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Bushfire royal commission starts with climate change

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The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, also known as the bushfire royal commission, will tackle climate change during its initial hearings.

The first round of hearings, between May 25 and June 5, will focus on:

The changing global climate and natural disaster risks

The impact of the 2019-20 bushfires on communities, and the built and natural environments

Responsibilities of the Commonwealth in relation to natural disaster arrangements.

The royal commission is also inviting responses to an issues paper identifying potential legal issues in how a national declaration of emergency might operate with existing state and territory frameworks.

The commission has found there have been more than 240 formal analyses of natural disasters since 1927. However, this is the first to focus on natural disasters from a national perspective, and in particular, national natural disaster co-ordination and accountability arrangements.

Responses to the legal issues paper are being sought by May 25.

The paper asks whether the Federal Government has power to declare a “state of national emergency” and give effect to such a declaration, whether there is any legal significance to it being a “declaration,” and whether there are any legal constraints or limitations on that power.

“For example, in making such a national declaration, would the emergency need to be such that it affects national interests, or be of a national scale, or be the subject of Commonwealth power?” the paper asks.

It also asks whether there are any constitutional or other legal limitations on what actions the Federal Government may take in response to a state or territory’s request for assistance in responding to a natural disaster.

It invites comment on legal constraints or limitations expressed or implied in the Constitution.

Separately, the royal commission is also seeking personal photos and videos taken during the 2019-20 bushfires and recovery period for its “2019-20 Bushfire History Project,” an initiative giving people an opportunity to record their experiences and share them as part of the official record.