Australia’s 2019-20 bushfires killed at least 33 people, more than a billion animals and resulted in the destruction of thousands of properties and millions of hectares of forest and bushland ecosystem. Federal government action during and after these events drew heavy criticism across the mainstream press and on social media, both in relation to senior cabinet members’ participation in the emergency response and in their coordination of federal, state and local government efforts to address the crisis.
By contrast, state and federal coordination of the Covid-19 health crisis appears to have been a comparatively successful example of multi-level governance. Just one month after the bushfires ended, Scott Morrison established the so-called National Cabinet to coordinate Australia’s social distancing, welfare and healthcare response. Comprising the Prime Minister and State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers, this new intergovernmental body has demonstrated how bipartisan cooperation on issues of national importance can effectively proceed. Though characterised by infighting and conflicting policy positions in relation to issues such as school attendance and state border control, the intergovernmental coordination of Australia’s Covid-19 response has been an undoubted success.
These comparative cases raise important questions about the factors at play that allow such contrasting levels of government efficacy in relation to disaster response. To coincide with Social Sciences Week (SSW) 2020, the Australian Political Studies Association are sponsoring a panel discussion exploring the factors that determine contrasting levels of government efficacy in relation to disaster response. Involving federal representatives across the political divide, this discussion is designed to shed light on what has and has not worked well when coordinating national responses to crisis events.
Australian Political Studies Association