SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis; call for compensation for volunteer firefighters; Government’s lack of energy policy; climate change; detainment of Kylie Moore-Gilbert.
SUSAN TEMPLEMAN, MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE: Hi everyone, I’m Susan Templeman and I am the Member for Macquarie which covers all of the Blue Mountains and all of the Hawkesbury. These fires are surrounding us. We are looking at about around half a million hectares of fire through this region. It is wonderful to have Anthony Albanese and our Mayor, Mark Greenhill, here to talk to divisional command here, and some of the firefighters who have been out to try and get control of this beast. There are obviously big issues. They are tired. We think they need to be compensated. And my community thinks that they need to be compensated because they are just seeing the hours that they are putting in. We are also, once we get this dreadful fire under control, and there is a long way to go before that happens, and a lot more threats that we potentially will see, we also need to think about how we help communities recover. And one of the really unusual things about this fire is the length of times. So, we have the recovery process for some regions happening while the combat side is happening in other parts of this community. So, they are the sorts of issues that I am really keen for Anthony to understand. And I will handover to you now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Susan. And thanks also for Mark Greenhill, the Mayor of the Blue Mountains for joining us today. A very particular thanks to Greg and the command of this centre and his team for explaining to us and going through some of the circumstances of what is occurring here in the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains, of course, is a community that is 50km long, but it is along the top of the ridge with fires on either side. And it is a very worrying time, particularly in Christmas. I spoke to them about what they would be expecting to be doing for Christmas. They will be working. And they deserve the nation’s eternal thanks. These are people who are committed to their local community, committed to making a difference to their neighbours, and committed to making a national contribution as well. And that is why I have argued that just as they are putting in, the nation should put in as well. Paul Keating’s Government, in 1994, made an ex gratia payment to the volunteer firefighters who had made a contribution, who had been in the field for more than seven days. I haven’t been prescriptive about what support should be required. I have, however, been very clear that people who are fighting fires, not for days or weeks but for months, still need to put food on the table for their families. They still need to pay their rent and mortgages. And it is the least that can be expected that this should be looked at by the Government and the Government should act. That is why I wrote to the Prime Minister way back in November calling for that action to occur. Today I spoke to Michael who was leading a crew that had a fire go straight over the top of their fire truck just days ago. These are scary circumstances. And I just am in awe and inspired by the incredible work that these firefighters are doing on behalf of their community.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Shane Fitzsimmons this morning has bluntly ruled out compensating the RFS. Do you still want it if he is saying that they don’t want it?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ve spoken to the volunteer firefighters and there is not one of them that I have spoken to who hasn’t said that some form of compensation is required. Not one.
JOURNALIST: Do you think he is out of touch with his people on the ground?
ALBANESE: It is not up to me to make. I have no criticism of the extraordinary job that he continues to give. But what people are saying on the ground, and this shouldn’t be a big issue in my view. This is common-sense. If someone has not had an income for a period of months because they have been fighting fires, and we met someone in Bilpin who had been fighting fires since September every day, people who don’t have an income for a period of three months, it is unsustainable. Common-sense tells you that.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister and the Fire Chiefs and state premiers are saying they are comfortable with those arrangements. So, what is your response then?
ALBANESE: I’m listening to the firefighters themselves and what they are telling me.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us an idea of what you want to see. We hear the word “compensation”. Is it that one-off payment that Keating gave in 1994? Is it pay? What exactly are we talking about?
ALBANESE: I’m not the Government. The Government does treasury and finance modelling. What I’m doing is that I’m trying to give the Government, frankly, some flexibility. I’m trying to not politicise this and saying that they need to examine measures that ensure that people are not sent into poverty because they have a commitment to their local community. That’s the principle here. It is a pretty simple one. There are a range of measures you can do or examine for it. Clearly different people are in different circumstances. Some people here today have been granted leave from their job. That’s a good thing. Other people I’ve met, whether they are teachers or people who work for organisations that make that decision and allow people to have leave. But we in a range of circumstances, the Commonwealth Government, provides pay, for example, for people who are reservists, who are working on these fires. There are a range of measures put in place. You could have one-off payments. You could have some form of leave arrangements. You could have some compensation for small businesses. If someone has shut their business, if they are a tradie who work for themselves, effectively, and instead of doing their job, in carpentry, plumbing, electrician, all they’ve been doing is fighting fires for three months, over a period of time that becomes unsustainable.
My point here as well is that this is not business-as-usual. We heard here from the commander here, Greg, who has 38 years’ experience. The people I’ve spoken to who have decades of experience are saying that they’ve never seen anything like this. There are record numbers of homes that have been lost. There have been lives that have been lost. This is a crisis. It requires an appropriate response.
JOURNALIST: How would you describe the Prime Minister’s leadership throughout this crisis?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s up for others to judge. My job as Leader of the Opposition is to do what I can to provide support and I’ve done that. I’ve asked for days to go to the RFS headquarters and that hasn’t been possible. I’ve done here today with Susan and Mark who have invited me here, and people want to see people on the ground, I think, informing ourselves. That’s where the idea of compensation was raised with me on the North Coast of New South Wales. When I visited Lismore and Ballina and Nimbin and Casino, there are people there who have been fighting fires since the Rappville fire which was many, many months ago, and so this has been an issue for some time.
JOURNALIST: On another note, how concerned are you about the detainment of the Australian academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert?
ALBANESE: Can we keep to this at the moment? Anything else on this?
JOURNALIST: One more in relation to climate change. Obviously, the Prime Minister was pretty blunt as to whether they will be changing any of the climate change policies but will continue to use rollover credits, carbon credits, to meet these now. Do you think we’re lacking and that this is an example of what’s happening?
ALBANESE: Well, this is an embarrassment for Australia. The fact that Angus Taylor, having misled Parliament from his first speech, was then sent over to Madrid to misrepresent Australia’s national interest at a global conference on climate change. We were one of four countries who are arguing against action. The Government can’t have it both ways. They say that Australia can act alone and that we only contribute 1.3 per cent of global emissions and therefore use that as an excuse for not taking further action domestically, but then they argue against international action. And that’s what we’ve seen in recent times from this Government. A failure to put in place an energy policy or a credible climate change policy. And then arguing on the international stage for accounting tricks rather than actually lowering emissions.
Australia does need action on climate change, and we need the world to act. But in order to encourage that, we need to have a credible domestic position. And at the moment, we don’t. Michael McCormack acknowledged that when he was acting Prime Minister. He said yes, ‘absolutely, we need to do more, and we need to change the policy position’. Michael McCormack saw it, Scott Morrison hasn’t. And I don’t know whether he can’t see the reality of what is occurring through all the smoke and haze that’s being created by these bushfires. But Scott Morrison needs to acknowledge that it is not business-as-usual. He needs to acknowledge that his Government has no credible climate change policy. And he needs to respond to the science. I don’t know what it takes for this Government to get out of its stubborn position. But I think across a range of issues, people will look at Scott Morrison and say that he’s very stubborn. And he takes a position and he has taken his election win on May as a vindication for him to do nothing.
We don’t need an ad man. We need a plan to deal with climate change.
JOURNALIST: On another note, how concerned are you about the ongoing detainment of Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in Iran?
ALBANESE: Look, this is of real concern because it’s not clear what she’s been accused of. And of course, Australia, I’m sure, is making a strong representation. DFAT do a very good job. And this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I’m sure that Labor stands with the Government in doing all we can to secure a positive outcome. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.