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Wednesday, June 16, 2021
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ANU experts: bushfire recommendations must be implemented

Several ANU academics have endorsed the final report from the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements and its recommendations for better bushfire preparation and recovery, but noted its success lies within its implementation.

The 80 recommendations across climate change, air quality, wildlife, and health were widely endorsed by political leaders and experts as comprehensive and credible, with diverse sources of evidence.

ANU Senior Lecturer of Marketing Dr Stephen Dann said all recommendations should be implemented, with “national communication synchronisation” the top priority.

“A shared message, common equipment, and inter-operability will be increasingly important as new fire seasons will need to rotate crews across the country,” Dr Dann said.

He said he would’ve liked the report to address community training and personal certification in regional areas for people who must decide between evacuating or staying and defending.

“Even an environmental first aid course could make a difference. It could improve the pool of community fire fighters and help people to decide if they can actually defend their property well in advance, based on practice and experience.”

Director of ANU National Bushfire Initiative, Dr Marta Yebra, was “pleased” the report “clearly recognised” the role of climate change, but said if, like previous enquiries, the recommendations were not implemented, it was “a waste of time and resources”.

“This time implementing the recommendations will require a substantial change in the way we manage natural disasters.

“I am pleased to see recommendations of a natural disaster management agency, a national aerial firefighting fleet, nationally consistent warnings, and acknowledgement of the role of Indigenous fire managers in mitigating bushfire risks.”

ANU Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, Professor Sharon Friel, said while the report should be commended, it could have gone further.

“We need to disrupt the policies and processes fuelling unhealthy and environmentally destructive production and consumption,” Professor Friel said.

“Disrupting the exploitation of natural resources including extracting, burning, and investing in oil, coal, gas, and other fossil fuels would help address health inequities in Australia.

“Sadly, the report did not call for this.

“Climate-change induced bushfires have resulted in deaths, tens of thousands displaced from their homes, up to 1.25 billion animals dead, and pristine landscapes destroyed.

“While everyone will be affected by climate change, they will not be affected equally.

“Affluent people can afford to live in insulated buildings with air conditioning and air purifiers.

“The poor, older people, people with disabilities, and those with pre-existing health conditions are the least able to adapt to the changing climate, unable to escape the fires and heat, and live in dwellings and environments that amplify its effects.

“This exacerbates inequities for those with more financial and social capital and adds to existing disease burdens and premature mortality, which are already unequally distributed. 

“Heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory failure, resulting from the exposure to extreme heat, fires and smoke, and the mental health aftermath is likely to overwhelm an unprepared health system.”

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