Australia to hold wide-ranging enquiry into disastrous bushfires

By Colin Packham
Bushfire affected land is seen in Buchan, Victoria, Australia

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will hold a wide-ranging enquiry into the causes of recent bushfires that killed 33 people and razed an area the size of South Korea, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

Australia has for months been battling hundreds of blazes that began in September - an unusually prolonged summer wildfire season that was fuelled by three years of drought, which experts have attributed to climate change.

With firefighters now able to contain the several dozen fires still alight, Morrison said a six-month Royal Commission would investigate preparedness for future bushfires and the need for any changes to the law to clarify who is responsible for overseeing emergency authorities.

"This Royal Commission is looking at the practical things that must be done to keep Australians safe and safer for longer in hot dry summers - conditions in which Australians will live into the future," Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Morrison has stoked widespread public anger by refusing to directly link the bushfires to climate change, insisting removing flammable vegetation is "just as important, if not more".

His management of the fires was already under the microscope after he was forced into a rare public apology for taking a holiday to Hawaii in November.

Under mounting pressure, Morrison in January deployed 6,500 military reservists to support state authorities - which he said created a "constitutional grey zone".

Managing bushfires is the responsibility of state governments and fire services.


(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robeert Birsel)