The Morrison government has resisted a call from the bushfires royal commission to develop a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet, saying more research is needed first.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison released on Friday the Commonwealth's response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.
The federal government will combine the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and National Drought and North Queensland Flood Relief and Recovery Agency into a new standing body by July next year, to better coordinate Australia's natural disaster preparation, resilience and recovery.
It will also establish a virtual climate and disaster risk information and services centre, 'Resilience Services', by next July to bring together data from the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Statistics to help prepare for and adapt to natural disasters.
It will also introduce legislation before Christmas to enable the Commonwealth to declare a national state of emergency.
But the commission's final report also urged governments to increase Australia's fleet of firefighting aircraft.
"The prospect of lengthening and increasingly severe fire seasons will only increase the demand for aerial firefighting services in the future," the report said.
"This warrants a reassessment of Australia's current reliance on overseas-based aviation services, and a focus on developing Australia's sovereign aerial firefighting capability."
This should include a very large or large air tanker, and "type one" helicopter capability.
However, the government merely "noted" the recommendation.
"The Commonwealth government acknowledged, before the Royal Commission, the maturity, experience and effectiveness of the operational response capabilities of the states and territories. The Commonwealth has no desire to replicate or replace these capabilities, including in aerial firefighting," their response said.
Instead, the Commonwealth urged the states to work together to build their aerial firefighting capacity "consistent with their sovereign obligations".
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the federal government did not have the expertise to decide what aircraft was needed during bushfire season.
"We do not have the expertise to try to impose our will. We will allow the fire commissioner, the professionals to do that," Mr Littleproud said.
The Commonwealth will continue to provide $26 million a year to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), which currently coordinates the movement of aircraft between jurisdictions.
The government said it was open to using some of this money for research into aerial firefighting.
"The Commonwealth would support the use of some of these funds, and/or some of the Commonwealth's annual contribution of $26 million to the NAFC, indexed from 2020-21, for research into aerial firefighting capabilities.
"However, before any decision or long-term commitment is made regarding particular aircraft in the fleet, ownership and strategic operation, it is imperative we have a full and evidence-based understanding of the capability actually required.
"The government sees this recommendation as being pivotal to informing decisions on the future of aerial firefighting to deliver an operationally effective fleet that is scalable, adaptive and provides value for money."
The government was criticised for not securing more firefighting aircraft ahead of the last bushfire season.
A group of former fire chiefs tried to meet with the prime minister to warn him that Australia needed more water-bombing aircraft to tackle larger and faster moving fires in April last year.
Former Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the federal government had sat on a business case for a boosted national aerial firefighting fleet for 18 months. The government ultimately leased four extra aircraft in January to assist with the firefighting effort.
The coronavirus pandemic may make it more difficult to bring in international firefighting aircraft and their crews, the royal commission heard.
The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO's State of The Climate report released on Friday warned Australia will see more catastrophic fire weather and hotter temperatures due to the increasing impacts of climate change.
The bushfires royal commission was set up in the aftermath of last summer's "unprecedented" fire season. Fire burnt through more than 24 million hectares of land, killing 33 people and destroying more than 3000 homes.
Its final report was handed down a fortnight ago after six months of hearings, 270 witnesses and around 80,000 pages of documents.
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