Thursday, 14 November 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Cormann, representing the Prime Minister. Two years ago the combined emergency services put in a business case to the federal government for additional funding for firefighting aircraft that we currently lease from the US. They received no response. Now, with California fighting their own fires out of season, and with record high greenhouse pollution supercharging these megafires, we hear commissioners and assistant commissioners saying:
We're having a problem with resources. We need to admit that.
We also know that the federal contribution to these emergency responses is declining. Minister, why does the government continue to underresource our emergency services?
I completely reject the proposition that we are underresourcing our emergency services. Of course we're providing the appropriate resources and we are working together with the state and territory governments, who have very significant responsibilities in this area.
In terms of the specific question raised at the beginning of the question, I will seek further advice and come back to the senator on notice.
Minister, former New South Wales Chief commissioner Greg Mullins disagrees with you. He says, 'If we'd been able to speak with the Prime Minister back in April, they would have had time to secure more aircraft and put in more money to have twice as many.' With the coalition government supporting increased coal and gas production, driving these megafires, do you agree that the time has now come for a national disaster response unit and a fully funded aerial firefighting fleet?
Obviously we've made significant efforts to boost our capability to respond to national emergencies. Indeed, we have a dedicated minister with dedicated portfolio responsibility for this at cabinet level. Aerial firefighting does play an important role in protecting communities and essential infrastructure and providing vital support to firefighters on the ground. Whilst aerial firefighting is one method of fire suppression, fire and land management agencies across the jurisdictions use a combination of firefighting tactics prior to and during operations. These include but are not limited to: hazard reduction activities in preparation for the bushfire season; the establishment of a network of strategic fire trails to improve access; a mix of career retained and volunteer personnel; a range of specialist firefighting personnel, including remote aerial firefighters and specialist strike teams; a range of assets, including tankers, bulk water carriers, marine craft, vehicles fitted with compressed air foam systems et cetera. (Time expired)
Mr Mullins also said: 'Let's draw a line under it all. I'd love to see the Greens, Labor, the coalition and crossbench get together and say this is a climate emergency. Let's start now and take action on the base cause, which is the burning of oil, coal and gas. Let's look after our future.' Minister, just like Prime Minister Howard reached across the political divide after the Port Arthur massacre, will your government accept we're in a climate emergency and take action on climate change?
Firstly, our government is taking effective action on climate change. We are on track to meet and exceed our emissions reduction targets for 2020 agreed to in Kyoto. We have a plan to meet our emissions reduction targets agreed to in Paris.
In relation to some of these other matters, I point out again that commissioners and chief fire officers within each state and territory jurisdiction determine the type and base location of aerial firefighting assets based on the assessed bushfire risk. That is obviously an operational judgement. The National Aerial Firefighting Program continues to represent value for money, particularly in light of the release of the Australian seasonal bushfire outlook. The outlook shows above normal fire potential across Australia following on from a very warm and dry start to the year. This year the Australian government contributed $14.983 million to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre— (Time expired)