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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20949

National Bushfire Inquiry

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 10/10/2003

Release Type: Media Release

Transcript ID: 20949

I am today announcing a National Inquiry on Bushfire Management, Prevention and Mitigation to be conducted under the auspices of COAG.

In addition, I am pleased to announce that Mr Stuart Ellis, AM, has agreed to be the Chairman of the Inquiry Panel. Mr Ellis has previously served with the Australian Defence Force and as the Chief Executive Officer of the South Australian Country Fire Service. He has also assisted with recent bushfire audits and inquiries in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

Professor Peter Kanowski, ANU Professor of Forestry and Professor Robert Whelan, Dean of Science, University of Wollongong will also join the inquiry panel.

After the severe fires during the 2002-03 summer which burnt approximately 3 million hectares across New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, including the loss of four lives and some 500 homes in Canberra, it is important that bushfire arrangements be examined from a national perspective, including consideration of inter-jurisdictional arrangements, management and coordination.

The inquiry will not duplicate the work undertaken by the Federal Parliamentary, State, Territory or other inquiries. Although it will take account of other inquiries, its focus will be on areas where a national approach can add value.

As has been underlined in the summer past, bushfires are not bound by State or Territory borders. The inquiry will investigate opportunities to enhance cooperation between authorities across Australia and identify national best practice.

The inquiry will report to COAG in March 2004.

The terms of reference for the COAG National Bushfire Inquiry are attached.

10 October 2003



Bushfires are a natural feature of the Australian landscape but their frequency and a range of factors, some of which can be affected by human intervention, may influence severity. The loss of four lives and around 500 homes in the ACT during the 2002-03 bushfire season has highlighted that bushfires are as much a part of metropolitan life as they are for those living in regional and rural Australia. It is now estimated that a total of 3.1 million hectares of land has been burnt in bushfires this season. While the most severe fires have occurred in New South Wales (NSW), Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Victoria, there have also been major fires in the majority of other jurisdictions.

NSW and the ACT appear to have had their worst bushfire seasons. For NSW, the area burnt is almost three times what was burnt in 2001-02 (estimated at 754,000 hectares). Over half of the land area of the ACT, and around 90 per cent of Namadgi National Park has been burnt. The 1.3 million hectares burnt in Victoria is exceeded only by the 1.5 million hectares burnt in 1939.

Objectives of the inquiry

Against this background, the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments, under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments, will commission an independent inquiry into bushfire mitigation and management in Australia. Acknowledging that bushfire management and mitigation is constitutionally an area of State and Territory responsibility, this inquiry will add value by considering issues and identifying situations where there may be opportunities to enhance national cooperation and achieve best practice. The inquiry will outline the facts on this season's major bushfires (including where the fires started and what was affected). Having established the facts, the inquiry will examine the efficiency with which major bushfire fighting resources are managed on a national basis and the effectiveness of current management practices particularly in crown lands, state forests national parks, other open space areas adjacent to urban development and private property. The inquiry will also explore measures such as local government planning and best use of technology to minimise the impacts of bushfires.

Scope of the inquiry

Having established the facts in relation to the major bushfires in the 2002-03 season, the inquiry will address the following issues:  the current state of bushfire management in Australia, including: - risk factors contributing to bushfires, including deliberate fire lighting; - bushfire mitigation strategies in national parks, state forests, other Crown land, other open space areas adjacent to urban development and private property; - the impacts of bushfires on the environment, human life, property and the economy; - the impacts of fire mitigation strategies, such as hazard reduction, on the environment, human life, property and the economy; - the adequacy of infrastructure and human resources for fire mitigation purposes; and - the use of existing fire fighting resources, including an examination of the efficiency of resource use and co-operation between agencies and between jurisdictions; and  the identification of best practice national measures, cooperation and standards that can be undertaken by all levels of government, industry and the community, and the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of such measures.

In undertaking the inquiry, the panel shall:  take account of and draw on bushfire inquiries, distilling from them the common threads and lessons in relation to opportunities for national cooperative bushfire mitigation and management;  be mindful of the capacity of existing strategies and arrangements, including urban design and land use planning, at all levels of government, to protect life and property from major bushfires and minimise negative environmental impacts of bushfires, and bushfire mitigation regimes; and  also take into account national and regional objectives and variation in relation to vegetation types, land management processes, land management processes, biodiversity, terrain, long term climate conditions and other environment and heritage issues.


The inquiry will provide a report to the Council of Australian Governments in the first quarter of 2004.

Transcript 20949