SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis.
MATT DORAN, HOST: Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, joins us from Kurrajong Heights, north-west of Sydney. Good morning. I think this is a fantastic idea, help me understand how something might this might work? Volunteer firefighters are flat out extraordinary, so what form of compensation should this take and who should pay it?
ALBANESE: What they are saying is, when we have spoken to the volunteer fire fighters, is essentially, they are fatigued. This fire here has been coming in from the west, threatening the area since October. They are fatigued, they are tired, they give up so much. And of course, overnight, this tragedy where people have made the ultimate sacrifice and three others injured. First of all, my condolences to the family and friends and fellow crew who have been involved in this tragedy. What we are seeing is for months, rather than weeks, volunteer firefighters giving up their time, showing their courage, showing the resilience and their commitment to their local community and to their nation, in many cases, travelling in order to provide assistance. They can’t continue to just give up, those who, many of them, aren’t being compensated at all, they still had to put food on the table, they still have to pay their mortgage. And so, there is a range of measures that could be looked at, whether it is tax breaks, one- off payments, or some form of leave payment, support for businesses that are allowing people to leave. These issues have to be worked through. This is not business as usual. These people are showing their commitment to their community and to the nation. They deserve, I think, an equal commitment back.
DORAN: I think they will agree with you and it will be a delight to their ears to hear you say that. You described it as a national crisis that deserves a national response. But let’s say a volunteer firefighter who is out there doing 12 hours on the fire ground, going home and spending minimal time with their families over Christmas, how would they actually receive compensation for the time lost at work?
ALBANESE: They could receive it in the form of a payment from the Government. These volunteers that we are seeing, I spoke to people in Casino more than a month ago now, and even at that time, many of them on the north coast had been volunteering for many months. This is not business as usual. This fire season started earlier, and it is expected to go later. It is intense. And what the crews are saying is that they are struggling to keep up the rosters to keep people in the field. And it requires not only national leadership, it requires a response. And the Commonwealth Government should be coming to the party. We will provide support for whatever assistance in is deemed to be necessary. It’s a pretty simple principle here. No one should be forced to choose between doing what they have committed to do, of helping out, if they can’t afford to do so and that’s the principle here. People should not be out of pocket as well as showing the commitment that they are showing. These brave Australians deserve our respect and they deserve our respect and they deserve to be honoured. The Government needs to respond to this.
DORAN: Mr Albanese, unfortunately, we are out of time, thank you very much for joining us from out there on the fire ground this morning.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.