He was commenting on the release of a report into the fires drafted after a summit of emergency, local government and community leaders, economists, academics and climate scientists earlier this year.
He called on the federal government to purchase new purpose-built firefighting aircraft such as the CL-415 Superscooper, an amphibious aircraft that can land on any large enough body of water and collect 6000 litres of water in 18 seconds. He noted that during the summer fires, many aircraft deployed on the NSW South Coast had to return to the RAAF base Richmond to refill.
The recommendations were among 165 developed during the summit hosted by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and the Climate Council earlier this year who gathered to develop plans for bushfire response, readiness and recovery in an era of increased fire danger.
Underscoring all the recommendations was a call for all governments, the private sector and community groups to work together to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are rapidly moving to a climate outside the range of human experience,” says the summit’s report Australia Bushfire and Climate Plan.
“This is driving an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme events and disasters including out-of-scale bushfires. Addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas must therefore be the highest priority because changes in our climate are increasing the bushfire threat and reducing the effectiveness of current hazard reduction strategies.”
The report has also called for improved co-ordination between firefighting authorities and the Australian Defence Force.
“Often you’ll have the military saying to fire services, ‘what do you need’, but fire services have no idea what Defence has to offer,” said Mr Mullins. Better co-ordination will be critical in fighting future fires, he said.
“You don’t want soldiers fighting fires, they are not trained to do it. But they have huge capacity in engineering, in logistics. They have air bases and infrastructure. Every person they put in the field releases a firefighter to do their job.”
The group also called for reforms to insurance practices in the face of increased disaster risks, and recommended that the federal government map extreme weather risks street by street across the country and identify areas where under- and non-insurance was placing recovery at risk.
It called for the establishment of a permanent independent insurance price monitor either with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission or as a stand-alone entity.
The group also called for the creation of a national climate disaster fund to help preparation and recovery efforts to be funded by a levy on fossil fuel producers.
Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.
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