PM releases terms of reference for fire Royal Commission

Mr Morrison released the Terms of Reference today for the Royal Commission that will look into the national response to Australia’s devastating bushfires.

During a press conference on Thursday he was asked whether he had formed the commission to justify his argument about using Defence Reserves, and to show that the states had not done enough on hazard reduction.

“No, it’s not,” Mr Morrison told reporters. “It has got nothing to do with it. That is a pretty cynical view.”

Mr Morrison said he was not making any criticisms of the states and territories and the Federal Government was working together with them.

But the PM was pressed on whether he thought NSW did the wrong thing by not requesting help from Reserves earlier.

“I am not going to have you put words in my mouth,” Mr Morrison said.

“We need to know the answer to these questions. Australians safety needs the answers to these questions so that we can take them. It’s not about politics.”

In a statement, Mr Morrison announced the Terms of Reference for the commission and said it followed agreement from Governor-General David Hurley.

The Prime Minister said he wanted the Royal Commission to begin as soon as possible with a final report due back by August 31, so recommendations could be acted on before the next bushfire season.

“The national response to these devastating Black Summer bushfires is a shared responsibility of the Commonwealth, states and territories. We all have one goal – to protect people, property and wildlife,” he said in the statement.

The inquiry will have a national focus and look at three key areas:

• Improving natural disaster management co-ordination across all levels of government;

• Improving Australia’s preparedness and resilience to changing climatic conditions and its response to natural disasters across all levels of government; and

• The legal framework for the Commonwealth’s involvement in responding to national emergencies and how that works with state and territory legal frameworks, including whether the Commonwealth should have the power the declare a state of national emergency.

Mr Morrison said the inquiry acknowledged climate change and the broader impact of summers getting longer, drier and hotter. It would be focused on “practical action that has a direct link to making Australians safer”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced details of a Royal Commission into natural disaster responses. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAPSource:AAP

“That’s why we need to look at what actions should be taken to enhance our preparedness, resilience and recovery through the actions of all levels of government and the community, for the environment we are living in,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“The overwhelming majority of the actions to protect Australians from bushfires are undertaken at a state level.

“Everything from resourcing our fire services and hazard reduction, to land clearing and planning laws.

“Even the declaration of emergencies, the areas that are designated to receive payments and in most cases the assessment and delivery of those payments, even when they are funded by the Federal Government, are all undertaken by the states.

“I believe Australians are wanting us to look at ways we can work together to give Australians greater assurances at a national level that these important tasks are getting done.”

Mr Morrison said the scale of the Black Summer bushfires presented new challenges for all levels of government, which required a detailed national inquiry.

He said he wanted to learn from the fires and how the federal government could work better with the states and territories to better protect and equip Australians for living in hotter, drier and longer summers.

“In particular, we need to consider the need to establish new powers for the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency to trigger direct Federal Government responses to national disasters, including the direct deployment of the Australian Defence Force,” he said.

“Currently, there are no such powers and Federal responses are supposed to only be undertaken in response to State requests and authorisations.

“During the Black Summer bushfires, we entered a constitutional grey zone by directly initiating defence force deployments, utilising the first ever compulsory call out of Reservists, with over 6,500 ADF personnel serving in support of state and territory response efforts. But we did that without clear rules.”

The statement said the Royal Commission would not duplicate the work of other inquires but would work with other inquiries announced by the states, and will review the work and recommendations of previous inquiries.

It will be led by retired air chief marshal Mark Binskin AC, joined by former Federal Court Judge Dr Annabelle Bennett AC SC and Professor Andrew Macintosh, a specialist in climate risk and impact management.

“The three Commissioners are respected leaders in their fields and they bring a mix of expertise to the inquiry, including judicial, military and environmental planning and management backgrounds,” Mr Morrison said.

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