issues arose?

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) reported in October 2020 that more than $640 million had been raised from the public for relief and recovery efforts.[84] This included $240 million to the Australian Red Cross, $108 million to the NSW RFS, and $90 million to NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service Incorporated (WIRES).[85] These totals do not include the funding allocated by the Commonwealth or state governments. For instance, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency indicates that the Australian Government allocated more than $2 billion in recovery funding.[86]

Significant public criticism arose around the distribution of donations by charities. For instance, media reporting and social media commentary implied that money was stockpiled, spent needlessly on administration, or was being distributed too slowly.[87] The ACNC Commissioner, Gary Johns, observed these criticisms revealed a low degree of public understanding about how charities operate and the governance regimes surrounding them.[88]

In response to these concerns, the ACNC reviewed the experience of three well-known charities during and after the fires: the Australian Red Cross Society (Red Cross), the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund (NSW RFS Trust), and WIRES. The ACNC noted that not all assistance is required immediately: for instance, the Red Cross reported they had received over 850 new requests for aid since 30 June 2020.[89] The ACNC also noted that the growth in donations was extremely rapid and required some charities to swiftly adjust their administrative arrangements: for instance, WIRES received $91 million in 2019–20, roughly 27 times more than its donations in the previous year.[90]

A particularly notable case highlighted how public expectations clash with the laws governing charities. Comedian Celeste Barber launched an appeal in early January 2020 explicitly labelled for the NSW RFS Trust which raised $51 million, far exceeding her original target of $30,000.[91] As the appeal rapidly outgrew its target, Barber suggested that donations raised in this campaign could also go towards the families of bushfire victims and to support bushfire agencies outside NSW.[92] However, the NSW RFS Trust was legally restricted on how it could spend the money, confirmed by a NSW Supreme Court ruling.[93] Further, the NSW RFS Trust could neither control messages over what this money could be spent on, or communicate directly with donors, leading to ‘a significant difference between donor expectations and the programs NSW RFS Trust could implement’.[94]

The high public attention and sympathy for victims of the bushfires also came with other issues, as some sought to divert funds via fraudulent fund-raising, while others made fraudulent claims from charities or sought to conduct cybercrime activities against charities.[95] The ACNC attributed a nearly 70% increase in the number of reported scams in 2020 to suspected bushfire scams.[96]

What should the 2019–20 fires be called?

Australia has evolved a tradition of naming particularly disastrous bushfire events—as environmental historian Tom Griffiths has written, ‘there are enough “Black” days in modern Australian history to fill up a week several times over’.[97] Victoria alone has endured Black Thursday (1851), Black Friday (1939), and Black Saturday (2009). As the fires continued to burn in February 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to the ‘Black Summer’.[98] Criticising this term on the basis that the fires began in winter,[99] Griffiths suggested the term ‘Savage Summer’, while global fire historian Stephen Pyne suggested the ‘Forever Fires’.[100]

Further resources

In the 2020–21 Budget, the Commonwealth Government established the National Recovery and Resilience Agency as part of its response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.[101] This Agency replaces the National Bushfire Recovery Agency that had been established on 6 January 2020 to lead and coordinate ‘the national response to rebuilding communities affected by the 2019–20 bushfires’.[102] The National Recovery and Resilience Agency will ‘support communities impacted by disaster’ and ‘deliver initiatives to reduce risk and lessen the impacts of future shocks’.[103]

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry provided a detailed explanation of the climatic drivers behind the bushfires in NSW including a strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole and negative Southern Annular Mode.[104] Victoria’s Inspector-General for Emergency Management reported that ‘climate change contributed to Australia’s extraordinary 2019–20 fire season through cumulative long-term changes in climate’.[105]

The Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub has released an analysis of Australian newspaper reporting on the 2019–20 Australian bushfires.[106]

The Australian National Audit Office has released a performance audit report into administration of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.[107]

[1].      The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission examined 15 of the major fires that burned on 7 February 2009; the Country Fire Authority (CFA) describes attending 316 separate fires on the day. See B Teague, R McLeod, S Pascoe, 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Final Report, Volume I: The Fires and the Fire-Related Deaths, Government Printer for the State of Victoria, Melbourne, 2010, p. 3; B Teague, R McLeod, S Pascoe, 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Final Report: Summary, Government Printer for the State of Victoria, Melbourne, 2010, p. 1. A fire regime is ‘the history of fire in a particular vegetation type or area including the frequency, intensity, and season of burning’ as defined by Rural and Land Management Group, Bushfire Glossary, Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Council, East Melbourne, 2012, p. 12.

[2].      F Noble, ‘Government set to revise total number of hectares destroyed during bushfire season to 17 million’, 9news.com.au, 14 January 2020. For a visualisation of the diversity of fire regimes across Australia, see Figure 1 in B Murphy, R Bradstock, M Boer, J Carter, G Cary, M Cochrane, R Fensham, J Russell‐Smith, G Williamson, and D Bowman, ‘Fire regimes of Australia: a pyrogeographic model system’, Journal of Biogeography, 40(6), 2013, pp. 1048–1058.

[3].      J Russell-Smith, ‘Fire management business in Australia’s tropical savannas: lighting the way for a new ecosystem services model for the north?,’ Ecological Management and Restoration, 17(1), 2016, p. 4; A Andersen, G Cook, and R Williams, eds, Fire in tropical savannas: the Kapalga Experiment, Ecological Studies, 169, Springer, New York, 2003, p. vii.

[4].      Noble, ‘Government set to revise total number of hectares destroyed during bushfire season’, op. cit.

[5].      L Collins, ‘Eucalypt forests dominated by epicormic resprouters are resilient to repeated canopy fires’, Journal of Ecology, 108(1), 2020, pp. 310–324.

[6].      T Griffiths, Forests of ash: an environmental history, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.

[7].      For an example of this language see L Bladen, ‘Australia's 2020–21 bushfire season: what to expect this summer’, The Canberra Times, (online edition), 25 September 2020; S Stephens, N Burrows, A Buyantuyev, R Gray, R Keane, R Kubian, S Liu, F Seijo, L Shu, K Tolhurst, and J van Wagtendonk, ‘Temperate and boreal forest mega‐fires: characteristics and challenges’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12(2), 2014, pp. 115–122.

[8].      P Clarke, K Knox, R Bradstock, C Munoz‐Robles, and L Kumar, ‘Vegetation, terrain and fire history shape the impact of extreme weather on fire severity and ecosystem response’, Journal of Vegetation Science, 25(4), 2014, pp. 1033–1044. For a graphic illustration, see Figure 1b in K Parkins, A York, and J Di Stefano, ‘Edge effects in fire‐prone landscapes: ecological importance and implications for fauna’, Ecology and Evolution, 8(11), 2018, pp. 5937– 5948.

[9].      J Keeley, ‘Fire intensity, fire severity and burn severity: a brief review and suggested usage’, International Journal of Wildland Fire, 18(1), 2009, pp. 116–118.

[10].    M Binskin, A Bennett, A Macintosh, Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements: report, (RCNNDA report), The Commission, Canberra, 2020, p. 115.

[11].    D Bowman, G Williamson, M Yebra, J Lizundia-Loiola, M Lucrecia Pettinari, S Shah, R Bradstock and E Chuvieco, ‘Wildfires: Australia needs a national monitoring agency’, Nature, 584(7820), 2020, p. 190.  

[12].    Ibid.

[13].    Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), ‘National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Datasets’, DAWE website, 22 June 2020.

[14].    Bowman et al, ‘Wildfires’, op. cit., p. 189; Bowman et al, ‘Wildfires: Australia needs a national monitoring agency’, Supplementary information, n.d.

[15].    Bowman et al, ‘Wildfires’, op. cit., p. 191; for a deeper discussion on the use of the term ‘unprecedented’ in relation to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and Australian bushfire history, see C Hansen, ‘Deep time and disaster: Black Saturday and the forgotten past’, Environmental Humanities, 10(1), 2018, pp. 226–240.

[16].    M Boer, V Resco de Dios and R Bradstock, ‘Unprecedented burn area of Australian mega forest fires’, Nature Climate Change, 10, 2020, pp. 171–172.

[17].    DAWE, ‘Forest fire data’, DAWE website, 28 April 2020.

[18].    L Collins, R Bradstock, H Clarke, M Clarke, R Nolan and T Penman, ‘The 2019/20 mega-fires exposed Australian ecosystems to an unprecedented extent of high-severity fire’, Environmental Research Letters, 16(4), 2021, pp. 1–14.

[19].    Ibid.

[20].    K Nguyen, P McDonald and M Taouk, ‘Anatomy of a “mega-blaze”’, ABC News, 27 July 2020.

[21].    A Filkov, T Ngo, S Matthews, S Telfer, and T Penman, ‘Impact of Australia's catastrophic 2019/20 bushfire season on communities and environment. Retrospective analysis and current trends’, Journal of Safety Science and Resilience, 1(1), 2020, p. 53.

[22].    For instance, see L van Eeden, D Nimmo, M Mahony, K Herman, G Ehmke, J Driessen, J O’Connor, G Bino, M Taylor, C Dickman, Impacts of the unprecedented 2019–20 bushfires on Australian animals, report prepared for WWF-Australia, Sydney, 2020.

[23].    Ibid.; ACT/NSW Rapid Risk Assessment Team, Orroral Valley Fire Rapid Risk Assessment: Namadgi National Park, ACT Government, Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, Canberra, 2020, p. 21.

[24].    D Bowman, B Murphy, D Neyland, G Williamson, and L Prior, ‘Abrupt fire regime change may cause landscape-wide loss of mature obligate seeder forests’, Global Change Biology, 20(3), 2014, pp. 1008–15.

[25].    Rapid Research Information Forum, Impact of the pandemic on Australia’s research workforce, report from the Australian Government Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, 8 May 2020, p. 3.

[26].    Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, ‘Final communique’, DAWE, September 2020. The Panel held their 20th and final meeting on 25 September 2020.

[27].    R Gallagher, Final national prioritisation of Australian plants affected by the 2019–2020 bushfire season, research for the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, (report to DAWE), n.p., 2020, p. 3.

[28].    Ibid.

[29].    Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, Final list of plants requiring urgent management intervention, DAWE, Canberra, 12 October 2020, p. [2].

[30].    See report published by the NSW Bushfire Hub to support the NSW Bushfire Inquiry in D Keith and M Ooi, Theme 3B.4: Biodiversity and Environmental Impacts, n.p., n.d.  

[31].    K Fryirs, K Cowley, N Hejl, A Chariton, N Christiansen, R Dudaniec, W Farebrother, L Hardwick, T Ralph, A Stow, and G Hose, Extent and effect of the 2019–20 Australian bushfires on upland peat swamps in the Blue Mountains, NSW’, International Journal of Wildland Fire, 30(4), 2021, pp. 294–300.

[32].    Ibid., p. 297.

[33].    Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, Provisional list of animals requiring urgent management intervention, DAWE, Canberra, 20 March 2020.

[34].    Ibid., p. 2.

[35].    The Panel notes that preparation of this list of animals relied upon remotely sensed data which was limited by poor information on fire severity (see ‘How much land was burned’, above), see ibid. p. 3.

[36].    M Saunders, P Barton, J Bickerstaff, L Frost, T Latty, B Lessard, E Lowe, J Rodriguez, T White, and K Umbers, ‘Limited understanding of bushfire impacts on Australian invertebrates’, Insect Conservation and Diversity, 14(3), 2021, pp. 285–293.

[37].    The Panel used the criteria of those species where at least 30% of their range was fire-affected if they were already listed as threatened, or 50% if not presently listed as threatened. Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, ‘Provisional list of priority invertebrate species requiring urgent management intervention or on-ground assessment’, DAWE, Canberra, 23 April 2020.

[38].    I Hyman, S Ahyong, F Köhler, S McEvey, G Milledge, C Reid, and J Rowley, ‘Impacts of the 2019–2020 bushfires on New South Wales biodiversity: a rapid assessment of distribution data for selected invertebrate taxa’, Technical Reports of the Australian Museum, 32, 2020, pp. 1–17.

[39].    R Bradstock, ‘A biogeographic model of fire regimes in Australia: current and future implications’, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19(2), 2010, pp. 145–158.

[40].    D Owens and M O’Kane, Final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, [NSW Government], [Sydney], 2020, p. 25.

[41].    Ibid., p. 23.

[42].    B Teague, R McLeod, S Pascoe, 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Final Report, Volume II: Fire Preparation, Response and Recovery, Government Printer for the State of Victoria, Melbourne, 2010, pp. 188–197.

[43].    Owens and O’Kane, Final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, op. cit., p. 28; see also: C Bryant, ‘Deliberately lit vegetation fires in Australia’, Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 350, 2008.

[44].    Owens and O’Kane, Final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, op. cit., p. 24.

[45].    Calculations were performed by adding all listed burn area together, then dividing by category. Total sampled area was 4,041,672 hectares. Total area burned by fires caused by lightning was 3,719,941 hectares.

[46].    B Chillingworth, ‘Gavin James Gardiner jailed in Armidale court for deliberately lighting Guyra Road fire near Ebor in November, 2019’, The Canberra Times, (online edition), 13 October 2020; B Chillingworth, ’Ebor fire: Gavin James Gardiner to return to court in February, charged with intentionally lighting Guyra Road fire at Ebor’, The Armidale Express, (online edition), 9 February 2020.

[47].    Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, ‘Australian Capital Territory, January–February 2020: Bushfires: Black Summer’, Australian Disaster Resilience Knowledge Hub, n.d.

[48].    House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, Inquiry into the Efficacy of Past and Current Vegetation and Land Management Policy, Practice and Legislation and Their Effect on the Intensity and Frequency of Bushfires and Subsequent Risk to Property, Life and the Environment, Inquiry homepage.

[49].    RCNNDA website.

[50].    RCNNDA, Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, media release, 20 February 2020.

[51].    RCNNDA, ‘Background paper’, RCNNDA website; RCNNDA, ‘Issues papers’, RCNNDA website.

[52].    Binskin et al, RCNNDA report, op. cit.

[53].    Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, A national approach to national disasters: The Commonwealth Government response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, November 2020.

[54].    Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-20, Inquiry homepage.

[55].    Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee, Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019–20, [interim report], The Senate, Canberra, October 2020.

[56].    Australian Government response to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee report: Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-20, May 2021.

[57].    Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-20, Inquiry homepage.

[58].    Ibid.

[59].    NSW Government, ‘NSW Bushfire Inquiry’, Inquiry homepage.

[60].    G Berejiklian (Premier of NSW), NSW Government releases Bushfire Inquiry report, media release, 25 August 2020; Owens and O’Kane, Final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, op. cit.

[61].    Victoria, Inspector-General for Emergency Management (Victoria IGEM), ‘Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian Fire Season’, Inquiry homepage, n.d.

[62].    Victoria IGEM, Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian Fire Season: Phase 1: Community and sector preparedness for and response to the 2019–20 fire season, Victoria IGEM, Melbourne, 2020.

[63].    Victoria IGEM, ‘Timing of the inquiry’, Victoria IGEM website, last reviewed 31 March 2021.

[64].    Queensland, Inspector-General Emergency Management (Queensland IGEM), Queensland Bushfires Review: report 2: 2019–20, Queensland IGEM, [Brisbane], 2020.

[65].    A Palaszczuk (Premier of Queensland) and C Crawford (Queensland Minister for Fire and Emergency Services), 2019 bushfire review finds strong mitigation and preparedness, media release, 20 February 2020; see also: Queensland IGEM, Queensland Bushfires Review: report 2: 2019–20, op. cit.

[66].    Independent Bushfire Review Team (South Australia), Independent Review into South Australia’s 2019-20 Bushfire Season, Government of South Australia, Adelaide, 2020.

[67].    ACT Emergency Services Agency (ACT ESA), Report to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services on ACT Government coordination and response during the 2019-20 bushfire season, ACT ESA, Canberra, August 2020; ACT ESA, Operational review of the bushfire season 2019/20, [2020]; ACT Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety, Report on review of ACT Emergency Services responses to the 2019–20 bushfire season, [ACT Legislative Assembly], Canberra, 2020.

[68].    Binskin et al, RCNNDA report, op. cit., p. 332; P Yu, R Xu, M Abramson, S Li and Y Guo, ‘Bushfires in Australia: a serious health emergency under climate change’, The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(1), 2020, pp. E7–E8.

[69].    C Reid, M Brauer, F Johnston, M Jerrett, J Balmes and C Elliott, ‘Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure’, Environmental Health Perspective, 124(9), 2016, pp. 1334–1343; see also: A Larsen, B Reich, M Ruminski, A Rappold, ’Impacts of fire smoke plumes on regional air quality, 2006–2013’, Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 28(4), 2018, pp. 319–327.

[70].    C Black, Y Tesfaigzi, J Bassein, and L Miller, ‘Wildfire smoke exposure and human health: significant gaps in research for a growing public health issue’, Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 55, 2017, pp. 186–195.

[71].    Ibid.; Binskin et al, RCNNDA report, op. cit., p. 312.

[72].    Black et al, ‘Wildfire smoke exposure’, op. cit.; see also Reid et al, ‘Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure’, op. cit., p. 1337.

[73].    Reid et al, ‘Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure’, op. cit., pp. 1338–9.

[74].    Binskin et al, RCNNDA report, op. cit., p. 312; Reid et al, ‘Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure’, op. cit., p. 1339.

[75].    Black et al, ‘Wildfire smoke exposure and human health’, op. cit.; see also: Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS), The Australian bushfires: impacts on health: the evidence, [AAHMS evidence report on the heath impacts of the Australian bushfires], [9 April 2020].

[76].    A Brown, ’Canberra air quality: more than a third of all summer days had hazardous air quality’, The Canberra Times, (online edition), 6 March 2020.

[77].    Filkov et al, op. cit.

[78].    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australian bushfires 2019–20: exploring the short-term health impacts, AIHW, Canberra, 2020, pp. 4–14.

[79].    F Johnston, N Borchers Arriagada, G Morgan, B Jalaludin, A Palmer, G Williamson and D Bowman, ‘Unprecedented health costs of smoke-related PM2.5 from the 2019–20 Australian megafires’, Nature Sustainability, 4(1), 2021, pp. 42–47.  

[80].    Reid et al, ‘Critical review of health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure’, op. cit., p. 1336.

[81].    AIHW, Australian bushfires 2019–20, op. cit., pp. 14–18.

[82].    Ibid., p. 19.

[83].    AIHW, Australian bushfires 2019–20, op. cit., p. 19; see also: P Fraser, Black Saturday: not the end of the story, Monash University Publishing, Clayton, Victoria, 2018.

[84].    Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), Bushfire response 2019–20: reviews of three Australian charities, ACNC, Melbourne, 2020, p. 3.

[85].    For a breakdown of donations received by notable charities see: D Claughton, ‘Black Summer donations from Australians nudged $640 million. Getting it to those in need was a miracle’, ABC News, (online edition), 23 January 2021.

[86].    National Bushfire Recovery Agency, Journey to recovery, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 2020, p. 23.

[87].    See, for example: P Cockburn and K Nguyen, ‘Andrew Constance slams Red Cross, Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul for bushfires relief delays’, ABC News, (online edition), 22 January 2020; D Wills, ‘Next time, we've got to handle emergency donations better’, The Conversation, 9 March 2020.

[88].    G Johns, ‘Charities had to learn the lessons of Black Summer fast‘, The Weekend Australian, 24 October 2020, p. 14.

[89].    ACNC, Bushfire response 2019–20, op. cit., p. 7.

[90].    Ibid., p. 11.

[91].    K Seibert, ‘The power of celebrity fundraising … as well as reading the fine print’, The Canberra Times, 28 May 2020, p 18.

[92].    Ibid.

[93].    Seibert, ‘The power of celebrity fundraising’, op. cit.; In the matter of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund; Application of Macdonald & Or [2020] NSWSC 604, (25 May 2020).

[94].    ACNC, Bushfire response 2019–20, op. cit., p. 9; Wills, ‘Next time, we've got to handle emergency donations better’, op. cit.

[95].    ACNC, Bushfire response 2019–20, op. cit., pp. 21, 41.

[96].    ACNC, Charity scams on the rise, media release, 17 August 2020.

[97].    T Griffiths, ‘Season of reckoning’, Australian Book Review, 419, 2020, pp. 9–10.

[98].    S Morrison, Condolences: Australian bushfires, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 February 2020, pp. 1–7.

[99].    Fire seasons in Australia are determined by climatic patterns and vary on a regional basis. This is separate to declarations of legal restrictions and bushfire danger periods. Major bushfires began in NSW in July 2019, while major bushfires in Queensland ignited in September 2019. See also: A Sullivan, ‘A dry landscape and a dire season: we explain the current bushfire environment’, CSIROscope, CSIRO, 12 December 2019; and Murphy et al, ‘Fire regimes of Australia: a pyrogeographic model system’, op. cit.

[100]. Griffiths, ‘Season of reckoning’, op. cit.

[101]. National Recovery and Resilience Agency website.

[102]. National Bushfire Recovery Agency website.

[103]. National Recovery and Resilience Agency website.

[104]. Owens and O’Kane, Final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, op. cit., pp. 21–85.

[105]. Victoria IGEM, Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian fire season: Phase 1, op. cit., p. 347.

[106]. T Burgess, J Burgmann, S Hall, D Holmes and E Turner, Black summer: Australian newspaper reporting on the nation’s worst bushfire season, Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Monash University, Melbourne, 2020.

[107]. Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Administration of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Audit report, 46, 2020–21, ANAO, Canberra, 2021.


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