Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Bushfires

5:29 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion. Again I find myself thanking a senator on the other side for putting up an MPI which for us is really just a dorothy dixer. It's really quite amazing. It is quite ironic that the Labor Party want to bring this topic up as we enter another disaster season. Politicising disaster preparedness, response and recovery is nothing new for the Australian Labor Party. After all, we know they have form in this space, especially in my home state of Victoria. The Andrews government's so-called reforms of the fire services, at the behest of their union mates, undermined the coordination of firefighting across the state last fire season, especially in the regional cities, and has led to poor morale, loss of expertise and the decimation of volunteers in our beloved Country Fire Authority.

I found the comments from some of those opposite during their contributions, particularly around firefighting, quite amazing. We heard from an actual aerial firefighter, Senator Molan. He talked about how well we are prepared with our aerial firefighting fleet. The government is working with states and territories to implement the recommendations of the royal commission. It's important to note that 128 out of 158 aircraft that are used for firefighting are Australian owned and operated.

I found it quite amazing that Senator Watt—who was very, very active during question time on some of these issues and is the shadow minister for emergency management—has only just this last week accepted an invitation for a briefing with Emergency Management Australia on our seasonal preparation. Again, Senator Urquhart moving this MPI prior to that briefing just further demonstrates that Labor is simply not interested in facts. The Labor Party are not interested in how well prepared Australia actually is. Those decisions have left Victoria at a substantially higher risk now and into the future.

Earlier this year I spoke about the impacts of bushfires on my home state of Victoria and how, along with Victoria's first responders, the ADF had made a vital contribution to the safety and welfare of Victorians. We, as we all should in this place, know that emergency management is primarily a state or territory responsibility. Certainly during COVID the difference between states, and what states were managing and what the Commonwealth had to manage, was brought into stark contrast. However, we saw right through both the COVID crisis and the bushfire crisis earlier in the year that the Australian government ensured that everyone had support or was at least offered support by the ADF.

The Morrison government has substantially reformed national disaster payments, implemented the Emergency Response Fund and increased Australia's aerial firefighting responsibility. You have to remember that the funding that we've put forward, the Emergency Response Fund, is for response and recovery, so to claim we haven't spent any of that money is simply ridiculous. The fund, the $4 billion fund, is set-up to spend up to $200 million per year on various things. Just this last month the minister for disaster recovery, Minister Littleproud, has signed off on some of those funds to go out the door.

The Labor Party voted for the establishment of Emergency Response Fund knowing full well the circumstances in which it can be accessed. As I mentioned, the $150 million each financial year to fund emergency response and recovery is when the government determines that existing recovery programs are insufficient to meet the scale. The further $50 million in each financial year is to build resilience and that comes to prepare or reduce the risk of future natural disasters. We know that Labor don't understand these things, but I think we can see that this motion was a farce.

Question agreed to.