Environment, International


Australian PM announces national inquiry into devastating bushfires

CANBERRA, Feb. 20 -- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a national inquiry into the "Black Summer" bushfires.
   The Royal Commission into the bushfires which claimed at least 33 lives and destroyed thousands of homes was on Thursday signed-off by Governor-General David Hurley.
   Former Australian Defence Force (ADF) chief Mark Binskin, former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett and a specialist in climate risk and impact management Professor Andrew Macintosh from Australian National University (ANU) have been appointed as commissioners and given until the end of August to deliver their findings.
   Morrison said that the inquiry will focus on improving Australia's preparedness for natural disasters, improving natural disaster coordination and the Federal Government's role in responding to national emergencies and how it cooperates with state and territory governments.
   "My priority is to keep Australians safe and to do that, we need to learn from the Black Summer bushfires how nationally we can work better with the states and territories to better protect and equip Australians for living in hotter, drier and longer summers," he said.
   "The inquiry acknowledges climate change, the broader impact of our summers getting longer, drier and hotter and is focused on practical action that has a direct link to making Australians safer.
   "That's why we need to look at what actions should be taken to enhance our preparedness, resilience and recovery through the actions of all levels of government and the community, for the environment we are living in."
   The government in January took the unprecedented move of deploying more than 6,000 ADF personnel to help bushfire recovery efforts, a move that Morrison said on Thursday "entered a constitutional grey zone."
   "We need to consider the need to establish new powers for the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency to trigger direct Federal Government responses to national disasters, including the direct deployment of the Australian Defence Force."
   The government had previously flagged a national inquiry into the bushfires but had to secure the support of state and territory governments on the terms of reference before it could go ahead. Xinhua