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Opportunities for improvements in national recovery arrangements

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Opportunities for improvements in national recovery arrangements

128. Recovery is a complex and multi-layered process that seeks to address the diverse needs of individuals and communities—it is more than simply rebuilding what has been destroyed. The recovery process often commences during the response phase, can run concurrently over multiple disasters, and can continue for years.
129. We have observed that successful recovery is community centred. It is the role of formal recovery entities—at all levels of government, non government organisations and the private sector—to provide structured support, communication, and coordination to assist these efforts.
130. Community led and coordinated recovery relies on effective preparedness and planning processes. These processes should provide a framework and governance for recovery and set out the operational strategies and interventions specific to the affected communities.

Coordinating recovery efforts

131. Despite the goodwill of all parties, there is variability in the level of collaboration and coordination in the delivery of recovery programs and services across jurisdictions. We will continue to consider the evidence relating to broader coordination and planning issues relevant to recovery, including between the Australian Government, state, territory and local governments, charities, non-government organisations, insurance companies and volunteer and community groups. This includes consideration of whether particular needs of individuals, small businesses, primary producers and the environment are appropriately addressed. We will continue to analyse the evidence regarding recovery coordination, including the adequacy of recovery resource sharing arrangements.

Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements

132. The Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018 (DRFA) is a joint Australian, state and territory government cost-sharing initiative aimed at alleviating the financial burden on states and territories of certain natural disaster related recovery measures.
133. We have learned of a number of issues, including the scope of 'betterment' initiatives, the eligibility of certain public assets, and administrative requirements (such as preparation of a business case for new recovery programs).
134. We welcome the current review of the DRFA which, in part, seeks to identify pre agreed recovery programs that can promote quick and effective delivery of recovery assistance to communities.

Sharing of personal information

135. We have heard of the frustration and trauma of people having to tell their story repeatedly to multiple relief and recovery organisations.
136. The Australian Government has the power to make an emergency declaration under the Privacy Act 1988, and did so on 20 January 2020. The declaration permitted Australian Government agencies and private sector organisations subject to the Privacy Act to collect, use or disclose personal information, which they might not otherwise be able to do, for purposes related to the emergency or disaster.
137. The declaration did not apply to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information obtained by state and territory agencies, and general awareness of the declaration appears to have been limited.
138. States and territories do not presently provide exemptions from their privacy obligations through an emergency declaration. An exception is the Northern Territory, where such an exemption is limited to sharing information within the Territory’s public sector.
139. We observe the need for Australian, state and territory governments to work together to ensure that personal information of individuals affected by a natural disaster is able, legally and technically, to be appropriately shared between all levels of government, agencies, insurers and non-government organisations for recovery purposes.

Mental health

140. Exposure to traumatic events, such as natural disasters, can have a significant effect on emergency responders. More broadly, natural disasters can affect the mental health and wellbeing of individuals in a number of ways and over different periods of time. We have heard evidence of this impact, ranging from mild or transitory symptoms, to mental health disorders that can be delayed in onset and have long-term impacts. We have also received evidence of the particular mental health impacts on vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly. For those who experienced the devastation of the 2019-2020 bushfires, the cumulative mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly acute.
141. Australian, state and territory governments have told us about the mental health and support services offered after the 2019-2020 bushfires. We also note the Productivity Commission inquiry into the role of mental health in supporting economic participation, enhancing productivity and economic growth. We acknowledge the ongoing work of the National Mental Health Commission, in conjunction with the states and territories, in developing the National Natural Disaster Mental Health Framework. We support the work of the Commission on the recognition of the cumulative impact of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on mental health as a long-term public health issue.

Wildlife management and species conservation

142. The 2019-2020 bushfires have been described as an 'ecological disaster'. We have heard evidence of the extraordinary efforts of individuals, organisations and governments to protect wildlife before, during and after the bushfires.
143. Knowledge of Australia’s wildlife and its distribution in Australia was, and remains for many species, disparate, fragmented, incomplete and inaccessible. Through a considerable and coordinated effort, however, a significant amount of information was collated to rapidly assess the impact of the bushfires on wildlife, threatened species and ecological communities, and to develop recovery plans for priority species. Improving knowledge of the impacts of natural disasters on wildlife could support the rapid deployment of wildlife triage and rehabilitation efforts.
144. There remain significant information gaps for more effective wildlife management and species conservation. These are challenging to fix immediately. The 2019-2020 bushfires have highlighted the need for action to ensure greater consistency and collaboration in the collection, storage, access and provision of environmental information.

Impact data

145. We have experienced real difficulties in developing a clear national picture of the impact of the 2019-2020 bushfires across the nation. A number of issues have been raised in relation to impact assessments, including: limited availability of data, technical limitations in systems and platforms, inconsistent and incomplete collection practices, and limited capacity of entities responsible for conducting impact assessments, and barriers in the broad distribution of impact data.
146. Standardised impact data collection and improved data sharing platforms, at all levels nationally, could help improve the delivery of recovery services and facilitate improved assessment of the effectiveness of resilience measures. We are considering the means by which all governments could strive to develop a greater capacity to collate and share standardised and comprehensive disaster impact data.