Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled the details of his bushfires royal commission on Thursday, saying it would focus on the "practical things" such as land clearing and building rules.
It will look at whether to boost the power of the federal government to declare national emergencies and send in the troops, with Mr Morrison acknowledging he had operated in a "constitutional grey zone" when he deployed the Defence Forces this year.
The announcement came as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese prepared to deliver a climate speech on Friday, where he will commit Labor to net zero emissions by 2050.
The terms of reference for the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements steer a careful path around the question of climate change. They acknowledge that the changing climate brings higher risks, but the commissioners have been asked to focus on mitigation, planning rules, adaptation and land clearing. The commission is also asked to consider whether Indigenous land and fire practices should be adopted more widely.
Mr Morrison said the commission would "acknowledge that we are living in hotter, drier, longer summers, and that means building our climate resilience".
Mr Morrison also announced that Australian National University environmental lawyer, professor Andrew Macintosh, and former Federal Court judge, Dr Annabelle Bennett, would join chairman Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin as the commissioners.
"I have asked a former judge, a former chief of defence forces, and a scientist, a professor who has experience in dealing with climate change mitigation. So these are experts who can shed a lot of light on this," Mr Morrison said.
Professor Macintosh, a former deputy director of the Australia Institute and environmental advisor to the Democrats, according to an online profile, is a lawyer and chairs the government's Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, which is overseeing its emissions reduction fund. He has written about the "alarmingly" poor performance of ACT schools in NAPLAN testing.
In a 2013 article with other academics, professor Macintosh said bushfire management must go beyond controlled burning. They pointed to planning changes in Victoria after the 2009 bushfires that set in place new building standards and require a risk assessment for any development in bush-fire-prone areas.
"Land use planning for bushfires also needs to consider other priorities, such as native vegetation and biodiversity conservation," they wrote. "Achieving this balance will require local councils to have the courage to say no to development proposed for high-risk, high-conservation value areas, rather than managing risks through vegetation removal."
They suggested a regime where governments would have the power to buy back land in bushfire areas as owners left. And they suggested a series of financial incentives and penalties to discourage rebuilding in bushfire areas, including insurance pricing and coverage, notes on property titles and levies on risky properties.
"None of these tools may be popular with property owners who fear cuts to property value, or new imposts. But they are important complements to the current risk management strategies," professor Macintosh and the other authors wrote in The Conversation.
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Mr Morrison stressed the royal commission was about the "practical things".
"This royal commission acknowledges and understands the impact of climate change more broadly on the climatic conditions that Australia is living in," he said.
"What this royal commission is looking at are the practical things that must be done to keep Australians safer and safe and longer hot dry summers in conditions in which Australians will live into the future - that's dealing with the practical things that need to happen, on everything from preparation to response and recovery."
The commission would look at hazard reduction targets and how to ensure that targets were being measured and met on the same basis around the country.
The ACT government struggled to meet its hazard reduction targets before the Orroral Valley fire, completing just 13 per cent of prescribed burns planned for 2019-20 in the first half of the financial year. It had hoped to complete 50 per cent by December 31.
It also missed its targets for burns in the 2018-19 year, planning 43 burns on 6559 hectares but only completing 25 burns across 5082 hectares of bush fire prone area.
The United Firefighters' Union of Australia, which represents paid firefighters, has opposed a royal commission into the bush fires since it was first flagged in January.
The union's national president and ACT branch secretary, Greg McConville, restated that position on Thursday. He said the federal government should instead be tasking an expert panel with overseeing the implementation of recommendations from the dozens of previous bushfire inquiries.
Mr McConville wasn't surprised the royal commission wouldn't specifically examine strategies to tackle climate change, such as cutting carbon emissions.
"I don't think anybody would have expected the federal government to make their own inaction on climate change the central feature of a royal commission," he said.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he was pleased to see some of his suggestions had been acted on. The terms of reference had expanded on how the states and commonwealth interacted in emergencies on requests for assistance, deploying Defence and emergency declarations, he said.
But he was "disappointed to see no changes to the broader question of climate change mitigation strategies".
Mr Barr said the August 31 deadline for the commission's report was "highly challenging".
Greens Leader Adam Bandt said the royal commission "looks like a climate whitewash", with the terms of reference designed to skate over the climate crisis and minimise Mr Morrison's contribution to the "coal-fueled mega-fires".
Mr Morrison said the cost was not known but it would sit for about half the time of the 12-month banking royal commission, which cost $50 million. It will invite submissions in March.