Chapter 1

Introduction and Background


On 5 February 2020, the Senate referred the following matters to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by the last sitting day of 2021:1
Lessons to be learned in relation to the preparation and planning for, response to and recovery efforts following the 2019-20 Australian bushfire season, with particular reference to:
advice provided to the Federal Government, prior to the bushfires, about the level of bushfire risk this fire season, how and why those risks differed from historical norms, and measures that should be taken to reduce that risk in the future;
the respective roles and responsibilities of different levels of government, and agencies within government, in relation to bushfire planning, mitigation, response, and recovery;
the Federal Government’s response to recommendations from previous bushfire Royal Commissions and inquiries;
the adequacy of the Federal Government’s existing measures and policies to reduce future bushfire risk, including in relation to assessing, mitigating and adapting to expected climate change impacts, land use planning and management, hazard reduction, Indigenous fire practices, support for firefighters and other disaster mitigation measures;
best practice funding models and policy measures to reduce future bushfire risk, both within Australia and internationally;
existing structures, measures and policies implemented by the Federal Government, charities and others to assist communities to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires, including the performance of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency;
the role and process of advising Government and the federal Parliament of scientific advice;
an examination of the physical and mental health impacts of bushfires on the population, and the Federal Government’s response to those impacts; and
any related matters.2

Conduct of the inquiry

Following its referral, details of the inquiry were placed on the committee’s website at and the committee wrote to the relevant Commonwealth, state and territory government departments and agencies, seeking submissions. In addition, the committee invited submissions from local government associations, business and tourism bodies, charity groups, insurance companies, banking and housing organisations, academic and research institutions, wildlife and conservation organisations, fire services, and other stakeholder groups by 9 April 2020. On 19 March 2020, the committee agreed to extend the closing date for submissions from 9 April 2020 to 22 May 2020.
On 11 December 2020 – following the tabling of the committee’s interim report on 7 October 2020 – the committee re-opened submissions to the inquiry and invited submissions (or supplementary submissions) by 11 February 2021.
In calling for additional submissions, the committee once again wrote to stakeholders to advise that, in addition to the issues contained in the Terms of Reference, it would welcome submissions in relation to:
Hazard reduction – including existing hazard reduction practices (the possibilities for future hazard reduction regimes) and Indigenous burning practices and their efficacy.
The 2019-20 bushfire season – and the level of recovery one year on (including the progress and status of recovery efforts).
Mitigation infrastructure and land-use planning – including an assessment of the types (and costs) of mitigation infrastructure that would effectively reduce risk in fire-prone areas.
Insurance issues – the effects of fire on insurance premiums in fire affected regions (one year on from the 2019-20 fire season).
Aerial firefighting – including the establishment of a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet, the use of aerial resources and early suppression.
At the time of the tabling of the committee’s interim report, the committee had received 145 submissions. The committee received 192 submissions in total, which are listed at Appendix 1.

Public hearings

As noted in the interim report, the committee had proposed to travel to areas that were significantly impacted by the 2019-20 bushfire season. The committee had hoped to meet with locals in their own communities, and gain a first-hand understanding of how the bushfires had impacts people’s lives, communities and environment.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee was not able to travel to conduct interstate hearings and site visits as intended. The committee was able to hold one public hearing in Sydney and nine others were held – largely via videoconference – from Canberra. The list of public hearings held is as follows:
27 May 2020
10 July 2020
29 July 2020
30 July 2020
12 August 2020
2 March 2021
17 March 2021
28 April 2021 (Sydney)
27 July 2021
29 September 2021
A list of the witnesses who gave evidence at the hearings is available at Appendix 2.
Submissions to the inquiry and the Hansard transcripts of hearings may be accessed on the committee’s website.


The committee would like to thank the organisations and individuals who provided written submissions to the inquiry. The committee would also like to thank those who provided evidence at public hearings. Your efforts have greatly assisted the committee in its deliberations.

Interim report

The committee’s interim report largely focused on issues such as financial assistance, the level of funding for disaster relief, and reporting requirements. Several of the committee’s recommendations related specifically to disaster recovery funding arrangements and disaster recovery payments and allowances.
The committee made recommendations in relation to funding for health-related matters, including research into the health impacts of significant and hazardous levels of bushfire smoke, and funding for permanent mental health support services.
The central role of timely and clear communication was also raised by the committee, and its recommendations included appropriate levels of funding for the ABC to continue, and enhance, its emergency broadcast services. Funding for the establishment of a permanent aerial firefighting fleet was also recommended.

Final report

The committee’s key focus during the second phase of its inquiry, and in this final report, is the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires on human health and welfare, and the recovery process for those who lived through the fires and are attempting to rebuild their lives in impacted regions and communities. The report examines the progress of recovery from the point of view of these people and documents the issues raised during the inquiry. The report also examines the positive, and the less helpful, aspects of the assistance provided and the appropriateness of recovery programs. It also summarises stakeholders’ suggestions in relation to consultation with communities, systems to increase efficiencies, and ways to ensure more coordinated, equitable and efficient recovery processes.

Report structure

This chapter outlines the conduct of the committee’s inquiry, including the terms of reference, the submissions received and the public hearings held.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the issues raised, and the recommendations made by the committee in its interim report. It provides some background in relation to the Royal Commission (including its findings and recommendations) and summarises the Federal Government’s response to these inquiries and their recommendations. It also outlines other recent inquiries into the 2019-20 bushfire season.
Chapter 3 examines the issue of aerial firefighting, including the Royal Commission’s recommendations in relation to a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet. The chapter also outlines the views of stakeholders’ – including federal, state and territory governments, industry and tourism bodies and community representatives.
Chapter 4 provides an update on progress within communities and examines the status and level of recovery from the 2019-20 fires. It outlines Commonwealth, state and territory, community and individual approaches to recovery from the point of view of stakeholders, and examines what has worked, what has been less than effective and the lessons that have been learned. The chapter also identifies some of the gaps and shortfalls in the delivery of financial and logistical support.
Taking the lessons learned and advice received from local communities, the fifth chapter examines what a future recovery model should look like, and how recovery efforts can be better co-ordinated and managed through a national governance framework and the recently established National Recovery and Resilience Agency.
Chapter 6 outlines the impact fires are having on insurance – particularly in fire affected regions. The chapter examines the increased cost of insurance premiums, and the impact on communities, small business and tourism.
The concluding chapter, Chapter 7, examines the issues of mitigation infrastructure, land use planning and hazard reduction regimes. The chapter outlines some of the existing hazard reduction practices and examines the efficacy of Indigenous burning practices. The chapter also examines the cost and assessment of mitigation infrastructure and building standards.

  • 1
    The last sitting day of 2021 being Thursday, 2 December.
  • 2
    Journals of the Senate, No. 37, 5 February 2020, pp. 1223-1225.

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