What is the point of the SloMo Royal Commission into Bushfires other than politics?
More importantly, what recommendations will the Government be able to implement?
The Federal Government does not manage parks, forests and public lands. It has no jurisdiction over planned burnings and preparedness activities, like slashing, mowing and creating fuel breaks on public land. It doesn’t maintain water points, fire towers and road access in our forests and parks. The Federal Government does not respond to bushfires. It owns not a single fire truck or employs a single firefighter. It is not responsible for funding state fire fighting or emergency services and has no input into firefighting strategy (i.e. water bombers versus on the ground fire fighters). The Federal Government is also not responsible for planning law. It has no say in defining bushfire prone areas, deciding whether populations should continue to be built up in such areas, and if so what building and land regulations should apply.
In short, it is difficult to see how the Royal Commission could produce a single recommendation of substance that the Morrison Government could implement.
Given that limitation there is a danger the Royal Commission will make recommendations where it can give something for the Commonwealth to do. That will likely involve either climate change policy or some kind of Commonwealth takeover or intervention in bushfire management.
Any policy recommendation advocating something be done in the name of climate change will end up a policy and political disaster. It was foolish of SloMo to include it in the terms of reference. Activists will promote the insanity that policies made in Canberra can change weather conditions all over the country to prevent bushfires.
This will be a public relations disaster for the Coalition as they will be partially blamed for the bushfires for “not having doing enough on climate change”. Worse still it will detract attention and resources from doing the practical things that limit the spread and intensity of bushfires. This will also likely be a source of Coalition internal conflict. SloMo has in all likelihood wedged himself in the terms of reference and in his misinformed public statements paying homage to climate change and longer, drier summers.
Any policy recommendation advocating a greater role for the Commonwealth will also end up in disaster. SloMo is unfortunately of the mindset that every problem requires a government solution and every government solution is better off centralised in Canberra. After all it has worked so well in education, health, water, industrial relations and disability services thus far.
There is scant evidence that anything centralised to the Commonwealth leads to greater efficiency of better outcomes. It will simply lead to a blurring of the lines of accountability, duplication of roles and responsibility, greater bureaucracy, higher cost and poorer outcomes. It will perpetuate a blame game between levels of government as States demand more Commonwealth funding, crying poor having allocated the previous year’s fuel reduction budget to transgender eduction for primary school children.
The SloMo Royal Commission will either make recommendations the Morrison Government can’t implement or recommendations it could or will try and implement but you hope to heaven it won’t. Good policy will go up in flames and Morrison will get burned.