TEN months ago, as our country burned, it seemed certain that the biggest news story of 2020 would be the "Black Summer" bushfires.
With 33 people perishing, more than 24 million hectares of land burnt, over 3000 homes destroyed and an estimated 3 billion animals dying or displaced - at a cost of about $10 billion to our economy - the scale and magnitude of the disaster cannot be overstated.
Indeed, it took a global pandemic, in the form of coronavirus, for Australia's focus to shift from the devastating toll the bushfires took on our country. But while, quite understandably, COVID-19 has dominated the minds of Australians for most of the past eight months, that shouldn't meant we can't learn from the "Black Summer" disaster and ensure we're better prepared if - and when - it happens again.
That's why a royal commission into last summer's fires was so important. And that's why environmental groups, bushfire victims, firefighters, governments and scientists have all backed recommendations from the royal commission, including that the federal government has the power to declare a national emergency for such disasters. The report has also prompted widespread calls for greater action on climate change and for a more coordinated approach to managing the increasing risk posed by all natural disasters.
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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews may not see eye to eye on all things coronavirus-related, but they were on the same page on Friday, welcoming the commission's recommendations. Ms Berejiklian said her government wouldn't ignore the findings because "protecting lives and properties has to be an absolute priority" while Mr Andrews said Victoria was "absolutely ready to play our part".
It's imperative that the federal and state governments put political allegiances aside - which we saw early in the COVID-19 response but not so much of late - and form a "unity ticket" on emergency management, preparations for natural disasters and climate action. It can be non-negotiable that all 80 recommendations of the royal commission be implemented, including those to boost fire fighting resources and better use of the defence force.
To ignore the findings would be like playing with matches, and we know what happens when you do that. You get burnt.