Monday, 10 February 2020
Questions without Notice
Australian Bushfires: National Aerial Firefighting Centre
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?
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'?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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—
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.