NSW launches probe into deadly bushfire crisis

 

An independent inquiry into deadly bushfires that tore through NSW over the summer will launch within days, the state government has announced.

The six-month probe will look at contributing factors such as hazard reduction, climate change, drought and weather, as well as the emergency response to the blazes.

It will also consider the response by the state and federal governments, focusing specifically on "co-ordination and collaboration".

The inquiry will be led by former deputy commissioner of NSW Police Dave Owens and Independent Planning Commission chair and former NSW chief scientist and engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane AC.

No public hearings will be held but submissions from the community will be accepted.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was confident the inquiry would be "comprehensive and robust".

"NSW is incredibly proud of the efforts of all our emergency services personnel and volunteers throughout this ongoing bushfire season, but the scale of these fires has been unprecedented and we must leave no stone unturned," she said.

"This inquiry will allow NSW to learn from this season and the catastrophic conditions we've faced, and apply these learnings for the future."

The NSW bushfires have burnt out more than 5 million hectares. Picture: Gary Ramage
The NSW bushfires have burnt out more than 5 million hectares. Picture: Gary Ramage

"We don't want to waste the opportunity to take on board any recommendations we need to adopt ahead of the bushfire season," she said.

Ms Berejiklian said bushfire victims will be invited to speak to the leaders of the inquiry.

The terms of reference include "causes of, preparation for and response to the 2019-20 bushfires", which have resulted in the deaths of 25 people in NSW.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants to learn from the crisis.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants to learn from the crisis.

The state government earlier this month committed $1 billion to help rebuild critical infrastructure damaged or destroyed in blazes.

State opposition leader Jodi McKay, who has been calling for an independent inquiry, welcomed the announcement but said there should be open hearings.

"It must not be a bureaucratic process based in Sydney; it is an opportunity for people to heal by telling their stories in the various places that were so badly affected," Ms McKay said.

"It must have open hearings and its findings must be made public."

BUSHFIRE CLEAN-UP COSTS TO BE SPLIT 50-50

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in bushfire clean-up costs will be borne equally between the Berejiklian and Morrison governments.

The same approach was adopted with the Victorian government in the wake of the devastating Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

About 10,000 dwellings have either been lost or damaged in NSW as a result of the unprecedented fire season.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg could not provide an exact figure on how much the clean-up would cost but confirmed it would run into the "hundreds of millions of dollars".

The money will go towards removing fire debris and hazardous waste from damaged or destroyed properties.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the clean-up cost will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Picture: AAP
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the clean-up cost will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Picture: AAP

"The clean-up cost would normally be undertaken by the insurance companies out of people's cover but now it's being undertaken by the state and federal governments, which means there will be more money available to these families to engage in the rebuild," Mr Frydenberg said.

"This is very significant with the average cost of a clean-up site around $50,000 and it can be more where there are hazardous materials like asbestos."

The federal government will provide its share of the money through its $2 billion bushfire recovery fund, while the NSW government's share is in addition to its $1 billion infrastructure package.

Ms Berejiklian said she hoped the bulk of the clean-up would be completed by the end of June.

Laing O'Rourke has been selected as the lead contractor.