Thursday, 10 December 2020
Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Framework
by leave—Today I would like to update the House about the critical work that the government has done to reduce natural disaster risks and increase Australia's resilience.
In February this year, in my first statement to parliament on the disaster risk reduction framework, I spoke to you about the long-term work underway across the nation to reduce the potential for harm from natural disasters, and to enable a prosperous and resilient future.
At the time, we were in the midst of the unprecedented 2019-20 bushfire season.
The loss and devastation we saw is heartbreaking. Numerous communities continue to bear those scars.
Our thoughts go out to the families, friends and communities who have lost loved ones and the Australians who lost homes and businesses, and have been working hard to rebuild their lives—in the middle of a global pandemic.
I reiterate my thanks to all those Australians, volunteers, charities and not-for-profit organisations, and paid personnel, involved with emergency management for their dedication and tireless effort as we come into this high risk weather season.
This season, the Australian government is working closer than ever with state and territory governments, industry and the private sector to continue to deliver outcomes and services to the public in the challenging context of COVID.
The National Coordination Mechanism and Emergency Management Australia are leaning into a number of substantial challenges we are collectively facing by developing measures such as COVID-safe guidelines for evacuation centres and protocols to enable our emergency services personnel to deploy across state and territory borders where required.
The 2019-20 bushfires exemplified the value and importance of emergency services workers to the protection of life and property, and Australia's resilience and prosperity.
The mental health of Australian emergency services personnel is paramount as there is increasing recognition of the potential impact of repeated workplace trauma and the stressors associated with these occupations.
The Australian government remains firmly committed to taking actions that ensure our career and volunteer emergency services workers, retired emergency services workers, and their immediate families and kinship groups receive the necessary support to prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illness arising from their service.
The Australian government is investing $15.9 million to support the mental health of emergency service workers and their families who responded to the 2019-20 bushfires through Black Dog and Fortem, two leading mental health organisations. Included in this is the development of the first mental health national action plan to reduce suicide and mental illness among emergency services workers.
After the year that was 2020, it is more important than ever, that we—the Australian government, states and territories, and the community—work together to reduce our vulnerability to risks and build our resilience as we adapt to a changing climate, and prepare ourselves for the potential of further devastating seasons.
As I said in my previous statement and repeated on many occasions in this chamber, our emergency services are world class. Our state and territory emergency management and resilience personnel have proven themselves in the face of consecutive disasters to be of the highest calibre. For that, I thank them.
But there is always more to be done, and a greater role the Commonwealth can play. And we do not shy away from this role.
The Australian government is taking the lead to increase our recovery from, and resilience to, natural disaster. We are tackling some of those deep, underlying issues which put us, as Australians, at risk.
Today, I am pleased to be able to update you on the government's significant progress over the last few months towards building Australia's resilience towards natural disasters and our plans moving forward.
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA), established early in 2020, is leading nationally coordinated recovery and resilience activities to support communities and families, volunteer emergency service personnel, farmers and foresters, and small businesses recover from the devastating fires.
Since I last addressed parliament on this matter, the Australian government has committed more than $2 billion to the National Bushfire Recovery Fund to support relief, recovery and resilience activities across bushfire ravaged communities. We have spent $1.2 billion from the fund so far, as well as $659.6 million from other disaster support funding mechanisms including disaster recovery payments and allowances.
Of the $2 billion, our commitments include:
NBRA continues to work closely with impacted communities, local and state governments, charities, industry groups, insurers and peak bodies to ensure communities are supported in their journey to recovery.
Along the way, we are working to boost resilience of these local economies, infrastructure and communities through Local Economic Recovery projects, and we look forward to continuing this work.
We want to learn from past experience.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (Royal Commission) handed down its final report in October 2020.
On 13 November, in response to the royal commission, the Prime Minister announced the Australian government will:
These reforms will assist the government to provide strong leadership in emergency management and to drive a reduction in disaster risk.
All national initiatives like this require coordination with our state and territory counterparts. National cabinet has agreed the National Emergency Management Ministers Meeting will be initially responsible for driving and coordinating implementation of the royal commission's recommendations, including design of ongoing governance mechanisms.
We have also made progress on a number of initiatives since my last statement.
The first National Action Plan to implement the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework (the Framework), was endorsed by emergency management ministers in May and captures efforts across the nation.
The framework sets the five-year foundation to 2023 to address systemic disaster risk in all sectors. The framework outlines four priorities, which are: understand disaster risk; accountable decisions; enhanced investment; and governance, ownership and responsibility.
The Australian government is driving this program of measures, in partnership with states and territories, to realise the outcomes of the framework and increase the resilience of Australian communities.
The total investment in resilience initiatives across the Commonwealth identified in the national action plan is $1.7 billion—this is in addition to the value of initiatives in the state and territories, private or community sectors. Spanning the period 2015-2027, these initiatives support the four priorities of the framework.
We have completed or made considerable progress towards completing a number of initiatives set out in the national action plan. Of note:
In June 2020, the Department of Home Affairs concluded a pilot project in the freight and supply chain sector to test the feasibility of a national climate and disaster intelligence capability. The pilot was conducted in partnership with other government agencies and the research sector. The pilot validated the need for a national capability and showed a clear benefit for Australian communities and businesses having better decision-ready information and advice. The pilot outcomes will inform options for establishing the Resilience Services Australia.
$145 million is also being invested from 2015-2021 into the first phase of National Environmental Science Program—a long-term commitment funding environment and climate research; $149 million invested from 2021-2027, including for systems that will advance understanding of Australia's climate, its extremes and associated drivers, including the fundamental drivers of rainfall, drought and bushfires.
Continuation of the Regional Land Partnerships, the Australian government's flagship natural resource management program to support delivery of on-ground natural resource management actions across the country also continues.
The Australian government and state and territory governments are also developing measurement, evaluation and learning arrangements to support implementation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. These arrangements will track the effectiveness of our collective national efforts, and facilitate ongoing learning, to reduce disaster risk.
Further, we have committed $8 million to the development of a Public Safety Mobile Broadband proof-of-concept trial. In July, the Commonwealth reaffirmed its commitment to making available dedicated spectrum. It's going to ensure our emergency services are equipped with the best possible communications technology to assist their work.
Delivery of these programs and initiatives is critical to achieving the vision set out in the framework. Australia is projected to see more heat extremes and fewer cold extremes. We need to plan for and adapt to the changing nature of climate risk now and in the future. We are committed to researching and understanding what the best technologies and risk reduction methods are so that we can adequately adapt to, and prepare for, our changing climate.
On 23 July 2020, the Minister for Science, Industry and Technology and I announced $88.1 million in funding to extend and scale up critical research into bushfires and natural hazards. This includes $86.1 million to support a new, world-class research centre for natural hazards resilience and disaster risk reduction, building on the work of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. Our departments are currently working to implement the new centre, which is expected to be operational from 1 July 2021.
We have also renewed funding for the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, committing an additional $12.8 million over four years from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2024. The institute delivers a range of disaster resilience products, programs and services, and it shares this knowledge and learning across all governments, the private sector and communities to advance the collective approach to disaster resilience. We have committed to spend $50 million from the Emergency Response Fund on mitigation and resilience, and I can advise the House that it will be spent during this financial year.
This work demonstrates our commitment to the Australian people to build a prosperous, resilient nation. I ask the Australian people to consider what you can do to reduce risk, to better prepare for natural disasters and to come with us on this national journey towards a safer, more secure nation.
I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management for his update on the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. On behalf of Labor, I would like to echo his thanks to all those who were part of fighting the Black Summer bushfires and those who will risk their lives and dedicate their time this disaster season to keep Australians safe. Thank you so much for your sacrifice.
Thirty-three lives were lost in the fires last summer and countless more from toxic smoke and conditions surrounding the firegrounds. Over 24 million hectares of bush and farmland were burnt. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed. An unfathomable number of animals were killed or displaced. The loss and indeed the terror of last summer's bushfires are still very fresh in most peoples' minds and, for too many survivors, reliving it is a daily experience. We know too that there are families still living in old caravans and sheds on their land, some without running water, 12 months after fires swept through. We know there are people still anxiously waiting for work to start on their homes being rebuilt, if they will be rebuilt at all. We know there are communities struggling with mountains of paperwork for grants for the financial support they are entitled to.
Labor know the bushfires have had a lasting impact on communities right across Australia. That is why we don't want to see others go through the same thing in the future. We must ensure that we do everything that is humanly possible to safeguard communities not just from bushfires but from floods and cyclones, which have left a trail of devastation in their path in towns and cities around our country. This is why the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework seemed like a step in the right direction. When this was announced in 2018 it sounded like this government was finally starting to acknowledge that we need to prepare for disasters and invest proactively, rather than waiting until disaster strikes. But, unfortunately, this program has become yet another symbol of that which the Morrison government loves most: a flashy announcement with no follow-through. The Prime Minister and this government love to get out there and get the headline and make it seem like action is being taken when really nothing is being delivered. The Australian people are sick of this.
Let's not forget that the Morrison government announced this National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework way back in 2018, but it took them until mid-last-year to commit any money to the framework and then another year to get any money out the door. In July 2018, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework warned that the changing climate was exposing the country to natural disasters on 'unimagined scales, in unprecedented combinations and in unexpected locations'. This warned the government that more and more people and assets would be exposed to these disasters, with essential services—including power, water, telecommunications and financial services—being particularly vulnerable. And yet, it still took the government nearly two years to fund another through the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. It's frankly astounding that this did not elicit some sort of urgency from this government, which has failed its own deadline on the national implementation plan, which it promised to hand down in 2019.
Even in March this year, with bushfires in the front of everyone's mind after the Black Summer blazes, nothing had been spent. Only now, in recent months, are some of the states starting to see funding. While it is excellent to see the federal government begin to fulfil its commitments to the states, there are some still being left behind. It is very concerning that some of those are at great risk at the start of this disaster season. For example, take the Northern Territory, which, due to the La Nina weather pattern, is at high risk of facing a more intense and longer cyclone season, or New South Wales and Western Australia, which, according to the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, can expect an above-average risk of bushfires and grassfires in the months to come. Not a cent has been spent.
I do appreciate the update from Minister Littleproud on the trickle of funds being released through the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework. I would also have liked to have heard about projects being funded through the Emergency Response Fund. The government announced the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund for disaster, recovery and mitigation in last year's budget. This could have been releasing double the amount of funding in Commonwealth contributions than the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework towards resilience progress. Right now, the fund could have been used to protect communities from the cyclones, floods and fires we know are coming. It could have been used to build fire breaks, evacuation centres, flood levies and cyclone shelters to keep Australians safe. Instead, in 18 months now, the Morrison government has not announced a single project—not one project announced, not one cent spent, not one job created and not one community protected. Instead, we get one line on the Emergency Response Fund in this ministerial statement:
We have committed to spend $50 million from the Emergency Response Fund on mitigation and resilience, and I can advise the House that it will be spent during this financial year.
Forgive me, Minister, for not believing you on this, but the government has a long track record of grant announcements and no delivery, as we've seen in this area as well.
The longer this government delays in investing in natural disaster mitigation, the more lives are put at risk and the higher the cost of repairs. We saw the consequences when Prime Minister Morrison ignored bushfire warnings last year. He must not ignore disaster warnings again. We must see the Disaster Risk Reduction Framework being given the priority it deserves—the priority all Australians deserve—and the federal government committing to disaster prevention projects that will keep all Australians safe.