Value of disaster research highlighted

By AAP Newswire

Australia's chief scientist has highlighted the benefits of investing in long-term disaster research following a multi-million dollar package for a new bushfires and natural hazards centre, announced last week.

Doctor Alan Finkel told the bushfires royal commission on Monday there were benefits to collaborative research but that sometimes its success stories could lead people to confuse correlation with causation.

"The best way to get the balance right ... is to set up funding structures that never inhibit collaboration, to some extent encourage it, but only in some circumstances where it's particularly obviously useful," Dr Finkel said.

His statement comes after the Morrison government on Thursday announced $88.5 million in funding for a body to replace the current Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

Counsel assisting Dominique Hogan-Doran SC asked Dr Finkel if the new centre should broaden its capability to research other natural disasters, beyond bushfires.

"Yes and no", he answered.

There were areas where lessons learned in harmonisation, coordination and telecommunications could be applied to other catastrophe's, such as managing tropical cyclones, he said.

"But in terms of truly understanding the likelihood of threats and the mapping out ... or predicting how the threats will unfold, there's a lot of different specialist needs there."

According to a submission by the CSIRO in June, 'foresighting' or future planning for disaster scenarios such as stress testing and scenario planning differed state-by-state as, with varying planning frameworks and levels of response to managing natural disaster risk.

The report recommended the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology develop more consistent risk projections to help governments and disaster researchers better prepare for forthcoming disasters in the next few decades.

Ms Hogan-Doran asked Dr Finkel if it was appropriate to approach investment in science and technology while the nation was already suffering under the financial stress of a Covid-19-linked recession.

"It's always difficult but, you know, as a nation we would be poorer if we only focused on the immediate and not the medium and the long term."

It was research which will provide Australia with future solutions just as past technologies and research had helped us deal with the problems of today, he said.

"We have to avoid the false dichotomy between worrying about the immediate responses to the economic impact, versus worrying about the long-term benefits of research. We just need to manage both."