A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the local CFA captain didn’t want it rebuilt.
Public support for rebuilding in the same disaster affected places is often high. But as fire-fighting agencies are aware, our bushfires are increasing in size, intensity and duration, and a warming climate will continue to worsen these factors. We need to start being more strategic about where we rebuild homes and facilities lost to fire, and how.
As there are sadly many people without homes and many businesses that have suffered lost income from reduced tourism and other activities, urgency in such a response seems reasonable.
But there’s a risk that rebuilding the same buildings in the same areas may not mitigate the current risks or any future risks under new climate scenarios – existing and new communities will be vulnerable. Planning can assist with managing future bushfire risks by helping decide where homes, buildings and infrastructure should be located.
Importantly, we must not rush to rebuild the same buildings in the same location. We need to consider risks from natural hazards in these bushfire prone areas such as ember attack, radiant heat, flammable building materials and safe evacuation routes.
If homes and some community buildings, such as schools, are located in areas that are too risky and likely to be lost in future bushfires then we need to consider our options. These may include changing the land use zoning to allow only lower-risk buildings (for industrial rather than residential use), or increasing building requirements for bushfire protection.
Before commencing rebuilding, planning agencies need to plan how communities can be made resilient and if there is opportunity to use the affected land for houses designed with the highest bushfire attack level or shops or offices with higher fire ratings.
Alternatively, planning agencies can choose to use cleared land adjacent to high bushfire risk as parks or roads to provide additional separation between buildings and vegetation.
Organisations involved in planning need to focus on increasing the separation between buildings and vegetation, as well as additional fire safety measures for buildings.
We need to consider increased construction standards for buildings to better protect them against bushfires — things like fire resistant walls, thicker glass and metal screens for windows, non-combustible roofs and access to water to fight fires.
However these provide only some protection. Buildings may continue to be lost in future bushfires, so what we construct in these areas needs to be reconsidered.
Options to rebuild in high risk areas should include buildings that are seen as low risk to human life and livelihoods such as storage or warehouse-style buildings and light industrial buildings. Owners of these buildings may need to accept they may be lost to bushfire.
Buildings that contain large numbers of people that need assistance during bushfires such as schools, aged care and hospitals should be located with extensive separation from bushfire risk, as well as with increased construction standards with multiple evacuation routes.
The speed and intensity of recent fires shows there may be less time to evacuate under existing and future disaster conditions, so continuing to build in high hazard prone areas may no longer be appropriate.
A new national planning policy should guide the states in considering the exposure of communities to these hazards and their capacity to respond, such as evacuation routes, distance to refuge centres and distance from fire services.
Before we rush to rebuild our homes, roads and infrastructure we need to review planning policies and bushfire hazard maps produced by state fire services and have their involvement in future decision making around this area.
We need a national bushfire planning policy to address risk that crosses state boundaries and to provide a consistent approach to identifying where communities can locate and what activities can occur in high risk areas.
Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, Discipline Head – Construction Management, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, and Thayaparan Gajendran, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle
It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute to deaths and the decimation of species and habitats, but it is easy to get an idea of its significance – the cost will be unprecedented.
The deadliest bushfires in the past 200 years took place in 1851, then 1939, then 1983, 2009, now 2019-20. The years between them are shrinking rapidly. Only a remote grassfire in central Australia in 1974-75 rivalled them in terms of size, although not in biomass burnt or loss of life.
The term “megafire” is a new one, defined in the early 2000s to help describe disturbing new wildfires emerging in the United States – massive blazes, usually above 400,000 hectares, often joining up, that create more than usual destruction to life and property.
Australia’s current fires dwarf the US fires that inspired the term.
They are 25 times the size of Australia’s deadliest bushfires, the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria that directly killed 173 people, and so large and intense that they create their own weather in which winds throw embers 30 kilometres or more ahead of the front and pyro-cumulus clouds produce dry lightning that ignites new fires.
The Black Saturday fires burnt 430,000 hectares. The current fires have killed fewer people but have so far burnt 10.7 million hectares – an area the size of South Korea, or Scotland and Wales combined.
The federal government has promised to put at least A$2 billion into a National Bushfire Recovery Fund, which is roughly the size of the first estimate of the cost of the fires calculated by Terry Rawnsley of SGS Economics and Planning.
He put the cost at somewhere between A$1.5 and $2.5 billion, using his firm’s modelling of the cost of the NSW Tathra fires in March 2018 as a base.
It’s the total of the lost income from farm production, tourism and the like.
It is possible to get an idea of wider costs using the findings of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
It came up with an estimate for tangible costs of A$4.369 billion, which after inflation would be about $5 billion in today’s dollars.
Tangible costs are hose easily measured including the cost of replacing things such as destroyed homes, contents and vehicles.
They also include the human lives lost, which were valued at A$3.7 million per life (2009 dollars) in accordance with a Commonwealth standard.
The measure didn’t include the effect of injuries and shortened lives due to smoke-related stroke and cardiovascular and lung diseases, or damage to species and habitats, the loss of livestock, grain and feed, crops, orchards and national and local parks.
Also excluded were “inangibles”, among them the social costs of mental health problems and unemployment and increases in suicide, substance abuse, relationship breakdowns and domestic violence.
The cost of inangibles can peak years after a disaster and continue to take tolls for decades, if not generations.
One attempt to estimate the cost of intangibles was made by Deloitte Access Economics, in work for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities.
Deloitte put the tangible costs of the Black Saturday fires at A$3.1 billion in 2015 dollars and the intangible costs at more than that again: A$3.9 billion, producing a total of A$7 billion, which would be A$7.6 billion in today’s dollars.
This season’s megafires are, so far, less costly than the 2009 Victorian fires in terms of human life, roughly on par in terms of lost homes, and less costly for other structures.
But given that considerably more land has been burnt we can expect other costs to eclipse those of Black Saturday.
As of today, 25 times as much land has been burnt.
Scaling up the royal commission’s Black Saturday figures for the size of the fire and scaling them down for the fewer deaths and other things that shouldn’t be scaled up produces an estimate of tangible costs of A$103 billion in today’s dollars.
The Deloitte Access Economics ratio of intangible to tangible costs suggests a total for both types of costs of A$230 billion.
As it happens the tangible costs estimate is close to an estimate of A$100 billion prepared using methods by University of Queensland economist John Quiggin.
The reality won’t be clear for some time.
There are several weeks of fire season remaining, and we are yet to reach the usual peak season for Victoria, which is in the first week of February.
What we can safely say, with weeks left to go, is that these fires are by far Australia’s costliest natural disaster.
Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University and Richard Denniss, Adjunct Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Many firefighters will by now be exhausted, having been on the front line of Australia’s bushfire crisis for weeks or months.
This bushfire season has been unrelenting, and the hottest months of summer may still lie ahead.
In part, the toll is physical. The flames are high, they are intense, and they move fast. It’s hard to breathe because the air is so hot.
At the same time, first responders have witnessed widespread devastation. To land and livelihoods, to people and animals. Meanwhile, grief for the death of fellow firefighters feels raw, and the risk to their own lives very real.
We’re right to be concerned about firefighters’ mental health.
Every 4.3 weeks, a firefighter, paramedic or police officer dies by suicide – and that’s when it’s “business as usual”.
Research shows our first responders are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than the overall Australian population. They are more than twice as likely to think about suicide, and three times as likely to have a suicide plan.
This paints a grim picture of the well-being of a population who dedicate their professional lives to helping others.
It’s likely responding to a disaster on the scale of the current bushfires could increase the risk of mental illness for some.
If firefighters are not coping, they may develop psychological disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
PTSD develops when a person isn’t able to recover after experiencing a traumatic event.
Some firefighters may develop symptoms while they’re still fighting the fires. They may feel on edge, but push down their fears to get on with the job. However, it’s more likely symptoms will only appear weeks, months, even years down the track.
PTSD is associated with significant impairment in day-to-day functioning socially and at work. For firefighters and others with PTSD, typical symptoms or behaviours will include:
reliving the traumatic event. People with PTSD describe vivid images and terrifying nightmares of their experience
avoiding reminders of what happened. They may become emotionally numb and isolate themselves to avoid any triggers
being constantly tense and jumpy, always looking out for signs of danger.
Volunteers in regional communities are particularly susceptible to trauma. They have often joined fire brigades to help protect their own communities, and then face trying to save their own homes or those of neighbours and friends.
We also need to be mindful of retired firefighters for whom these current bushfires will have triggered painful and disturbing memories. They may not currently be on the front lines, but they only need to turn on the television, open the newspaper, or look at social media to be taken straight back to Black Saturday or whatever particular event is distressing for them.
The increased prevalence of mental health issues among emergency responders suggests many existing emergency service well-being programs are failing those who need them the most.
In Australia, these programs are largely based on a what’s called a “resilience model” that focuses on people “reaching out” and seeking help when they need it.
First responders may be unlikely to take this initiative in the middle of a mental health crisis, when it’s often a struggle even to pick up the phone to a loved one, friend or colleague.
Instead, we need an approach to well-being that removes the onus on the individual. We need to shift our thinking from a model that requires the individual to “reach out”, to a model that also values others “reaching in” to identify those who may be struggling.
Ambulance Victoria’s Peer Support Dog Program, which allows staff to bring in accredited dogs to create social interactions and conversations, is a good example of how “reaching in” helps with first responder well-being. This kind of approach empowers people through social connections and the appreciation they are also supporting others.
While employers need to do more in to facilitate “reach in” programs, anyone can create informal support networks. Whether friendship groups, community groups, sporting groups, or something else, the underlying thread should be a committment to each other’s well-being.
As we continue to contend with this crisis, ensuring firefighters feel supported can make a difference to their well-being. If you see a responder in the street, say thank you. If you see one in a cafe, shout them a cuppa. If you have kids, get them to write a letter or draw a picture and drop it off to the local emergency services station.
We can’t eliminate the risk firefighters will suffer with mental health problems after what they’ve been through, but these little acts of kindness can make a difference.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support around the world for those impacted by the bushfires, from social-media donation drives to music concerts to authors auctioning off their books.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, we’ve also seen a number of scams directed at those who want to help, as well as victims of the fires.
In recent days, the ACCC set up a hotline dedicated to the reporting of scams associated with the bushfire crisis. The agency notes some 86 scams have been reported since the fires started in September – and counting.
While it’s difficult to believe offenders would seek to profit from other people’s generosity and heartache, this is entirely to be expected.
Research has found natural disasters are a catalyst for increased fraud schemes globally. This was the case after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2011 Japanese tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, just to name a few.
In Australia, the current bushfire crisis has led to the creation of fake fund-raising websites, fraudulent door-knocking donation campaigns and fake calls from banks offering disaster relief funds.
In 2018, Australians lost over A$489.7 million to fraud. While a large part of this was through investment and romance fraud schemes ($146.5 million), Australians were also cheated out of A$210,000 in charity frauds. This increased to over A$400,000 in 2019.
The key element to fraud is lying for financial gain. Offenders will use whatever means possible to manipulate and deceive people into giving them money. This can involve obtaining money directly from a person, or by convincing victims to provide personal information to get cash through identity theft.
In charity frauds, offenders sometimes use the legitimate name of an organisation or individual to secure donations from victims, or they might use the pretext of a natural disaster or other negative event to obtain cash.
Fraudsters use natural disasters in a variety of ways. They take advantage of our sense of sympathy and desire to help victims struggling through terrible events unfolding before our eyes. They also convey a sense of urgency aimed at convincing people to immediately part with their cash.
Importantly, offenders also exploit the fact people are highly motivated during times of disaster to donate money they ordinarily would not consider giving.
Social media enables offenders to readily advertise their fraudulent schemes. With online fraud, it is often difficult for victims to authenticate email accounts, websites, individuals or organisations soliciting money. Offenders often create fake documentation to support their schemes, as well.
Social media can also be used by fraudsters in disinformation campaigns. As these posts are shared across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, offenders can generate traction for their “charity” pitch before it is identified as fraud. By this stage, it can be too late.
It’s important to note the risk of fraud is not limited to the time of the actual disaster, or the immediate aftermath.
Many of those who have experienced loss or damage in the bushfires, for instance, face a long road to recovery and could be susceptible to scams at any time.
Research indicates negative life events can make a person more vulnerable to fraud. Those affected by the bushfires may find themselves the victims of fraudulent investment opportunities, romantic relationships and other schemes claiming to help them get their lives back on track.
For example, offenders may offer to assist with the negotiation of mortgage repayments with banks, obviously for a fee (large or small).
There are steps people can take to protect themselves from scams as the bushfire crisis is unfolding – and into the future.
In the short term, it’s important to think about how we donate financially to those in need. There are many appeals that have been set up by registered charities and organisations (such as the Red Cross, the CFA, and the RFS). These are the safest ways to send money. Remember requests through social media channels and other platforms may not be genuine.
Importantly, the internet is not the only way offenders operate. Fraudsters still use the telephone and even face-to-face communication to collect money.
Only call organisations you have researched to donate money and always ask for identification from those door-knocking for donations. If in doubt, don’t feel pressured to say yes and simply hang up or walk away.
In the longer term, we also need to be aware fraudsters take advantage of people when they are isolated, so it’s important to rally around family members, friends and others who are facing significant losses and feeling alone.
We need to better understand how fraud works and acknowledge anyone can be targeted. We also need to be able to talk about our vulnerabilities more openly in our homes and communities.
Fraud is an ongoing challenge globally. The current Australian bushfire crisis is simply the latest way for fraudsters to target our generosity and cause additional grief.
From Australian superstars such as Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Chris Hemsworth and Nicole Kidman to Hollywood heavyweights including Ellen DeGeneres and Bette Midler, a lengthening list of celebrities are helping to shine a spotlight on Australia’s bushfires.
Some have donated large sums of money and used social media to publicise their donations, encouraging fans to follow suit. Some have used their profile and platforms such as the Golden Globes awards to draw attention to the fires. Others are donating items for auction or appearing in charity events.
For attracting attention and money to a cause, celebrity-driven attention is hard to beat. But there’s also a downside. If that interest is superficial and fleeting, it may actually hinder recovery efforts in disaster-ravaged regions.
Our research into disaster recovery efforts for Victoria’s Gippsland region after the deadly “Black Saturday” fires in 2009 suggests celebrities’ best contribution needs to be in the weeks and months to come – and requires them putting “boots on the ground”.
It’s great that celebrities want to use their influence for good causes. Not all celebrity advocacy, though, should be applauded uncritically. One study has suggested it is less effective than sometimes supposed for development causes, and can simplify a complex issue to a single outcome – usually giving money. This fails to address how people can make an ongoing difference in other ways.
In terms of natural disasters, a very practical way to help communities recover is the resumption of tourism. Perceptions play a big part in this, and celebrities can play a big part in forming images. It’s why they have long featured in tourism campaigns, from Paul Hogan in the 1980s to Kylie Minogue and others in the humorously idealised imagery presented by Tourism Australia to Britons a few weeks ago.
Even if celebrities have the best of intentions, their emotional appeals and shared of images of red skies and smoke-filled cities along with heartbreaking images of devastation and loss can contribute to fans cancelling holidays plans, even while they’re donating to bushfire appeals.
There are already reports, for example, of tourists aborting plans for visits months away. The Australian Tourism Industry Council says cancelled bookings in towns unaffected by the bushfires are up to 60%. The Australian Tourism Export Council estimates the loss of international bookings will cost the nation at least A$4.5 billion in 2020, hurting regional areas the most.
It doesn’t help when misleading information is spread, as the American singer Rihanna inadvertently did when she shared an image on Twitter that exaggerated the size of the bushfires. This image suggested huge swathes of Australia were no-go zones.
Ellen Degeneres did something similar in telling her audience “nearly a third of their habitat has been destroyed”. This was an exaggerated misstatement of Australia’s environment minister saying a third of koala habitat in New South Wales had been destroyed.
Our research confirms the further someone is from a destination in crisis, the more likely they are to be confused about the location and think a greater area is affected.
Fires in the Blue Mountains area of New South Wales, for example, were called “the “Sydney fires” elsewhere in Australia. Overseas they were referred to as the “Australian bushfires”, confusing domestic and international tourists.
So while celebrities might have the very best of motivations, their contribution in generating donations in the short term might be offset by the longer-term effect of amplifying the misconception that Australia is not safe for tourists.
This is demonstrated by past experience. After Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday fires, the the Gippsland region experienced a major tourism downturn, despite just 5% of the region being directly affected.
But celebrites can also use their mass-pull to aid tourism recovery.
Our research suggests their star power is unmatched as a means to encourage tourists back to regions recovering from disaster.
In the case of Gippsland, we surveyed 691 people with nine different advertising messages. Themes included solidarity, community readiness and even short-term discounts. We found celebrity endorsement made the greatest impression, with test subjects indicating it made them more likely to visit the region.
In the months after the Black Saturday bushfires, former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins and legendary cricketer Shane Warne visited affected towns. These highly publicised events sent the message these towns were ready to welcome visitors again.
So celebrities can definitely help in the coming weeks and months.
They can share positive stories about local communities’ resilience, and maybe even visit.
This is likely to do more for recovery efforts in the long term than helping to spruik for donations.
Gabrielle Walters, Associate Professor, School of Business, The University of Queensland; Judith Mair, Associate professor, The University of Queensland, and Monica Chien, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland
As our country battles the most extensive fires of our lifetime, there are increasing calls for a royal commission into the states and territories’ preparedness and the federal government’s response to the disaster.
A royal commission has coercive powers beyond a government inquiry, and the need for one implies there are facts and evidence that would otherwise be “hidden” to an inquiry or review.
Research I’ve recently conducted with other fire experts has concluded there have been 57 formal public inquiries, reviews and royal commissions related to bushfires and fire management since 1939, most of which are listed here. I have given expert evidence to at least seven of them, including the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
That is more than one inquiry every two years in the past 80 years. Do we need yet another?
Many of the recommendations of the subsequent 56 inquiries have not been fully implemented either, so it raises serious questions about whether another royal commission will offer anything new or compelling.
Royal commissions are also expensive and time-consuming. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission had a budget of A$40 million and ran for about 18 months.
This cost did not include the very considerable time and resources committed by various government agencies, companies and individuals who prepared and presented evidence to the commission. When these costs are taken into account, I estimate the total cost of the commission to Victoria would have been much more.
This begs the question as to how money spent on a federal royal commission could be better used to deal with bushfire management across the country.
In response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and various other inquiries, fire managers from government agencies in all states and territories prepared a National Bushfire Management Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands.
This policy statement was signed off by all COAG (Council of Australian Governments) members by early 2012 and published in 2014. As yet, there has been little action on implementing this policy.
The policy had a stated vision that
fire regimes are effectively managed to maintain and enhance the protection of human life and property, and the health, biodiversity, tourism, recreation and production benefits derived from Australia’s forests and rangelands.
Central to this vision is
the role fire plays in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. Sustainable long-term solutions are needed to address the causes of increased bushfire risk.
To achieve the intent of this policy, 14 national goals were identified.
The first was to maintain appropriate fire regimes with the right combination of size, intensity, frequency and seasonality to properly sustain the ecosystems in Australia’s forests and rangelands.
Another goal was to promote Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of fire management. This recognised the benefits of widespread, low-intensity, patchy fires across the landscape that are sustainable and create landscapes resilient to climate extremes.
And a third goal was to create employment, workforce education and training in bushfire management. This recognised the importance of fire management as an integrated part of our lives.
These goals – along with the 11 others in the statement – still need to be developed into measurable outputs and outcomes, but they set a comprehensive and sustainable fire management strategy for the country.
This policy statement goes much further than just considering how to respond to a bushfire emergency, which seems to be the focus of the call for a new royal commission by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Over the past 20 years or so, the tertiary education for land managers, such as professional foresters and rangers, has been reduced to the level of generic “environmental science”. This has largely been due to the politicisation of public land management.
Bushfire science is complex and fire management even more complex, so we need to have highly trained and qualified people managing our parks and forests. Instead, we typically have groups of individual specialists trying to collaborate without the strong leadership and direction such a task requires.
We do not expect a physicist or chemist to build a bridge, even though they could provide great detail about the forces acting on it and the metallurgy of the structure. Instead, we employ engineers. Likewise, we should not expect botanists, zoologists, ecologists or environmental scientists to manage the natural landscape. That, however, is what is happening now.
The responsibility for land and fire management rests with each state and territory government. However, with support from the federal government and coordination through COAG, we should be able to develop an efficient and effective fire and land management program across Australia.
In his 1939 royal commission report, Judge Stretton observed of the Victorian Forests Commission chairman of the time, A.V. Galbraith,
if his Commission were placed beyond the reach of the sort of political authority to which he and his Department has for some time past been subjected, he would be of greater value to the State.
His meaning is clear: good fire and land management needs to be done with long-term perspective, not a short-term political focus.
Stretton also observed the need to have public support, because
without their approval and goodwill, there can be no real plan.
Our changing climate has put more pressure on our natural ecosystems and the weaknesses in our land and fire management are being ruthlessly exposed.
Rather than using time and resources on inquiry No. 58, we should instead commit to fully implement the recommendations of all the previous inquiries, reviews and royal commissions we have already held. Another royal commission will only reiterate what we have known for decades.
These types of estimates will be refined and used to make – or break – the case for programs to limit the impact of similar disasters in the future. Some will be used to make a case for – or against – action on climate change.
But it’s important they not be done using the conventional measure of gross domestic product (GDP).
GDP measures everything produced in any given period.
It is a good enough measure of material welfare when used to measure the impact of a tourist event or a new mine or factory or something like the national broadband network, but it can be misleading – sometimes grossly misleading – when used to measure the economic impact of a catastrophe or natural disaster.
That’s because it measures the positives brought about the recovery from disasters but leaves out some of the negatives caused by the destruction.
building a new house has a positive impact on GDP, even if the old house was burnt down
a military evacuation has a positive impact on GDP, even though the circumstances that make it necessary are life-threatening and traumatic
bushfires stimulate GDP by creating more demand for health services, even as the victims suffer from smoke inhalation, burns or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Among the immediate costs in the first months after a bushfire disaster would be:
the direct cost of fire-fighting
the cost of temporarily relocating residents
health costs, such as treatment of burns and respiratory illnesses
loss of work days associated with firefighting, injuries, illnesses, displacement and loss of life
a downgrading of consumer confidence
destruction of assets including homes, farms, businesses and natural resources and the associated disruption of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and housing
the cost of replacing or rebuilding these assets
Longer term impacts would derive from:
health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder leading to negative impacts on quality of life and labour supply
long term damage to ecosystems, including contamination of water, and extinction or severe loss of animal species including those necessary to agricultural production, such as bees
reputational damage leading to possible permanent downgrading of tourism activity in affected regions and in Australia more broadly
potential ongoing reluctance to invest in Australia
potential increases in cost of living in bushfire prone regions due to increases in insurance costs.
The longer term impacts of disasters on a nation’s GDP are clearly negative, deriving from a decline in productive capacity (labour, capital and natural resources) which unambiguously detracts from economic welfare.
In the immediate aftermath, expenditure on reconstruction of homes and other assets can add to GDP, but the funding of these activities (whether direct or through insurance) adds to debt and can drag on household consumption, either immediately or in the future. A related measure, Gross National Income (GNI) takes this into account and is generally a better measure of economic welfare.
Bushfire-induced health expenditure stimulates both GDP and GNI but detracts from welfare.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, can hardly be considered an improvement in standard of living.
To offset this inappropriate “good news”, it is possible to construct an index of leisure-adjusted GNI which takes into account the downgraded quality of leisure time.
As a starting point for such estimates, the prime minister’s department sets the statistical value of a year of life free of injury, disease and disability at A$182,000 (2014 dollars).
Aggregated measures like GDP, GNI and leisure-adjusted GNI do not show the distribution of economic impact.
An event that strips a small amount from the incomes of everybody is different from one that decimates just a few regions, yet looks the same in a nationwide measure, so it is important that any economic analysis also looks at regional impacts.
The work is yet to be done, but it is safe to say that the conventional link between GDP and economic welfare (“more is better”) breaks down when assessing tragedies, particularly ones with profound regional impacts.
When campaigning to be US president Bobby Kennedy (John F Kennedy’s brother) said that GDP measures “everything… except that which makes life worthwhile”.
It’d be wise to bear that in mind when considering the policy response to the bushfires.