The nation will be prepared to the fullest extent possible ahead of what’s expected to be the worst bushfire season since Black Summer, the prime minister says.
Anthony Albanese is overseeing a landmark National Bushfire Preparedness Summit to heed the lessons from the devastating 2019/20 fires that killed 34 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes.
Volunteer first responders who had their own houses burnt down while protecting other towns, broken communities that were almost entirely razed and Australians still struggling to build back were owed “the total commitment to the best possible state of preparedness”, he said.
“We owe you and the communities you protect more than our admiration and gratitude,” he told the summit in Canberra on Tuesday.
“For your sake and for the sake of your families, we owe you our total commitment … to treat the coming fire season with all the seriousness and urgency it deserves.
“To listen to all of you, the people on the front lines, so we learn the lessons of seasons past, so we ensure that our lines of communication move faster than any fire front.”
The two-day summit at Parliament House comes ahead of enormous challenges expected during the summer ahead, which is forecast to be hotter, drier and carry the risk of intense bushfires.
“This summit is about preparing Australia for the very worst,” Mr Albanese said.
But the worst of times brought out the best of Australia’s character, he said.
Forestry Australia President Michelle Freeman said the disaster preparedness event needed to be more than just a “two-day flash in the pan”.
“Being bushfire ready doesn’t happen overnight, it is a 365-day-a-year job that demands a long-term commitment to evidence-based approaches,” Dr Freeman said.
“Fire must be managed by professionally trained, experienced, and accredited forest managers in partnership with traditional custodians, not just emergency service or defence agencies.”
The summit includes scenarios that emergency services can expect to face this summer and “put everyone through their paces”, Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said.
Held ahead of summer, it would give governments and emergency agencies time to plug any gaps.
National Emergency Management Agency head Brendan Moon said the nation needed to prepare for the possibility of cyclones, floods and heatwaves on top of bushfires.
“We’re very much looking at multiple scenarios impacting different areas,” he said.
The summit brought together 250 representatives from federal, state and territory governments, emergency services experts and not-for-profit organisations.
Options to keep vulnerable people safe, including those living with disabilities and those in Indigenous communities, were set to be examined.
Lessons from Indigenous Australians who had managed the land for tens of thousands of years also needed to be heeded, the prime minister said.