Monday, July 6, 2009

Brumby should 'pre-empt' on climate

Victorian State Premier John Brumby got into hot water today over comments from counsel assisting the Bushfires Royal Commission that he may have pre-empted the inquiry's preliminary report, which is due to be published mid-August.

As the ABC has reported (see link above), Jack Rush QC views the Premier's comments on changes to the 'stay or go' policy, plans for 'neighbourhood safer places' and 'township protection plans' as 'fundamental' to the inquiry's own investigations and therefore as risking pre-emption of the royal commission's preliminary findings.

The ABC has reported Premier Brumby's response as follows:
Isn't it the government's job to try and protect the state? To take actions and decisions now, to ensure we don't see a repeat of February 7th? And that's exactly what we're doing.
On ABC Radio National's 6.00pm news he also said it was the government's 'obligation to adopt policies that protect the community'.

If that's the case, then the Premier should consider 'pre-empting' the royal commission on climate.

That's because, judging from the inquiry's shyness on climate change from anything but an adaptation perspective, it seems unlikely its interim report will make any recommendations on how stronger Australian climate policy could serve long-term bushfire prevention.

In my view stronger policy could do this by offering Australian leadership to December's Copenhagen talks on a new international climate agreement. A more effective agreement would better limit the global warming that is clearly linked to increased bushfire risk. In my submission to the royal commission, I set out six recommendations the royal commission could consider to prompt a climate policy rethink following the fires, which took the lives of 173 people.

If, as seems likely, there is little or nothing in the royal commission's interim report to this end, the inquiry will have missed the boat, as its final report falls after the crucial Copenhagen negotiations. If Premier Brumby truly wants to 'protect the state' by supporting a safe global climate, he should be making sure that we heed the climate warning of the tragic Black Saturday bushfires by pushing for a stronger Australian position when it really counts.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely there will be any kind of 'pre-emption' on this matter, because the terms of reference were clearly constructed by the Victorian State Government to avoid a politically awkward focus on climate change.

That's a pity, because the problem of severe bushfires is only set to worsen dramatically without climate action. Perhaps what Brumby needs to pre-empt is climate change itself, and not the proceedings of an inquiry he has seemingly formed to ignore it.

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