The bushfires have affected Australian society in fundamental ways.

The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia extends condolences to those who have lost family, friends, homes, and livelihoods. The Academy respects and extends sincere gratitude to the thousands of volunteers and emergency service personnel who have worked to exhaustion and at great personal risk to help others.

The social and economic impact on our nation of the fires, which are unprecedented in scale and intensity, are yet to be fully understood.

There is the immediate, medium-term, and long-term personal and financial impact on those people affected directly and indirectly. There is the widespread loss of native flora and fauna and the destruction of habitat.  The Academy acknowledges also the loss felt by Australia’s First Peoples through damage to cultural sites and country. These effects require recognition and clear plans to manage over time.

The devastating fires have added to other weather-related events, including record rainfall, severe drought, extreme heat, and now further flooding and intense dust storms, that are manifestations of climate change. The scientific evidence is established and unequivocal. Australia must act with urgency for national recovery, to reduce the human effects of climate change, and to strengthen our capacity to adapt to the warming climate. The bushfires have brought the eyes of the world onto our nation’s approach to climate change, and the international perspective reinforces the need for action.

Australia’s response and future planning must be informed by the best information and research evidence relating to climate change from science and social science. Academy Fellows have expertise across all areas of the social sciences, and can assist individually and collectively. The traditional knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples will also contribute to the actions that will be needed.

The response of Australians to the current crisis — the sympathy, practical aid, and financial donations — has been overwhelming. This has demonstrated the inherent nature and the importance to our nation of a strong, inclusive and resilient society.

The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia will work with government, business, charitable organisations and community groups and will use the expertise of its Fellows to help deal with the consequences and the opportunities of this tragedy. The Academy will work also with other Learned Academies to ensure relevant knowledge and expertise are available to the recovery and future planning efforts of our nation.

Professor Jane Hall

President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

22 January 2020