The terms of reference for the national royal commission into bushfires contain some potentially fruitful lines of enquiry, including the ideas of national policy on biodiversity, land use planning, and indigenous land use practices.
One of the challenges the commission will face is the directive to take into consideration ‘other reports and enquiries’. There have been more than 50 of these, and it’s hard to see how the commissioners can come up with something new, unless it’s a way of actually getting recommendations effectively implemented.
Take land use planning, for example. Here’s part of the Black Saturday Royal Commission recommendation 39 on the matter: ‘The State amend the Victoria Planning Provisions relating to bushfire to ensure that the provisions give priority to the protection of human life, adopt a clear objective of substantially restricting development in the areas of highest bushfire risk—giving due consideration to biodiversity conservation—and provide clear guidance for decision makers.’ [FOBIF emphasis].
Here’s Kevin Tolhurst on the fate of that recommendation:
‘The Government and its agencies has … been timid in applying land-use planning regulations in bushfire-prone areas. While the CFA, with its experienced and specialist bushfire planning staff, has been removed from its role as a planning authority with the power to accept or reject planning applications for buildings and developments in bushfire-prone areas.’
Let’s see how this Royal Commission goes around that circle.