Updated | Scott Morrison flags royal commission into bushfires while admitting he could have done better

Scott Morrison announces a $2 billion national bushfire recovery fund during the crisis. Picture: Karleen Minney
Scott Morrison announces a $2 billion national bushfire recovery fund during the crisis. Picture: Karleen Minney


A royal commission into Australia's devastating bushfires will look at the impact of climate change, the operational response at a state and local level and the role of the federal government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the inquiry as he conceded there were things he could have handled better at a personal level.

Mr Morrison has faced weeks of criticism - as the bushfires death toll rose to 28 - starting with his decision to take his family on a holiday to Hawaii and flowing through to his fire-ground visits during which he was met with anger and frustration.

"There are things I could have handled on the ground much better," Mr Morrison told ABC TV on Sunday.

"These are sensitive, emotional environments.

"Prime ministers are flesh and blood too in how they engage with these people.

"When I went there I went there in good faith, with Jenny on occasions, to provide what consolation I could. They're very strained environments ... you would do things differently and learn from every event but the important thing is the actions we have taken."

He said in hindsight he would not have taken his family for a holiday to Hawaii, despite being defensive about it in a radio interview at the time.

His original intention was to holiday, as was routine for his family, on the NSW south coast.

"One of the great difficulties in any job ... is balancing your work and family responsibilities," he said.

Mr Morrison said the scale of the bushfires was "unprecedented" and had created a situation in which Australians were demanding a greater response from the federal government than had been provided in the past.

"That was not something that was recommended going into this fire season," he said.

"There is a very new appetite, a very new expectation."

Meeting this new expectation could require federal legislation and new agreements with state and territory governments.

As well, details of a royal commission would be put to the premiers and federal cabinet in coming weeks, he said.

"I think Australians have a very reasonable expectation that any commission of inquiry, royal commission, would need to cover the full gamut of issues."

Facing criticism that federal authorities sat on their hands earlier in the bushfire season, Mr Morrison said his government had acted on all recommendations put to it.

Mr Morrison said he accepted climate change was driving longer, hotter and drier summer seasons and the government's emissions targets need to "evolve".

This work would include looking at building more dams, native vegetation and land clearing rules and ensuring homes are built in areas where climate risk has been assessed.

Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, under the Paris Agreement.

"It is my intention to meet and beat that target," Mr Morrison told ABC TV on Sunday.

"In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we are going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices and without shutting down traditional industries."

Asked whether he was open to moving the existing target, he said: "What I'm saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it."

Mr Morrison acknowledged some within coalition ranks felt climate change had nothing to do with the bushfires.

But it was the government's "uncontested" advice and position that climate change was impacting on longer, hotter, drier summer seasons.

"That is the position of the government - let there be no dispute about that," he said.

Mr Morrison said one of the issues which should be explored by a royal commission into the bushfires, which he will put to cabinet and the state premiers in coming weeks, would be the impact of climate change.

Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said it was a "good move" to include climate in the terms of reference for a royal commission.

"But Australia will have to do more to tackle coal and gas to have a credible climate policy on the international stage," Mr Oquist said.

"The coal and gas industry should begin to help pay the mounting costs of climate impacts, recovery and adaptation through the introduction of a climate disaster levy."

Mr Morrison has rejected the idea of a levy, arguing it would hurt the broader economy.

- Australian Associated Press