Dec 2, 2020











SUBJECTS: Upcoming bushfire season; Emergency Response Fund; Brereton Report; Australia’s relationship with China; RFS funding; need for a national aerial firefighting fleet.


KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you for joining us today at Bombay Reserve which is just near Braidwood in the Eden-Monaro electorate. I am Kristy McBain and I am joined today by our Leader, Anthony Albanese, and the Shadow Emergency Management Minister, Murray Watt, Senator Murray Watt. It is fantastic to be here today, a year this week from when the North Black Range Fires started. It is fantastic to be joined by RFS cadets from Braidwood Central School who have given up time to make sure that they understand fire and how they can manage it in the landscape. The RFS brigades here, joined by other brigades from New South Wales and Victoria, who fought this fire for over six weeks, it burnt through 40,000 hectares. And it wasn’t the only fire that was going to impact this region. There were numerous fires impacting Braidwood and surrounds. And we know in Eden-Monaro that over a million hectares burnt this summer. So, it is fantastic to be here today and to listen to some of the stories, to understand the need for further training, and to get more volunteers into this brigade. And I will ask Anthony to say a few words.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Kristy. And it’s good to be here with you as the local member who celebrated 100 days yesterday as the Member for Eden-Monaro. And also, with Murray Watt, the Shadow Minister for Emergency Services. The fact is that we hope, and we’ve been talking with the students here today, that this summer is much better than the last. But what we have to do always is to prepare for the worst. It’s one of the lessons of last summer where this community, as we can see, is still recovering from the bushfires that ravaged this community and other communities around our country. That’s why Labor has campaigned for long-term solutions. We’ve campaigned and supported the establishment of the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund. And it’s quite frankly inexplicable that of that fund $200 million available each financial year, so $400 million has been available up to this point, not a single dollar of that has been spent. That’s simply not good enough. It’s the sort of complacency that we can’t afford. We need also to respond to all of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, including the need for national aerial firefighting. It was a very clear recommendation, and one that’s been rejected by the Government without any adequate explanation. Lastly, can I say to the cadets who are here today and their teachers and their mentors in the RFS, a big shout-out to you. They have been learning skills that will help their community. Many of them will go on to serve in the RFS and make a real contribution to keeping their communities safe. And it was terrific today to engage with the students who are enthusiastic. The fact that the program was more than full, not everyone who wanted to participate could. There’s a lesson there, we need to roll-out these sorts of programs around the country, because they don’t exist everywhere. But we’ve seen today the success of it by talking with the RFS as well as the cadets themselves. It is a very positive experience. Murray?


MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks, Anthony. It’s a great pleasure to join you and Kristy, in your patch, Kristy. And I particularly want to welcome and thank the students and the RFS for having us here today and showing us what you do. This week is the one-year anniversary of when some devastating bushfires came through this very region. And you can look around now and see some of the trees just starting to recover. And it’s a bit of a symbol of the fact that the recovery is a long process for communities like Braidwood and so many others around the country. The fact that we’ve got bushfires happening in so many parts of the country already tells us that the disaster season is here. It’s not something that’s going to be a while off yet. It’s already started. And we know from the Bureau of Meteorology and other advisers to the Government that we do face more bushfires this year. And up for further north, up my way in Queensland, we face floods and cyclones as well. So, it’s an important message that all of us need to be prepared. And it is initiatives like this school and the RFS are doing that shows that communities are doing what they can to be prepared for the disaster season. So, we need to see that effort matched by the Morrison Government. As Anthony has said, there’s a number of things that this Government has already announced that are supposed to be being rolled out right now to prepare communities for the disaster season and aren’t happening. The Emergency Response Fund is one example. They’ve rejected the recommendation from the Royal Commission into bushfires to have a national aerial firefighting fleet. We saw what happened last year when the Government didn’t adequately prepare and was scrambling around bringing in aircrafts from other parts of the world when they just weren’t available. So, it is important that the Morrison Government follows this community’s lead, gets itself prepared, rolls out the funding that it’s already promised to people so that we don’t see the damage that we saw last year.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Murray. Happy to take questions. There is one on the phone firstly.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, I think, quite clearly, there’s a need for certainty. The Chief of the Defence Force made a statement based upon the recommendations that were made. But there has been concern expressed by people like Luke Gosling, who, of course, served his nation in the Defence Force prior to serving his nation in Parliament, that we should ensure that we recognise that the overwhelming majority of men and women who have served us have done it in a way that makes us proud. And the fact that this concern has been raised needs to be taken into account. I do believe that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister need to provide certainty on this issue. It is a decision for the Government, the Chief of Defence Force has said. And the Government needs to provide that certainty to the personnel who served us.


JOURNALIST: What do you mean by certainty?


ALBANESE: Well, they need to make a decision. It is up to the Government to be in this position. And they need to take into account the fact that, overwhelmingly, the people who served us did so in ways that made us proud. And it is important that we recognise that service.


JOURNALIST: So, based on your comments, would you be comfortable with citations not being stripped from all of those soldiers as suggested by the Brereton Report?


ALBANESE: Look, I’m waiting for a decision to be made. I don’t wish to politicise this issue. I think that people in the Defence Force, those who’ve served us, deserve that certainty. And I know that there’s been concerns expressed, such as that by Luke Gosling, about that recommendation of the Brereton Report. Sorry, there’s other people here. Sorry.


JOURNALIST: Just wondering if you have seen the second doctored image by the Chinese media and what your thoughts are about that?




JOURNALIST: The second doctored image?


ALBANESE: No, I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it.


JOURNALIST: Jacinda Ardern weighed in on the relationship with Australia and China. Do you think it was appropriate of her to do that?


ALBANESE: Jacinda Ardern is a friend of Australia. She’s also a friend of democracy. And she’s a friend of mine. And I’m very proud to see that. She’s someone who has very strong values. And she put forward those values when she made a statement in support of Australia. New Zealand are our friends and they showed that with Jacinda Ardern’s statement


JOURNALIST: Just on the RFS funding, what is the most important assets they need out of this funding? What are the priorities?


ALBANESE: Well, what they need is a range of support. The recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission were very clear of the benefits of having a national aerial firefighting fleet. Those recommendations should be adopted. We also know that of the $200 million allocation each year, $150 million is for recovery of communities and $50 million for community resilience. So, that could be on the basis of a range of infrastructure that could be provided to rural firefighting services. And one of the ways in which support could be given is for support for programs just like this that are building resilience in the community. One of the things that should happen is that we should ask the RFS themselves on the ground in different communities. Because different communities will have different asks. But we know that the money is available. The fact that it hasn’t been spent and just stays in consolidated revenue is quite extraordinary. It is beyond belief that you could have $400 million that was allocated that could have been spent this year and not a dollar of it has been spent. Thank you very much.