Monday, 30 November 2020
Questions without Notice
Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
My question is for the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Why has the Prime Minister rejected the recommendation of the bushfires royal commission that a sovereign aerial firefighting capability be established?
That assertion is incorrect. We have not rejected that. It is important to understand that it is the fire commissioners from around this country that determine the make-up of the aerial aircraft that we take. It should be about the fact that we let the professionals make that determination. When you talk about a sovereign fleet, let me just give you a statistic. AFAC is the peak council of Australian fire commissioners and NAFC is AFAC's commercial entity that procures those aircraft. Of the 158 aircraft that are sitting on tarmacs around the country at the moment, 128 are Australian. AFAC and NAFC are already working through the fact that there will need to be Australian aircraft on the ground.
We will now work with the states to make sure that we work through that recommendation together because they are the ones with the expertise to determine whether you need a large aerial tanker, small winged aircraft or helicopters. They are the ones that, through their jurisdiction, will decide exactly the type of aircraft. It is fire commissioners, not politicians, who should make that determination, because that is the meticulous planning they went through last year. To say that they didn't is a slur on those fire commissioners and the professionalism with which they have undertaken in being prepared for not just last season but this season. That is what we will continue to do. We will continue to take the advice from the professionals, not from politicians. Again, this isn't about politics. It's disappointing that you will not respect the sovereignty and the expertise of those men and women who are the very best fire commissioners in the world as far as I'm concerned. They proved themselves in Black Summer better than anyone, under the circumstances that they were in. Not once did the government let them down in terms of having the assets that they required.
Opposition members interjecting—
Yes, really! In November last year, I wrote to AFAC and asked whether they had enough aerial assets. They wrote back and said yes. In December, they came back to us and said they required more. The Prime Minister and I acted swiftly and put an additional $11 million on the table to make sure there were large aerial tankers on the ground. That is what we do. We work with the professionals. Don't use the desperation of politics to politicise something that should be above that. This is about understanding professionals, not about politics.