Bushfires royal commission pushes ahead

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Megan Neil
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The national bushfires royal commission still plans to complete its work on time despite the coronavirus outbreak, although its first sitting will likely be delayed.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements is working on measures to ensure it can meet its tight deadline while adhering to public health advice.

The commission on Monday said it was working towards delivering recommendations by the August 31 deadline.

“The commissioners are committed to ensuring their work continues,” it said.

They will conduct consultation, information gathering and hearings as practicably and sensibly as possible in accordance with the federal health department’s coronavirus guidelines, it added.

The commission had already decided to limit public access to its ceremonial sitting scheduled for March 31 in Canberra.

That sitting is likely to be delayed so the commission can make further arrangements to take social distancing guidelines into account.

“Planning for the ceremonial hearing continues in accordance with public health advice, however the timing of the hearing may be affected and access will be limited,” the commission said.

Both the aged care and disability royal commissions have suspended hearings and other public events due to coronavirus concerns.

The six-month bushfires royal commission has to deliver a final report in late August, with the federal government keen for recommendations ahead of the next fire season.

Its formal hearings are due to start in April.

The commission said the hearings will be streamed live to allow a wide audience to observe while minimising the risk of coronavirus exposure.

The commissioners have completed 17 community forums in 18 days, meeting with small groups in regions affected by the unprecedented “Black Summer” bushfires across Australia.

Arrangements for the further community forums scheduled for the next few weeks are being “revised”.

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