Oral submission to Australian Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements

6 August 2020

In February 2020, the Commonwealth established the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (RCNDA), in response to the extreme bushfire season of 2019-20 which resulted in loss of life, as well as substantial property and wildlife and environmental destruction. The Commission is now supported by Letters Patent from all Australian governments.  The Commission has been holding hearings to gather evidence about coordination, preparedness for, response to and recovery from disasters as well as improving resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions and mitigating the impact of natural disasters. The Commission is also considering the legal framework for Commonwealth involvement in responding to national emergencies.

In July and August 2020, Prof Cheryl Saunders, one of CTN's Convenors, provided inputs to the Royal Commission. On 31 July, Prof Saunders participated in a preliminary witness conference. She was then called by the Commission on 6 August to discuss a number of specific issues, including:

  • The nature of the Commonwealth as a federated polity, including how that impacts on both areas of responsibility within the polity and decision-making within the polity;
  • How the National Cabinet has been constructed and how it purportedly differs from COAG and previous cooperative federal structures;
  • Whether National Cabinet results in better outcomes than previous cooperative federal structures, such as COAG;
  • The role of the National Cabinet into the future, and in particular what role such a body might play in relation to natural disasters, including any lessons that can be learned from COVID-19; and
  • Reform to national federation arrangements generally.

A transcript of Prof Saunders inputs can be downloaded from the Royal Commission's hearing's page.

The Commission were particularly interested in Prof Saunders insights, as captured in her previous publications, ‘A New Federalism? The Role and Future of the National Cabinet’ (1 July 2020), ‘The National Cabinet has work. Can it last?’ (11 June 2020) and ‘A Constitution shaped by distance’ (24 May 2018), as well as a 2019 report by Ben Rimmer, Prof Michael Crommelin & Prof Saunders on 'Australian Federalism - Working Better With Other Jurisdictions', which was produced as part of the review of the Australian Public Service.