Australia

Firefighters are urging Scott Morrison to rethink federal royal commission into bushfires

Firefighters battle bushfires in northern NSW. There's fears ash from the fires will contaminate drinking water. Source: AAP

Australian firefighters are urging the prime minister not to call a national inquiry into the bushfire crises, saying there's plenty of recommendations to use.

Australian firefighters are urging Scott Morrison not to call a royal commission into the unprecedented bushfires ravaging the country.

The United Firefighters Union of Australia has penned a letter to the prime minister, saying there's already been scores of bushfire-related inquiries over the past two decades.

Instead of a royal commission the prime minister should set up a Council of Australian Governments audit all of the existing recommendations that haven't been implemented, the union believes.

Members of the United Firefighters Union of Australia during a rally demanding a national approach to climate change in Canberra, December 2019.
Members of the United Firefighters Union of Australia during a rally demanding a national approach to climate change in Canberra, December 2019.
AAP

'Relive the trauma'

UFUA's national secretary Peter Marshall said previous inquiries had already considered issues such as the deployment of defence personnel, the role of the commonwealth, climate change and prescribed burning.

A new inquiry would be doubling up, he added.

"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," Mr Marshall said.

"Which is often a gruelling, emotional experience as the witness is forced to relive the trauma of the fire.

"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."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons in Nowra, Sunday, January 5, 2020.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons in Nowra, Sunday, January 5, 2020.
AAP

Bushfires are still burning across the country with the season predicted to continue for months.

Mr Morrison is preparing to take a proposal for a bushfire royal commission to federal cabinet.

Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey doesn't believe such an inquiry is the best option.

"I think the problem with a royal commission is that it tends to be a fairly combative lawyer-expensive exercise, they make a lot of sense when what you're trying to do is reveal stuff people have been hiding," she told ABC radio.

"When the issue is one about government ... probably not so much a royal commission is needed but some kind of other government inquiry."

Ms Twomey thinks legislation should be introduced to make the federal government's role clear in times of natural disaster.

The state response to Mr Morrison's idea has been lukewarm, with Victoria and NSW announcing their own inquiries into the bushfires.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has questioned what a federal inquiry would achieve.

"It's unclear to me ... whether this would be an inquiry into how the national effort can be as best coordinated as possible, or whether it's an inquiry into the event more broadly."

Mr Morrison said the inquiry would look at the agency responses, future resilience to bushfires - including hazard reduction - and adaptation, and what a nationally declared state of emergency would entail.

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