Australia state announces inquiry into catastrophic bush fires

  • January 30, 2020

New South Wales Premier Berejiklian warned on Thursday that the bushfire season is still not over [Noah Berger/AP]

New South Wales, the Australian state worst hit by this season’s enormous bushfires, has announced an independent inquiry into the continuing blazes, including the reasons why they started and the role that climate change may have played.

The six-month inquiry that will begin this week will examine how state authorities prepared and responded to the “unprecedented” 2019-20 bushfire crisis, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday.

It would be crucial to “leave no stone unturned,” Berejiklian said.

She said the inquiry will be led by two experts – former state police Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens and former state chief scientist Mary O’Kane, who will travel to affected communities and take submissions from the public.

They will not hold public hearings.

“We’ve asked them to start during the [bush fire] season to ensure that they can do all the work they need to do for now because we want to report in a timely fashion, we want it ahead of the next season,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

The inquiry will look into how climate change, drought, hazard-reduction burns – which are conducted to reduce fuel load before the bushfire season – and human activity contributed to the fires.

The relationship between state authorities and federal authorities during the crisis will also be examined.

Billions of dollars in damage

Australia’s conservative federal government led by coal industry-promoting Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavily criticised for climate inaction and over its handling of the crisis.

SBS online reported Morrison had also been at odds with New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean over the fires and climate change.

Morrison had dismissed Kean’s proposal for the federal government to take on a bigger role in dealing with climate change in the wake of the fires, it reported.

The prime minister has also defended the country’s coal industry, saying he is protecting jobs.

But critics say coal and climate change have contributed to the unprecedented bushfires continuing to burn. (Aljazeera)