Expert scientific evidence should guide every element of Australia’s bushfire prevention, mitigation and recovery efforts, the nation’s peak body for science and technology has urged.
In a submission to the Senate inquiry on the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season, Science & Technology Australia says the strong embrace by Governments of science evidence to stop COVID-19 should be a model for bushfire prevention.
Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the devastating fire season of the past summer had turned the predicted effects of climate change into a stark reality.
“These fires were unprecedented, but not unpredicted,” she said.
“In NSW, fires burned for 240 days – from mid-winter all the way through to the following autumn. In south-east Queensland, rainforests thought to be immune from fire burned for the first time.”
“The work of our scientists can help limit climate change and the risk of terrifying megafires of new scale and ferocity – and help us to fight bushfires and recover from them more effectively.”
Science & Technology Australia has also pointed to the long-run effects of toxic smoke and the mental health challenges for firefighters and emergency services personnel as areas for action.
The submission urges a new monitoring system be developed to monitor particulate hazards, similar the published UV index readings.
“The Australian Government has worked side-by-side with the scientific community during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing on this deep expertise to save lives,” Ms Schubert said.
“Australia’s vast scientific expertise should also guide our national response to the devastating bushfires of the past summer, and the recovery, mitigation and prevention work that has begun.”
Scientific advice is also needed to help Australia’s fragile ecosystems recover– to rebuild and protect our unique habitats, to save native animals, threatened species and avoid extinction of species.
The submission notes there is much scope to draw expert knowledge in Indigenous fire and land management practices into Australia’s bushfire prevention and preparedness work.
“The science and technology community will continue to work closely with Government on the recovery task and on preparation for future fire seasons.”
STA’s submission makes a series of recommendations on how Australia can better prevent, mitigate and aid recovery from bushfires, and draws on insights from STA member societies about the impact of the 2019-20 bushfire season.
“Our national scientific and technology workforce is a crucial part of our firefighting defence, and we think there’s potential for an even greater role to deliver evidence and research to help fire chiefs in rapid real-time responses during bushfire seasons,” Ms Schubert said.
“Where there are gaps in knowledge, we could seek to fill them through direct investment in a research translation fund that could leverage additional private sector R&D.”
“Strong investment is crucial to ensure the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of all Australians, to boost Australia’s capacity to innovate and adapt, and to outsmart future threats.”
For media comment: Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert 02 6257 2891