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Bushfire royal commission becomes a virus victim

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The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, better known as the bushfire royal commission, has delayed its first hearing and suspended six planned community forums in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A ceremonial hearing scheduled to take place in Canberra on Tuesday has been delayed to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus, while a public submissions period has been extended by two weeks to April 17.

The changes were announced today in light of the Federal Government’s unprecedented social distancing measures to battle coronavirus.

In a video update posted online today, commission chair Mark Binskin says he is committed to ensuring the commisson’s work continues by “adapting the way we operate.”

“The health advice limiting public gatherings means we have no choice than to suspend our community forums to help prevent any potential exposure to the virus,” Mr Binskin says.

“This is a different way of doing business but we will do everything we can to ensure the royal commission continues to consult and gather information, within our current health guidelines.”

The commission is now examining options for digital engagement, rather than in-person.

“We will use the technology available to further consult and gather information within the public health guidelines,” Mr Binskin says in the video.

Royal commission members visited fire-affected communities across Australia this month to see first-hand the impact of the recent bushfires. They spoke to small groups representing fire-affected communities to hear background and context.

Formal hearings were scheduled in Queensland in April, East Gippsland in May, NSW in June and Canberra in July.

“I strongly encourage anyone affected by the bushfires who has not yet had the opportunity to engage with the commission to make a submission,” Mr Binskin said. “We still want to hear your insights into the coordination, preparedness and planning in relation to natural disasters.”