Royal commission to probe government response into bushfire disaster
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia must prepare for "a new normal" with more severe bushfires, floods, cyclones and drought, as he vows to take a royal commission into the bushfire crisis to Cabinet.
Twenty-eight people have died and thousands of homes have been lost in the nation's unprecedented fire disaster. Mr Morrison said the bushfire inquiry would explore how the federal government could take a "more direct and proactive role" in future.
The government has been criticised by residents of bushfire-affected communities over the delay in deploying 3000 defence reservists to help with the crisis.
But Mr Morrison today said doing so had taken the federal government into "extreme constitutional territory" and meant new agreements may need to be struck with state and territory governments. A "federal state of emergency" declaration simply does not exist, he said.
"I think Australians have a very reasonable expectation that any commission of inquiry, royal commission, would need to cover the full gamut of issues," he said.
The inquiry would also acknowledge, "that the climate we are living in now and will live in for the next ten years… is hotter, drier, longer seasons".
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese welcomed the inquiry proposal so long as it did not allow the government to side-step scrutiny of its actions in the meantime.
Climate change policy
The prime minister today acknowledged "adaptation and resilience" would be key to navigating the changing climate, and reiterated the government intended to "meet and beat" its emissions targets.
"We have set our targets and we intend to meet and beat them and to evolve our policy to ensure that we reduce emissions as much as we can within the policy framework of not having a carbon tax, not having people's electricity prices go up, not wiping out the important industries that Australians rely on for their livelihoods across the country," he said today.
Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris Agreement.
Asked in an ABC TV interview this morning whether he was open to moving the existing target, Mr Morrison said: "What I'm saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it."
He acknowledged some within coalition ranks felt climate change had nothing to do with the bushfires.
But it was the government's "uncontested" advice and position that climate change was impacting on longer, hotter, drier summer seasons.
"That is the position of the government - let there be no dispute about that," he said.
One of the issues which should be explored by a royal commission into the bushfires, would be the impact of climate change, he said.
Mr Morrison has conceded there are things he could have handled better in terms of the devastating bushfires.
He has come under criticism for not doing enough at a national level to prepare for the bushfires, starting with his decision to take his family on a holiday to Hawaii.
He has also faced insults and anger from locals as he visited bushfire-hit areas.
"There are things I could have handled on the ground much better," Mr Morrison told ABC TV.
"These are sensitive, emotional environments.
"Prime ministers are flesh and blood too in how they engage with these people.
"When I went there I went there in good faith, with Jenny on occasions, to provide what consolation I could. They're very strained environments ... you would do things differently and learn from every event but the important thing is the actions we have taken."
Mental health package
Mr Morrison said a new $76 million mental health package would ensure communities could address the traumatic emotional toll the "unprecedented" bushfires have had on people.
"We need to ensure the trauma and mental health needs of our people are supported in a way like we never have before," he said.
Free counselling sessions will be available through recovery centres and Service Australia sites to address short-term trauma.
Youth-focused Headspace will get $7.4 million to boost services in 12 fire-ravaged regions and to speed-up the construction of its Batemans Bay centre.
Firefighters and other emergency personnel will be able to access more intensive support through better-funded specialist organisations.
Almost $30 million will go to boosting telehealth services and doubling the number of free psychological therapy sessions bushfire-affected people can access through Medicare.
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- with AAP