On 14 January 2020 the government announced an independent inquiry into the 2019-2020 Victorian fire season would be conducted by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management. Provision of the Inspector-General's second and final report to government on 30 July 2021 concluded the Inquiry's conduct.
Through this Inquiry IGEM examined Victoria’s:
- preparedness for the fire season
- response to fires in large parts of Victoria's North East, Gippsland, and Alpine regions
- relief and recovery efforts.
The Fire Season Inquiry was conducted over two phases, each guided by the Terms of Reference and matters for consideration detailed below.
Phase 1 - Community and sector preparedness for and response to the 2019-20 summer season
Matters for consideration:
- Effectiveness of emergency management command and control and accountability arrangements in Victoria.
- Effectiveness of Victoria’s operational response to the 2019-20 fire season.
- Review of the effectiveness of the declaration of a state of disaster under the Emergency Management Act 1986 – including the appropriateness of supporting legislative and administrative processes, communication, and community compliance.
- State evacuation planning and preparedness processes/practices and their effectiveness with an emphasis on remote/isolated communities and Victorian peak holiday season locations.
- The timeliness and effectiveness of activation of Commonwealth assistance, and Commonwealth resource availability
- Preparedness ahead of the 2019-20 fire season; including the effectiveness of regional emergency management work undertaken to inform and educate the community about the coming season, community engagement, impact of lengthening fire seasons, and any relevant legislation, policy and practice.
- Consider all challenges and implications for bushfire preparedness arising from increasingly longer and more severe bushfire seasons as a result of climate change.
- In the context of bushfire preparedness, assess the readiness and responsibilities of statutory agencies, Local Government and State Government bodies.
- Review of all opportunities and approaches to bushfire preparedness, including different methods of fuel and land management (for example ‘cool burning’, mechanical slashing, integrated forest management, traditional fire approaches) to protect life and property as well as ecological and cultural values.
- Consideration of the effectiveness of Victoria’s Code Red day arrangements and their application in practice.
- In considering effectiveness of Victoria’s operational response to the 2019-20 fire season, IGEM should particularly consider:
- effectiveness of the State’s response priorities, including primacy of life
- effectiveness of public information and warning systems, including cross-border coordination and communication
- impact of increasingly longer fire seasons on the ability to prepare, deploy and sustain efforts directed towards emergency events in Victoria
- impact of providing Victorian responder officers to other Australian jurisdictions to assist with emergency events (as early as September 2019 this summer season)
- availability and utilisation of private assets and resources (including plant equipment) to support emergency preparedness and response
- planning and response mechanisms to protect biodiversity threatened by bushfire
- effectiveness of the existing workforce model to support response, relief and recovery.
- Review support available to staff and volunteers in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
- Consideration of the adequacy of existing administrative and funding mechanisms in place at a state level to support the operational response efforts.
- In considering the timeliness and effectiveness of activation of Commonwealth assistance, and Commonwealth resource availability, IGEM should particularly consider:
- effectiveness of current national resource sharing arrangements when multiple and simultaneous fire events are occurring
- effectiveness of existing governance arrangements supporting access to Commonwealth and State air fleets
- use and integration of Australian Defence Force assets into Victoria’s emergency response and relief operations.
Phase 2 – Progress and effectiveness of Victoria’s immediate relief, and recovery arrangements concerning the 2019-20 fire season
Matters for consideration:
- Effectiveness of immediate relief and recovery work and arrangements, including at the regional and incident levels.
- Creation of Bushfire Recovery Victoria , the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and how these entities will work together for the benefit of affected Victorian communities, including consideration of long term efforts directed at social, economic (including small business, tourism and agricultural sectors) and environmental recovery.
- Effectiveness of how roles and responsibilities for recovery have been divided between Emergency Management Victoria and Bushfire Recovery Victoria.