Senate debates

Monday, 10 February 2020

Questions without Notice

Australian Bushfires: National Aerial Firefighting Centre

3:19 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to be Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Last week Senator Reynolds told the Senate that, according to experts, the government had done all it could to provide the aerial firefighting capability required to protect Australians. Does the minister stand by that claim?

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I do.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, a supplementary question?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

In December 2017 the National Aerial Firefighting Centre provided a business case to the federal government requesting a permanent increase in funding of $11 million to its annual budget. On 4 January this year the New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said:

We haven't seen a positive response to that business case.

Is failing to provide a positive response to the business case for two years an example of the government doing 'all it could'?

3:20 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I absolutely stand by my comments in the Senate last week. We have worked incredibly closely with NAFC and with the states and territories. We have provided significant support to NAFC. In fact, the states recently asked for one additional large aerial tanker and we provided four. We have taken the advice of the experts and we have provided all possible assistance.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, a final supplementary question?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

More than 3,000 Australian families have lost their homes during the bushfire crisis. Can the minister explain to these families why the government failed to heed the advice of fire commissioners and NAFC to provide a permanent boost to Australia's aerial firefighting capability?

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, that question is beneath you. It is utterly disgraceful that you are linking the lives of people to the support that this federal government, Defence and EMA have provided.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Reynolds! Senator Wong, on a point of order?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order on direct relevance: what this minister should be ashamed of is telling the Senate one thing which is clearly not true. NAFC's advice was not received. Why don't you answer the question, instead of this feigned outrage?

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, that's not a point of order. Senator Cormann, on the point of order?

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong should withdraw that imputation on the senator.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I didn't hear one. There were interjections going on. I will check the Hansard. I did not hear any comment. I will take Senator Wong.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

No, if you're not asking for—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I didn't hear what could be withdrawn. I will check the Hansard. On the issue of the point of order—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You didn't take the advice and now you're embarrassed!

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

On the issue of the point of order—Senator Cormann?

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

Interjections are disorderly, and Senator Wong is interjecting while you are addressing the chamber. That is highly disorderly.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I have made the observation before that it is regularly put to me that question time is primarily a forum for the opposition. We are wasting that time, if there continue to be interjections. There is time for debating answers, and the content and the merits of them, after question time. It is not by interjection during question time. Senator Reynolds, in my view, is being directly relevant to the question. Senator Reynolds, to continue.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I will reiterate my complete rejection of every single word Senator Watt said then. It is a complete and utter disgrace that he is linking the work that Australian officials, EMA and this government have done, working very closely—

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

and providing the support that the experts have recommended—

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Reynolds, please resume your seat. Can people at least count to 10 after I call for silence, so we get a little bit of it. The minister had barely commenced speaking before the interjections started again. It's a poor reflection on the Senate. Senator Reynolds, to continue.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, these are the facts you so conveniently ignore. In 2019-20 the government funded NAFC to the tune of $45 million. We provided nearly $15 million under a longstanding funding agreement—

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

You got a business case in 2017 and you did nothing!

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Watt, count to 10.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

and $20 million, again, for additional firefighting aircraft. Again, I say to you, Senator Watt: shame on you. Shame on you all for politicising it. It is a disgrace.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Shame on you for not doing your job!

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I don't think it is—

Opposition senators interjecting

Order! The clock will run down until I call the next senator for a question. Senator Bragg.