Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

17 August 2009; Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction
    The Hon Robert McClelland MP, Attorney-General

Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction, Bill Shorten, today welcomed the release of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report.

The Commission is to be commended for the important work it has undertaken to date.

The Rudd Government has already begun a detailed analysis of the recommendations and will respond in accordance with the timetable set out by the Royal Commission.

The Report’s recommendations will also inform the further development of emergency response policy and practice.

One important initiative referred to by the Royal Commission is the development of a telephone based emergency warning system.

The Commonwealth is already assisting the States and Territories to develop a national telephone-based emergency warning system and to conduct research to improve the technology.

The Rudd Government has invested $15 million to assist the States and Territories to establish a National Emergency Warning System (NEWS) to deliver emergency warnings to landline and mobile telephones.

The national emergency warning system is being developed to be operational by the next bushfire season, in line with the Interim Report’s recommendations.

In addition, the Commonwealth has invested $11.3 million to:

  • create a Location-Based Number Store (LBNS) to provide secure access for State and Territory warning systems to telephone numbers based on their billing address; and
  • fund collaborative research between the Commonwealth, States and Territories with industry on ways to deliver warning messages to mobile phones based on a handset’s physical location, rather than the owners billing address, consistent with the Commission’s recommendations.

Other recommendations focus on the potential for Commonwealth agencies to more effectively cooperate with the States and Territories in sharing information and resources to assess fire danger and detect, track and suppress bushfires.

Relevant Commonwealth agencies, including Emergency Management Australia (EMA), will explore ways to ensure that this cooperation is made possible.

The report also recommends the promotion of more effective emergency call service arrangements throughout Australia through the COAG framework.

Triple Zero Emergency Call Services are currently provided at a State and Territory level in conjunction with Telstra as this enables call centres to have direct feed into State emergency response agencies, including police, fire and ambulance services.

The Government is, however, pursuing improvements to emergency response best practice, harmonisation and overflow management. The matter has been placed on the agenda of the November 2009 meeting of the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management (MCPEM).

The Rudd Government has already spent and committed almost $400 million in response and reconstruction efforts following the devastating Victorian bushfires.

In addition, this year’s Budget increased the Rudd Government’s total commitment to disaster resilience measures to over $200 million, including:

  • $79.3 million over four years for the Disaster Resilience Program (DRP) to address specific mitigation priorities of States and Territories, climate change adaptation and the recruitment and retention of volunteers;
  • $56 million over four years for National Aerial Fire Fighting Arrangements; and
  • $6.8 million over two years to improve mobile telephone network access for key decision makers and emergency authorities during times of congestion following a major disaster or emergency.

The Commonwealth has also initiated a number of measures to tackle arson within our community, including:

  • convening, in March, a National Forum on the Reduction of Deliberate Bushfires in Australia which brought together key agencies and experts across jurisdictions to identify areas for action;
  • ensuring better coordination between police, fire and emergency services to engage in targeted prevention programs and share information in investigating crimes;
  • encouraging greater collaboration through the National Institute of Forensic Science and the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council in training programs, crime prevention strategies, law enforcement techniques and technologies; and
  • drafting model laws for stronger, more consistent arson offences with penalties of up to 25 years for bushfire arson causing death or serious harm.

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission will deliver its Final Report on 31 July 2010.

The Rudd Government remains committed to cooperating with and assisting the Royal Commission to the greatest extent possible.