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Friday analysis: Bushfires are yearly, COVID is not

Photo credit: Tim Wilson

For almost four weeks now, pubs, cinemas, restaurants, and indoor sports have been closed. Concerts, festivals, sports, weddings have been cancelled. Churches are closed. Only 10 people can attend funerals. We all seem focused on COVID-19 as we should be. But life does go on. Source: Bruce Mitchell

It’s easy for some to forget than only a few months ago eastern Australia was ablaze. In NSW alone there were six days where areas across the state recorded catastrophic fire weather conditions.

The  Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements which was formally opened in Canberra this week – albeit online only – will examine the preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disasters including the recent bushfires, as well as floods, cyclones and earthquakes and will aim to hand down its findings before the start of the next bushfire season.

It will also examine legal issues around Commonwealth involvement in responding to national emergencies and its interaction with the states and territories, as well as the involvement of the Australian Defence Forces.

It’s a big ask given we are seeing severe fire danger ratings still applying in the Adelaide Hills, with a total fire ban being put in place this week.

The commission will hear some heart-breaking stories which must be heard, and will hopefully the eventual report will address some of the shortcoming Australia faced in the fires.

But perhaps more importantly the Royal Commission must pay close attention to those who will be advocating sustainable forest management which must include controlled burns.

Not only should we prepared to respond to natural disasters such as bushfires, we should also be prepared to prevent, or at least be in a position to manage, the fires in the first place.

The timber industry has a huge role to play here and must be allowed and encouraged to continue to play that role, and to even expand upon it.

It is clear as a bell that just locking up forests and leaving it to nature to sort out simply doesn’t work, and sometimes nature bites back.

As OneFortyOne general manager Cameron MacDonald wrote this week, the reality is that bush fires will occur next summer. What comes from the Royal Commission will play a huge part in how the nation responds.