Australian bushfire commission adjusts to COVID 19
Friday 3 Apr 2020Australian bushfires royal commission has delayed its opening hearing as coronavirus restrictions force a move to virtual meetings. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and the separate state bushfire inquiries have suspended face-to-face meetings with fire-affected communities.
Royal commission chair Mark Binskin said current health advice means it is no longer possible for the commission to conduct its work face-to-face. “We recognise that bushfires will continue to occur in the future, so we are committed to ensuring the commission’s important work continues,” he said.
“That means adapting the way we operate.” Mr Binskin said the commission is examining options for digital rather than in-person engagement. This is a different way of doing business but we will do everything we can to ensure the royal commission continues to consult and gather information within current health guidelines.”
A ceremonial hearing due to be held in Canberra on Tuesday has been delayed as the commission examines ways it can be held while minimising the risk of exposure. The three commissioners visited a number of fire-affected communities over the past three weeks, holding public forums in each state and territory except the ACT and Tasmania.
A further six community forums have been suspended. “Each fire-affected region is equally important to us and we strongly encourage anyone who wants to share their experience to make a public submission,” Mr Binskin said. The deadline for public submissions has been extended by two weeks until April 17.
The NSW bushfire inquiry has extended its submission deadline to the same date and suspended community visits as it determines how to proceed with virtual meetings. Inquiry head Dave Owens says the inquiry remained committed to meeting the tight July 31 deadline despite the COVID-19 crisis.
“We will make every effort because COVID will come and go – it’s not a good experience – but people will want to get back on with their lives and the bushfire season will come about again,” he said. The Victorian inquiry has also stopped face-to-face consultations before a move to virtual community meetings.
South Australia’s independent review has extended its public consultation period until April 17, taking written submissions as well as online input. The six-month bushfires royal commission must deliver a final report by August 31, with the federal government keen for recommendations before the next fire season. The South Australian review findings are due by June 30 while the NSW and Victorian inquiries have July 31 deadlines.
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