The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (the “bushfire royal commission”) has delivered a final report, with 80 recommendations on navigating future emergencies.

Last summer’s horrific bushfire season claimed 33 fatalities and caused a great many smoke-related health occurences. More than 3,000 homes were claimed in the 24 million hectares that burned.

In the future we must strategise the very best places to live and build. As the royal commission stated, decisions regarding planning and degree of risk are linked.

But the royal commission does not suggest a national town planning policy.

The commission considered all natural hazards, including drought, storms and floods, as well as bushfires.

It revealed that the Australian community wants national leadership, and it called for action and unity from the government to enhance natural disaster arrangements as risk increases with the offset of climate change. The federal government should act to support state and local government.

The commission also found that where individuals decide to live impacts the degree of damage and harm from a disaster, even if consequences aren’t experienced for decades. Its recommendations include:

  • enhanced communication of risk and hazard data for potential property buyers
  • guidance from insurers regarding which risk mitigation strategies will be mandated for standing buildings
  • requisite consideration of natural disaster risk in land-use planning decisions by state, territory and local government bodies
  • review of the National Construction Code and its standards to comprehend how useful they are in lessoning risk.

Putting these recommendations into action is valuable, as the Bushfire Building Council estimates in the report:

90% of buildings in bushfire prone areas in Australia have not been built to bushfire planning and construction regulations as they were built prior to regulation being applied.

Potential landowners buy a certain degree of risk with each property, so– beyond risk awareness—buyers should be taught how to reduce their risk. They may be able to clean their gutters or prune trees.

Insurers must advise on changes that could be made to alleviate risk, and must oversee the development of a national insurance policy to address this issue, with reduced insurance premiums.

Good building standards are important, but they should not serve as the prime means of risk reduction. Town planning must be paramount, as we must construct in less hazard-prone areas.

Town planning often is supervised by local government, but state and territory governments remain accountable, lending needed support to local government.

Yet houses continue to be constructed in high risk regions. The royal commission’s report states:

all states permit homes to be built in bushfire and flood prone areas, and the degree to which planning or building standards act to mitigate risk varies across jurisdictions.

In addition, the Insurance Council of Australia said in the report that recent planning moves have placed cities at risk of further disaster.

For instance, development of Idalia in Townsville was only partly completed before being flooded in February 2019. More than 3,300 houses suffered from damage.

The royal commission values the part that state, territory and local government play in planning. But this status can get confusing—so, or so it seems, Australia is in need of a national perspective, via a nationwide policy that all levels of government can manage together.

The community, emergency, government and insurance sectors must unite to strive for improved construction standards and standard risk assessments.

We must take action now, for a safer tomorrow.


Source: Architecture and Design