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Top fire expert questions PM’s royal commission plan

“When we take an adversarial approach we tend to focus on blame,” he said. “People are trying to do their best.”

Mr Ellis, who worked on the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission and was chair of the COAG National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management in 2004, said previous inquiries had already identified many of the major issues for dealing with bushfires.

“There is a real danger of going over old ground again,” he said. “Royal commissions tend to be very broad in nature.”

The sky turns red as fires close in on Omeo in Victoria earlier this month.

The sky turns red as fires close in on Omeo in Victoria earlier this month.Credit:Getty Images

Mr Ellis said if there was to be a federal inquiry it should have a national focus, including recovery coordination and use of the defence forces.

On Wednesday Mr Morrison said the operational response to the fires and how they had been fought was a matter for the states.

“To the extent to which the federal, state interplay comes into all this, that’s the question I’m looking at,” he said.

Mr Morrison praised the firefighting effort against the devastating fires.

“I just have nothing but admiration for the way that the fire services responded whether it is Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, all around the country and they’ll undertake the necessary reviews there. And that is my working assumption in working with the premiers.”

On Wednesday the national firefighters’ union weighed in, attacking Mr Morrison’s plan for a royal commission, instead calling for an audit of recommendations from previous inquiries.

The United Firefighters Union of Australia described the Prime Minister’s proposal as a costly and time-consuming process that would be emotionally gruelling for witnesses forced to relive the trauma of the fires.

The union argues the proposed royal commission would have no binding powers and merely duplicate recommendations made in previous inquiries.

It wants the Council of Australian Governments to oversee a special audit of previous federal and state inquiries into other bushfire events.

The union’s national secretary, Peter Marshall, said there had been at least 15 bushfire-related inquiries in the past 20 years. Those reviews were carried out in response to fires across Australia.

“In many cases, the recommendations of these expensive, time-consuming and comprehensive reviews remain yet to be implemented,” he said.

Mr Marshall, who also leads the union’s Victorian branch, said the role of climate change, military deployment, prescribed burning and fuel reduction and the role of the Commonwealth in these disasters had previously been canvassed in other reviews.

He is at odds with union firefighting branches in NSW, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland who wrote a joint letter to the federal government in support of a royal commission.

“We urge you to call this royal commission as soon as possible so together we can make sure Australians are protected in the future from fires like these,” the letter said.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria also backed a national review .

A Country Fire Authority spokeswoman said a royal commission was a matter for the federal government.

“As a matter of course, CFA always undertakes its own review of each fire season,” she said.

Premier Daniel Andrews has allocated $2.55 million to the state inquiry by Inspector-General for Emergency Management Tony Pearce who will deliver a first report before the next fire season with a second report due in 2021.

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