LG’s disaster response role ‘needs state government support’

A long-term strategy is needed to bolster Australia’s resilience to natural disasters, along with greater support for local government, the bushfires royal commission said last week.

In a statement accompanying the tabling of the report of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, Commission chairman Mark Binskin said: “While state and territory governments have primary responsibility, and accountability, for emergency management, we have concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters.

“This calls for the Federal Government to play a greater role than it currently does,” he said.

“Effective national coordination will be a critical capability in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences.”

The report reiterated the states and territories’ primacy in protecting life, property and the environment, but noted that they had delegated some of their responsibilities to local governments – including land-use planning and the management of local roads, as well as the coordination of emergency centres and the provision of emergency relief.

“Ultimately, state and territory governments remain accountable,” the report said, “and should therefore ensure local governments have the support and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities.”

The report’s 80 recommendations to improve national natural disaster arrangements include a major focus on resilience.

Among other things, the report recommends that Federal, state and territory governments:

  • incorporate the principle of “build back better” more broadly into the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA);
  • broaden Category D of the DRFA to encompass funding for recovery measures that are focused on resilience, including in circumstances which are not “exceptional”; and
  • create simpler Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements application processes.

It also proposes establishing a standing national resilience and recovery entity “dedicated to championing resilience … and with a remit to think broadly about measures necessary to build resilience to natural disasters”.

Regarding local government’s capacity and capability to undertake delegated tasks to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, the Royal Commission says that state and territory governments should:

  • ensure local governments are able to effectively discharge the responsibilities devolved to them; and
  • review their arrangements for sharing resources between their local governments during natural disasters.

All three levels of government are advised to ”engage further with Traditional Owners to explore the relationship between Indigenous land and fire management and natural disaster resilience”.

There is also a recommendation that federal, state and territory and local governments evaluate the effectiveness of existing financial assistance measures to inform the development of a suite of pre-effective pre-determined recovery supports.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin added: “Progress on implementing our recommendations should be monitored, transparent and communicated nationally. Australian, state and territory governments need to commit to action and cooperate, and hold each other to account.”

Emergency Management Ministers met this week to consider the inquiry’s findings, with Federal Minister David Littleproud advising that National Cabinet will meet next week to “further discuss our collective response”.