FRIDAY, 8 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECT: Morrison’s refusal to meet with ex-fire chiefs, fire preparedness, Labor Review.
STEVE MARTIN: With the fire season becoming longer and a bit more extreme, is it time for national response to fire and how we combat it? Earlier this week on ABC 730, former New South Wales fire chief, just returned from visiting firefighters in California, issued a stock bushfire warning for Scott Morrison and his Government. Greg Mullins says were grossly under prepared for what’s coming, adding that the patterns in North America are being repeated here as seen by the early and extreme fires in Queensland and New South Wales in the last month. As a group of 23 experts in fire management have requested a meeting with the Prime Minister but so far the silence from the Government, they say, has been deafening. Here’s a snippet of Greg Mullins from 730 this week. This is a bit of what he had to say:
“We’re coming into ’94 when New South Wales was devastated and there’s not even platitudes, there’s just closed doors and closed, closed minds, as far as I’m concerned. That’s atrocious that our National Government doesn’t recognise that there’s a disaster heading their way.” – Greg Mullins
MARTIN: That’s Greg Mullins. That was at the start of the piece. We noticed a tweet from Catherine King, the Member for Ballarat. That tweet says: “This makes me furious. It is people in regional and rural communities bearing the brunt of this. We should have a national response to our expanding fire seasons and we have to seriously tackle climate change.” Catherine King is our guest this morning. Catherine King, good morning.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning Steve.
MARTIN: What did you make overall on that piece on 730?
KING: Well, I think it’s really clear when you’ve got former fire chiefs from across the country, saying that our fire seasons are being extended and that that is going to cause a problem. While the National Government provides some funding to states and territories to lease in some of the firefighting aerial equipment that’s needed, when you’ve got fire seasons that are extending in other countries as well, not just in America, but obviously, we’ve seen in Greece and in other parts of Europe, fire seasons that are quite intense. That means that you’re actually going to need to start to think about a national fleet of air firefighting equipment, which we don’t currently have, because those leasing arrangements are simply going to become more and more difficult. I think the fact that we’ve got those ex-fire chiefs coming out so strongly and then the Morrison Government so far not responding. It feels like we’re sleepwalking into what’s going to be a disaster over the next decade. And we’ve got a chance now to try and do something about it. And we’ve should. These fires predominantly happen in rural communities across the country. We bear the brunt of it, we are bearing the brunt of it. You can say the fire seasons that are occurring already, and the start of it. I think we’re sleepwalking into a disaster if the Government doesn’t actually say we’ve got a national responsibility here to do something about it.
MARTIN: Why a national response? The fire services are run on a state based system, so why that that national response?
KING: Because it’s about the coordination of assets across States and Territories. Increasingly we see firefighting assets deployed from other States into other States. We know that in terms of regional airports where these planes and helicopters have to deploy from that regional airports increasingly need assistance to develop up to be able to host and hold these planes. There needs to be a network of these across the country that can be deployed quickly. We know that those aerial assets are so crucial in the first hours of a fire to try and beat it down as quickly as you can, so that it doesn’t take off. That means you actually need to have a national network of these because they aerial assets across the country to be able to try and get to the fires as quickly as possible. We don’t have that currently, as I said, the Federal Government does provide some funding for a States and Territories in order to lease but there is no national coordination about where these assets are, and only a national Government can do that..
MARTIN: There’s a long tradition of fire services helping out across state boundaries, but also across international boundaries as well. With these extended fire seasons that were referred to in that 730 piece, it’s likely, and along with those leasing arrangements as well as, it’s likely those alliances, those allegiances may need to come to an end. Is that sort of adding into this mix as well Catherine?
KING: Absolutely, because what you’re starting to see is fire seasons overlap. So while we lease a lot equipment from Canada, if the Canadians are actually need that or are leasing that out to other countries. You know, normally it would have been our fire season started well before their fire season ended. No you’re seeing, you saw in that story, that the season currently over in the US, they said it started in April and is going all the way through to December. Well, then that absolutely starts to overlap with our fire season, which in fact, this year, started in August. So of course, that means there’s going to be stress on those leasing of those assets. We have to think about, what is our national flag game? Again, that doesn’t mean we have to own this machinery, but it does mean we have to have the capacity to have it available at the start of the fire season and to deploy it nationally.
MARTIN: Just on a more local level, Catherine King, how prepared do you think the CFA is to deal with the more extreme seasons because budgets are under pressure? We know that there are anecdotal reports that we’ve heard about where it’s very difficult for crews to get anything out of CFA headquarters, new equipment and that sort of thing, so as a senior member of the community and the political side of things, how prepared do you reckon the CFA is for Victoria?
KING: Look it’d be difficult for me to comment on that. I’m not a spokesperson for the CFA. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do that. I think they do extraordinary job and alongside the state-based forest firefighting services that work really closely together. We’ve seen, I think, we did have an early start to a fire season here and they were pretty incredible really. I’ve always thought they do an amazing job and I know whether it’s a paid firefighter or a volunteer firefighter, it’s such a great important service that is provided to our community. So, it’s difficult for me to comment how prepared, but I think the reality is for all fire services across the country when you are seeing the start of the season much earlier, that crews do get tired very quickly. You get, when you don’t have assets available to be deployed, then that does cause pressure on all fire services across the country. That again is why the national Government needs to meet with these ex-fire chiefs and actually sit down and say, what is it that we need to do to make sure that we’ve got the best possible available resources nationally, particularly when it comes to aerial firefighting equipment. And make sure we’ve got something we can do about it, and I understand the Government’s got an issue about climate change, and they’ve been unable to actually grapple with that. But, I think it’s important we actually deal with that issue as well. But, really at the basis of it, what are the national assets available? How do we make sure we’ve got a national response to what is becoming an increasingly complex, fierce and extended fire season.
MARTIN: Catherine King, just quickly, are you likely to raise this, or try and raise this with the relevant Minister directly?
KING: Look certainly. I don’t have shadow portfolio responsibility for this area, I obviously have Infrastructure and Transport but I do have some responsibility as the Shadow for Regional Airports. I’ll certainly raise it with the relevant Shadow Minister. We did have a policy at the last election amongst the very, very many policies that we had around actually beginning to look at purchasing a national firefighting fleet and deploying that more appropriately. I think that was the start of a really important conversation to have about these issues. But I’m certainly happy to raise it and I’m certainly happy to raise it in the Parliament, and I’m very pleased that 730 has covered the report because as I said in my tweet it is rural, regional and remote communities that absolutely bear the brunt of this. It is our volunteer firefighters, our paid firefighting services that are out there on the field. And we do need to have better capability of deployment of assets across the country.
MARTIN: Can I just ask quickly before you go Catherine, are you happy with the Labor Review? You mentioned the number of policies, that’s something that came up in the Review, are you happy with what that Review has found? Or do you have issues with some of it?
KING: No, look, I think it’s a very fair, accurate and comprehensive description about what happened. I think that it was really important and I know it’s been incredibly transparent that it’s out there. It’s warts and all really and it’s pretty raw for some to read. But I think that’s really important because you only learn from your mistakes if you reflect on them. If you try and paper them over and pretend they’re not there, then you don’t learn anything. So I think that’s important. But then what I also think is important is people are now, probably you know, have been a bit forgiving of us others to be talking about ourselves for a while and now they expect us to get on with what we should all be doing is really reflecting and keeping the Government to account, trying to push good and important policy agendas for the communities we represent. And making sure that we’re ready for the next election. So I think this is sort of drawing the line under it, we’ve got Anthony Albanese at the National Press Club today, he’ll be there answering as many questions the national media throw at him. And really, I think it’s drawing a line under it now reflecting, reviewing, understanding what happened to not getting on with our jobs.
MARTIN: Catherine King, thank you for your time.
KING: Really good to talk to you.