The severity of the 2019–20 bushfire season was unprecedented. However, evidence before the committee suggests that there were warnings provided to the Commonwealth Government which noted that the 2019–20 season was likely to be extreme, off the back of record high temperatures, drought, and a warming climate.
This chapter will consider the warnings issued to the Commonwealth Government in the lead up to the season, and the response of the Government to this advice. Also discussed is the role of hazard reduction in changing the impact of fires, and the effect of significant, unforeseen circumstances (such as a pandemic) on planned hazard reduction activity.
Warnings of elevated bushfire risk
The committee heard that multiple warnings were provided to the Commonwealth Government about the increased risk of the 2019–20 bushfire season and the need to ensure adequate resources for fire and emergency services agencies.
Forecasts for the 2019–20 bushfire season
The 2019–20 bushfire season had long been forecast as one which would take place under unusually severe conditions. For example, the State of the Climate 2018 report, produced biennially by the Bureau of Meteorology (the BOM) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), recognised the '… long-term increase in extreme fire weather, and in the length of the fire season, across large parts of Australia since the 1950s'.
Mr David Lewis further explained that:
… what occurred last summer was entirely in line with what many in the scientific community had been forewarning us about for decades. And … there is ample evidence to suggest that it will not only be regularly repeated, but also that we can expect fire conditions to become even worse in future.
At an estimates hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on 18 February 2019, Dr Andrew Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Meteorology at the BOM told the Senate that as a routine part of its role, the BOM regularly advises the federal, state and local governments on the climate and its impacts on communities. In particular, the BOM had briefed the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology on 6 December 2018 about the State of the Climate 2018 report.
Recognising the elevated bushfire risk for the 2019–20 bushfire season, between 1 April 2019 and 30 November 2019, the BOM delivered more than 100 briefings to the Commonwealth Government, and state and territory governments. Dr Johnson told the committee at a July 2020 hearing that '[m]any of those briefings were verbal as well as formal' and noted it had regular dialogue with stakeholders (including climatologists and meteorologists), such as daily briefings to the Australian Crisis Coordination Centre.
In addition to the work conducted by the BOM, another 'central piece' of the warnings and preparedness for bushfire seasons is the outlook provided by the Bushfire and National Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC), which is prepared in association with subject matter experts from each state and territory across Australia.
In August 2019, the BNHCRC issued its Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook (seasonal outlook) which forecast that:
The 2019/20 fire season has the potential to be an active season across Australia, following on from a very warm and dry start to the year. Due to these conditions, the east coast of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as parts of southern Western Australia and South Australia, face above normal fire potential.
New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland also noted that the availability of water for firefighting would be challenged by the dry conditions exacerbated by long-term drought.
The seasonal outlook released in August 2019 predicted 'above normal fire potential' for vast areas of Australia and, in particular, the east coast (as depicted in Figure 3.1 below).
Figure 3.1: Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook: August 2019
The seasonal outlook was updated again in December 2019. This outlook noted that the period covering January 2019 to November 2019 was the second-driest on record and 'the driest since the peak of the Federation Drought in 1902'. Dry conditions laid the foundations for warm temperatures, with the January 2019 to November 2019 period being the second warmest on record (1.37˚ Celsius above the 1961–1900 average), with daytime temperatures being the warmest on record (1.9˚ Celsius above the 1961–1900 average).
Given these conditions, the seasonal outlook in December 2019 stated that:
With the combined hot and dry conditions in place it is not surprising that the southern fire season started early and has been severe to date. Large areas have seen record fire danger overall, as well as a very early start to the high fire danger period. In area average terms, the fire weather as measured by the Forest Fire Danger Index … for spring was record high for Australia, as well as all states and territories apart from South Australia (second) and Victoria.
The updated seasonal outlook predicted 'above normal fire potential' for more parts of Australia, compared to the seasonal outlook issued in August 2019 (see Figure 3.2 below).
Figure 3.2: Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook: December 2019
In its submission, the BNHCRC noted that it works closely with fire agencies from each state and territory, the BOM and Emergency Management Australia (EMA) to provide briefings to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, the Hon David Littleproud MP.
Briefings provided to the Executive
Briefings to the Prime Minister
During December 2019, the Prime Minister took a period of leave. The Prime Minister advised the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) on 9 December 2019 that he would be taking leave for the period of 15 December 2019 to 23 December 2019. During this time the fires intensified across Victoria and South Australia, resulting in the Prime Minister returning from leave early on 21 December 2019.
Mr Philip Gaetjens, Secretary of DPMC, advised that the Prime Minister did not consult with him prior to taking the December leave, and that he was not in contact with him directly while the Prime Minister was on leave.
Mr Gaetjens confirmed that there was no written briefing provided to the Prime Minister while he was in Hawaii and that DPMC also provided no verbal briefings to the Prime Minister. The only contact at the time was between DPMC and the Prime Minister's office.
Mr Gaetjens indicated that during this time, some advice was provided from DPMC to the Acting Prime Minister at the time, the Hon Michael McCormack MP.
At the time of this report, DPMC had yet to respond to a number of questions on notice regarding the period of the Prime Minister's leave, for what period Minister McCormack was Acting Prime Minister, and whether the Prime Minister was making decisions on behalf of government while in Hawaii.
The committee heard that prior to the Prime Minister's period of leave, the DPMC, EMA, and the BOM delivered a number of oral and written briefings updating the Prime Minister on the 'status of the crisis'. Ms Caroline Millar, Deputy Secretary, National Security Division at the DPMC, further explained the extent of these briefings and the agencies involved:
It's also the case that in a lot of these crises [EMA] will reach straight into the Prime Minister's office and he will reach straight into them. That's a completely normal process. They keep us completely informed and it works pretty well. There were also, during the period that we've just been discussing in November, a series of teleconferences with the Prime Minister and other ministers that Mr Cameron and others were involved in, and my staff were also in attendance for those briefings. As you know, these issues were discussed at cabinet and NSC [National Security Committee] on various occasions, and the Prime Minister often spoke after those meetings to brief the public. I feel fairly confident in saying that the Prime Minister was kept very well informed throughout the entire period.
Requests by Emergency Leaders for Climate Action to brief the Prime Minister
Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) wrote to the Prime Minister in April and May 2019 to request a meeting to discuss 'the alarming potential of the looming bushfire season' and to provide recommendations of measures to 'aid state and territory firefighting efforts' including:
… approval of additional funding previously requested by fire chiefs for additional large firefighting aircraft, and mobilisation of elements of the Australian Defence Force to logistically support emergency services …
Mr Gregory Mullins AO, AFSM, member and founder of ELCA explained that it was the view of ELCA that there was an urgent need to brief the Prime Minister ahead of the 2019–20 bushfire season, as 'we were apprehensive about what was going to happen'. Mr Mullins elaborated that:
The year 2018 was almost a bushfire disaster, and people in Tasmania had a very difficult year, but New South Wales, thankfully, received rains in October-November and was able to supply the rest of Australia with firefighters and equipment to assist. But Queensland had a serious year, followed by floods in Townsville. In the Bureau of Meteorology projections for 2019, we saw no sign of the sort of summer rain that New South Wales had received in 2018, meaning there was going to be a catastrophe. Somebody needed to speak up.
Mr Mullins observed that persistent efforts were required in requesting meetings with the Prime Minister because previous calls for assistance had gone unheeded. For example:
… there had been requests from the fire services and the existing chiefs for additional funds for firefighting aircraft. There'd been a detailed business case in 2018, to which they could not get a reply. There was a need to simplify access to Australian Defence Force assets that could assist the fire and emergency services in a disaster, and there were a lot of other simple measures that could have been taken, and longer term measures such as building standards, that I would have thought the Prime Minister would be very interested in and it appeared he had not been briefed on at that stage. So we were apprehensive about what was going to happen.
On 2 March 2020, during the Additional Budget Estimates 2019–20 hearings of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, the DPMC revealed that it had received the May 2019 letter from ELCA requesting assistance for the upcoming bushfire season. However, similar letters authored in April and September were 'received by the Prime Minister's office, and they were not passed on'. The outcome of ELCA's attempts to warn the Commonwealth Government was summarised by the organisation as follows:
Ultimately after significant efforts to establish dialogue, a short meeting was held with Ministers Littleproud and Taylor on 4 December . By then hundreds of homes and a number of lives had already been lost in NSW and Queensland. No tangible changes or actions resulted from the December meeting, and further lives, together with hundreds of homes, were subsequently lost to the flames in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Prior to the meeting with Ministers Littleproud and Taylor on 4 December 2019, ELCA wrote to Minister Littleproud, in his capacity as Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, in a letter dated 28 November 2019. The letter detailed courses of action for the Commonwealth Government which would assist its response to the unfolding bushfire crisis. The letter suggested actions including:
taking immediate measures to assist firefighting and community protection efforts by the states and territories;
developing effective strategic long-term interventions to improve community resilience and support fire and emergency services in coping with the increasingly dangerous environment; and
taking action on climate change, as the key driver of extreme weather events.
In a press conference following the meeting on 4 December 2019, Minister Littleproud told the media:
What I said to Mr Mullins and the other former fire chiefs ... [was] that they can take great comfort and great pride in the new breed of fire commissioners. They have planned meticulously for this fire season. I've only been emergency services minister since June and the first advice I got is we would expect to see the fire season start in August and be severe … It has always been the responsibility of states to look after emergency management but we support them ...
Two arguments arose from the Minister's comments in defence of the Commonwealth Government's position: first, that the Commonwealth Government was working with and acting on the advice of current fire and emergency chiefs, and second, that states and territories had primary responsibility for emergency management.
In relation to the first argument, Mr Mullins was asked during a committee hearing what insights or information that ELCA could have offered the Commonwealth Government that could not have been accessed from the current fire chiefs, to which he replied:
Not a great deal. Although we gave a great deal of information on climate change that probably wouldn't have come from the agencies, it appeared the fire chiefs did not have the access that we had until the fires were well and truly away.
Mr Mullins went on to describe the frustration and challenges which followed the Prime Minister's announcement on 4 January 2020 that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Reserves would be called out to support state and territory emergency services:
It was interesting to hear how difficult that was and how it raised a lot of issues. That's what we were trying to tell the Prime Minister back in April. All of us had lived through that. They're convoluted procedures. They're made more difficult now because [EMA] is … buried in Home Affairs, so it does not have the same direct access that it used to have to the secretary of the [DPMC] or to the Prime Minister, which makes it more difficult than it used to be for the states and territories to seek Defence assistance to the civil community, level 2.
Mr Mullins discussed the recent trend for extended lengths of bushfire seasons, noting that the 'fire seasons are now overlapping' and continued that:
… with a few degrees of extra temperature the fires take off in August every year, and we can't control them. When you have underlying drought, that just exacerbates the position.
Mr Mullins also highlighted the unprecedented number of days with Severe, Extreme and Catastrophic fire danger during the 2019–20 bushfire season. This led to 59 total fire bans, 11 state‑wide total fire bans and 44 declarations of bushfire emergency throughout the season, under the NSW Rural Fires Act 1997.
Similar concerns were shared by Dr Richard Thornton, Chief Executive Officer at the BNHCRC, who explained that 'all the normal climate variability or weather variability we see is now sitting on a temperature that is one degree warmer than it was before', which has a significant 'flow-on effect on the extreme end of the scale' for events such as the 2019–20 bushfires.
Hazard reduction and bushfire mitigation
The committee heard a range of evidence from submitters and witnesses regarding the effectiveness of hazard reduction techniques to mitigate the intensity of bushfires.
ELCA explained the process of hazard reduction, and that it:
… involves controlled application of fire or other means, such as mechanical clearing or thinning, for the reduction or modification of available fuels within a predetermined area in order to mitigate against the future spread of an uncontrolled bushfire. The most common approach is prescribed burning, or the application of fire under controlled conditions.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) observed that a 'whole-of-community effort' for hazard reduction was necessary:
… to identify risk, undertake strategic risk assessments, to provide advice, education and information regarding the risk, and to undertake activities to mitigate those risks. All sectors of society from individuals, communities, businesses, industry, infrastructure managers and government need to be aware, engaged and prepared.
The AFAC, with the assistance of the Forest Fire Management Group, established the National Burning Project in 2011 to document 'the multiple facets of prescribed burning into nationally agreed principles, guidelines and frameworks'. While these resources are widely utilised by AFAC member organisations, there is no nationally coordinated approach to hazard reduction as each state and territory is responsible for reducing bushfire risk.
It appears to the committee that various myths about hazard reduction spread during the 2019–20 bushfire season. In response, the Climate Council of Australia developed a factsheet to circumvent common misunderstandings about hazard reduction and the role of climate change, which is published on its website. The factsheet explained that hazard reduction activities can:
… range from burning operations through to intentionally not burning some areas (fire exclusion), provided that this regime reduces or maintains the vegetation in a state of reduced flammability. It can also involve other methods such as mechanical clearing of fire breaks or thinning of vegetation, which is labour intensive and cannot be practically carried out over wide areas.
The goal of hazard reduction is not to produce areas that will not burn, but areas that will burn at a lower intensity that can be controlled more often by firefighters.
The 2019–20 bushfires burnt over large areas of 'heavy fuel, light fuel, grazing land, pasture, crops and people's front lawns … many metres from the bushland ember attack'. The committee heard that during severe bushfires, low fuel loads can lead to a fire gaining more traction as it moves more quickly through light fuel areas before heavy fuel areas. Given this, Mr Mullins contended that:
Fuel reduction is basically the only tool we have, long term, to try and take the intensity out of fires. I believe that … we will have to prioritise, if it's closer to population centres and assets, to try and have fuel reduced zones so that the intensity of fires reduces as they reach built-up areas.
Dr Thornton concluded that hazard reduction burning would not 'reduce the risk to zero', but highlighted the importance of reducing the risk of fuels in the landscape in a way that accounts for a particular community's needs. For example, Dr Thornton pointed out that some people chose to live where they did:
… because of the trees. They don't want those trees cleared, because that's why they live there. So that community may be more prepared to live with a high level of risk. In other areas, people were clearly saying that they have been trying to clear properties and reduce the fuel. So I think local input as to what risk level a community is willing to accept is a critical part of how we go forwards in looking at what the fuel levels are across the country.
The committee also heard evidence about the environmental benefits of hazard reduction activities beyond bushfire mitigation. For example, Dr Thornton submitted that prescribed burning can also be used to assist the 'preservation of ecosystem values such as biodiversity, water yield, quality, soil preservation and other objectives'.
However, ELCA pointed out that grazing of national parks as a means to reduce bushfire fuel levels was not practicable as it:
… leads to serious environmental and ecological damage, particularly in fragile alpine environments, with no reduction in bushfire risk or fire intensity where it is applied.
Moreover, ELCA noted that while mechanical thinning of forest space assists in lowering fire intensity and reducing crowning and spotting, it was generally 'a difficult, expensive and sometimes impractical approach' as '[i]t is not possible to mechanically clear large areas, particularly in rugged terrain where the worst fires often occur'.
Challenges with hazard reduction activities
The committee heard that the effectiveness and success of hazard reduction activities face three key challenges:
windows for hazard reduction burning are becoming increasingly smaller due to the warming climate;
current hazard reduction policies are not equipped to respond to more severe weather conditions created by climate change; and
a lack of research limits understanding of when and how hazard reduction should be applied in different contexts.
Mr Mullins described the challenges inhibiting necessary hazard reduction activities in the lead up to recent fire seasons and explained that 'the windows for conducting hazard reduction are becoming smaller and smaller' due to Australia's increasingly dry climate. Mr Mullins elaborated that:
We've actually had a lot of situations where prescribed burn fires have got out of control and spread beyond where they should have been. That's happening increasingly. If you reduce the window where you can carry out this burning—you are also constrained by the availability of volunteer firefighters, who are only available in numbers on weekends. A lot of burning in New South Wales, but not so much in Victoria, is conducted by volunteer firefighters. So you have to pick a weekend in a month where it is not too hot, not too windy and not too dry, and then, if you get any rain that puts off any burning that you can do.
Dr Thornton echoed these concerns, stating that:
Our colleagues at the Bureau of Meteorology also note … that the cumulative fire danger during the fire seasons is increasing as well. This may, in the long run, have some implications for resourcing of fire services. It also reduces the amount of time available to undertake preventive actions, particularly hazard reduction burning. As the climate changes to a warmer, drier one, weather conditions … are likely to become more frequent. This will be combined with more vulnerable people living in at-risk areas, owing to a growing and ageing population.
With these concerns in mind, the final report of the National Bushfire and Climate Summit 2020, the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan, published by ELCA in conjunction with the Climate Council of Australia, recommended that more work be undertaken to:
… increase and enhance hazard reduction through a long-term, year-round and cross-tenure approach at landscape scale that supports existing efforts, Indigenous leadership, empowers communities and is backed by a strong research capability.
Dr Peter Mayfield, Executive Director, Environment, Energy and Resources, at the CSIRO noted the challenges with assessing the merits of hazard reduction burning and explained that is 'extremely difficult' to communicate the findings of the CSIRO's research in relation to hazard reduction activities, as the success of these activities is highly contingent on a range of environmental variables.
Dr Daniel Metcalfe, Deputy Director of Land and Water at the CSIRO elaborated that:
… it's contextual as to whether it has a major impact on reducing fire intensity, delaying fuel ignition and suppressing the likelihood of spot fires or potentially has no impact at all. All of that is dependent on the nature of the terrain, the nature of the weather and the nature of the vegetation community within which that fire is running …
It's contextual not only in different parts of the country but also in different parts of the landscape. If you were looking at hazard reduction burns in old-growth native forest, as you suggested, and compared that with perhaps a plantation context that was adjacent in a state forest, then the nature of the fires running through those different contexts would differ, and, consequently, the significance of the fuel management would also differ.
The impact of climate change
Despite speculation that hazard reduction burning was liable for some part of the 2019–20 bushfire season, Mr Benjamin Cronshaw submitted that such 'policies were not responsible for the near unprecedented extreme weather conditions', which were instead 'attributable to climate change'.
Further, ELCA submitted that climate change was impacting adversely on the effectiveness of existing hazard reduction approaches, especially for bushfires susceptible to 'long distance spotting, intense and sustained ember attack, and pyroconvective fires'.
A similar view was shared by the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, which submitted that:
There is … increasing evidence that [hazard reduction burning] programs do little to prevent the risk of bushfires spreading under extreme conditions such as that experienced during the 2019/20 Bushfire Season. We understand that all the prescribed burns conducted on Kangaroo Island in 2019 burnt again in the bushfires that devastated the western end of the island.
The final report of the National Bushfire and Climate Summit 2020 recommended that more research be conducted to improve understanding of:
… various landscape needs (including vegetation types, geography, weather and fire regimes), and a range of integrated … risk reduction options that recognise the worsening threat environment created by climate change.
The report also recommended the 'establishment of a natural disaster resilience agency' to monitor national hazard reduction metrics, as well as 'climate change adaption, and other mitigation, prevention and preparedness measures' and assist with recovery efforts.
Indigenous land management practices
Several submitters recommended that the Commonwealth Government learn from the fire prevention and hazard reduction techniques practiced by traditional land owners.
For example, the Edmund Rice Centre, Sydney, submitted that Aboriginal burning techniques, such as those using precisely timed, low intensity fires, should be used in conjunction with other hazard reduction activities generally practiced by state fire services.
Further, the Maloneys Beach Residents Association called from more research into the practical application of Indigenous custodial burning methods and emphasised areas vulnerable to bushfires should be managed in accordance with 'best practice based on current scientific study and indigenous practices'.
ELCA also submitted that:
In reviewing hazard reduction treatments, an excellent opportunity exists to better engage and support regional Aboriginal organisations and businesses in fire management and reafforestation projects to achieve both social justice, regional economic impacts and climate change mitigation and adaptation outcomes. There are already some good examples of Aboriginal organisations (eg Muru Mittigar in Western Sydney) which could benefit from greater Government support through the adoption of preferential procurement policies for bushfire risk reduction on government tenures.
Working with Indigenous communities to improve bushfire mitigation has a range of benefits. For example, the Northern Territory Government highlighted the value in funding 'land owners, particularly traditional landowners, to improve fire regimes across the northern savanna through emissions avoidance activities such as savanna burning'. These efforts assist in 'reducing bushfire risk to remote communities, tourist facilities and government infrastructure'.
The Northern Territory Government also informed the committee about the Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Ranger Programs, which assist in reducing 'fire frequency, intensity and extent' as well as create employment opportunities for Aboriginal rangers.
Funding and research
Several submitters commented on the need for more funding and research to improve Australia's preventative hazard reduction activities.
A strong sentiment raised by submitters was the need for greater collaboration between all levels of government and all aspects of the community to create effective bushfire mitigation strategies.
For example, ELCA recommended that land management standards should be developed to ensure that land management agencies, as well as urban and rural fire services, receive the necessary resourcing 'to participate in prescribed burning operations on a regular, planned basis'.
Ms Nicole Carter submitted that ongoing funding from the Australian Government would be necessary to 'adequately resource hazard reduction burns' and recommended a 'co-ordinated effort' to reduce fuel loads across areas vulnerable to bushfires. To support these efforts, Ms Carter suggested '[l]ocal and interstate partnerships between Fire-Stick Alliance, National Parks Rangers and Rural/Country Fire Brigades' and proposed '[c]reating a system where hazard reduction is subcontracted out to local businesses' as a means to improve cost effectiveness.
Dr Thomas Duff highlighted the need for greater '[i]nvestment in the development of national structures and practices for the collection and collation of data in matters related to hazard reduction burning, and advocated for more field research to assess outcomes and safety.
Doctors for the Environment Australia recommended that community consultation should become a key component in hazard reduction planning, especially to assist in determining health problems which may be created in relation to bushfire smoke.
There were numerous signs that the 2019–20 bushfire season had the potential to be catastrophic. Large parts of Australia were exceptionally dry and hot, and all the analysis by the experts indicated that the fire season would be particularly severe.
The committee is therefore disturbed by the fact that ELCA sought numerous briefings with the Prime Minister, which were not considered in any way. The collective knowledge of 33 former fire and emergency service leaders should not have been ignored, when the warning signs for the next fire season were already there. The committee in no way discredits the work of the current fire and emergency services officials, but stresses that those experts with on‑the‑ground experience should be listened to.
The government showed a clear lack of preparedness for the 2019-20 Black Summer, despite the numerous warnings. The combination of drought and heat should have seen the government be more proactive in consulting with emergency authorities and fire management experts, in order to be better prepared for a cohesive, whole-of government response to the fires, in liaison with state and territory counterparts.
As was noted in Chapter 2, the evidence received by the committee thus far has indicated the need for more centralised decision-making to more effectively respond to natural disasters—this should include clear mechanisms for the executive to hear the concerns of subject matter experts in a timely manner.
In addition, there remains a lack of clarity around what the Prime Minister knew and when, and what actions he took upon receiving advice about the unfolding bushfire disaster. The committee will continue to pursue this matter with interest as the inquiry continues.
Hazard reduction activity
The evidence received around hazard reduction shows that while this activity can help to reduce fuel loads, it is not the only way to approach and reduce bushfire risk. It is but one element of addressing the intensity of fires, and should operate in conjunction with other measures, such as emissions reduction and land use planning.
The committee has an interest in further considering the points of contention around hazard reduction activity. The committee notes that public discussion around this issue continues, with polarised views on the efficacy of hazard reduction activity. The committee will examine this issue further as it progresses its inquiry, with a particular focus on the application Indigenous land management practices.
The committee notes that there are significant gaps in knowledge about how best to employ hazard reduction techniques to reduce the intensity of bushfires. There is a clear need for increased research on hazard reduction activity, especially given the variables that can impact on this process in a rapidly changing climate—including hotter, drier weather, shrinking windows where conditions are favourable to hazard reduction, changes in vegetation and the variations in the environment across Australia.
In addition, the committee was particularly struck by the evidence which pointed to the fact that the execution of hazard reduction activities was dependent on the availability of volunteer firefighters. As was pointed out by Mr Mullins, this constrains hazard reduction burning to weekends, when the weather conditions were right and there has been no rain.
The Emergency Response Fund (ERF) established in 2019 allocates funding in order to build resilience to, and prepare for or reduce the risk of future natural disasters. The evidence received indicates that no allocations have yet been made out of the ERF.
Hazard reduction activities would meet the requirements of ERF allocations, and fall within the remit of pre-disaster preparedness initiatives. In line with the committee's previous recommendation, funding for mitigation activities from the ERF should be made available as a matter of priority.
The committee sees benefit in the development of a dedicated, stand‑alone workforce in each jurisdiction, with research capacity, knowledge of the land and appropriate hazard reduction experience. This approach would go some way to addressing the numerous factors which impact on these activities, such as lack of resources and weather conditions not conducive to reduction activities.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government allocate funding from the Emergency Response Fund to each state and territory for the establishment of a dedicated hazard reduction workforce. Funding should be sufficient to ensure both hazard reduction and ongoing research activities can be conducted on an annual basis.