Wednesday 15 January 2020
Federal Royal Commission should not be called, specialist COAG Audit Committee to instead review the Recommendations from all previous bushfire-related Inquiries
The United Firefighters Union of Australia (“UFUA”) has written to the Prime Minister, calling for the establishment of a COAG Committee to audit all Recommendations made in previous federal and state/territory fire-related Inquiries.
The UFUA has said that the foreshadowing of a new, federal Royal Commission by the Prime Minister, if established, would only duplicate recommendations of past Inquiries.
UFUA National Secretary Peter Marshall highlighted that important fire-related matters have been extensively investigated in the past, and there are dozens of existing Recommendations that have previously been made. Key fire-related matters, that have previously been the subject of Inquiries and Recommendations and would be duplicated in any new, federal Royal Commission, include:
- Deployment of ADF personnel;
- Role of the Commonwealth Executive
- National coordination or “interoperability” between the fire agencies;
- Climate change and more frequent, more extreme weather events;
- Prescribed burning/fuel reduction;
- Aerial capability; and more.
“A specialist audit by Council of Australian Governments is necessary to understand the volume of matters previously canvassed, recommendations made in the dozens of fire-related Inquiries, and the lessons learnt.
“Australia has had no less than 15 bushfire-related Inquiries in the last 20 years. In many cases, the recommendations of these expensive, time-consuming and comprehensive reviews remain yet to be implemented. A COAG Audit Committee could ensure that these Recommendations are implemented.
Yesterday, a similar call for a commitment to implement existing Inquiry Recommendations was made by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the employer body representing Australian fire services. The UFUA welcomes such call.
Three states have tragically experienced fatalities, including line-of-duty deaths, as a result of the current fires which will prompt state-based inquiries, such as Coronial Inquests. A new, federal Royal Commission would duplicate this legislatively-required Inquest process, and consequently drain resources and exacerbate trauma for witnesses and others involved.
“Additionally, considerable resources are required to undertake a new, federal Royal Commission, including significant monetary expenditure, potentially hundreds of days of hearings, and cross-examination of witnesses, which is often a grueling, emotional experience as the witness is forced to relive the trauma of the fire. This was particularly evident during the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
Finally, a federal Royal Commission has no binding power and cannot compel any State, Territory or any other body or individual to accept or implement any Recommendations that it makes.
The UFUA is acutely aware that fires are still burning and professional career firefighters, support staff and volunteers are still on the fireground, committed to protecting life and property.
“The resources that would otherwise go towards a new, federal Royal Commission would be better put to use assisting fire affected communities and undertaking an analysis, through a COAG Audit Committee, of the wealth of information and Recommendations that we already have.
Media Contact: Darren Rodrigo 0414 783 405