The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established on 20 February 2020 in response to the extreme bushfire season of 2019-20 which resulted in loss of life, property and wildlife and environmental destruction.

Referred to as the ‘Bushfires Royal Commission’, the Commission will examine coordination, preparedness for, response to and recovery from disasters as well as improving resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions and mitigating the impact of natural disasters. The inquiry will also consider the legal framework for Commonwealth involvement in responding to national emergencies.

The Commission is now accepting public submissions on the 2019-20 bushfire season from individuals, community groups and the broader community.

Submissions will close on Friday, 3 April 2020.

Terms of reference

The terms of reference can be viewed and downloaded at https://naturaldisaster.royalcommission.gov.au/about/terms-reference

Note: The original terms of reference should be consulted and referenced in any submissions.

A brief overview is provided below:

a. the responsibilities of, and coordination between, the Commonwealth and State, Territory and local Governments relating to preparedness for, response to, resilience to, and recovery from, natural disasters, and what should be done to improve these arrangements, including with respect to resource sharing,

b. Australia’s arrangements for improving resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions, what actions should be taken to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, and whether accountability for natural disaster risk management, preparedness, resilience and recovery should be enhanced, including through a nationally consistent accountability and reporting framework and national standards,

c. whether changes are needed to Australia’s legal framework for the involvement of the Commonwealth in responding to national emergencies, including in relation to the following:

i. thresholds for, and any obstacles to, State or Territory requests for Commonwealth assistance,

ii. whether the Commonwealth Government should have the power to declare a state of national emergency,

iii. how any such national declaration would interact with State and Territory emergency management frameworks,

iv. whether, in the circumstances of such a national declaration, the Commonwealth Government should have clearer authority to take action (including, but without limitation, through the deployment of the Australian Defence Force) in the national interest,

d. any relevant matter reasonably incidental to a matter referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c),

e. the findings and recommendations (including any assessment of the adequacy and extent of their implementation) of other reports and inquiries that you consider relevant, including any available State or Territory inquiries relating to the 2019-2020 bushfire season, to avoid duplication wherever possible,

f. ways in which Australia could achieve greater national coordination and accountability – through common national standards, rule-making, reporting and data-sharing – with respect to key preparedness and resilience responsibilities, including for the following:

i. land management, including hazard reduction measures,

ii. wildlife management and species conservation, including biodiversity, habitat protection and restoration,

iii. land-use planning, zoning and development approval (including building standards), urban safety, construction of public infrastructure, and the incorporation of natural disaster considerations,

g. any ways in which the traditional land and fire management practices of Indigenous Australians could improve Australia’s resilience to natural disasters.

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