Former PM Malcolm Turnbull has joined Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in calling for national leadership to combat Australia’s bushfire crisis.
“When Australians’ lives are at risk, when they are being threatened, when their families and their homes and their crops and properties and everything they hold dear is being put at threat, that’s the national security issue,” Mr Turnbull told the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night.
“If it isn’t a national security issue, what is? The national government has to provide leadership.”
On the same program, Mr Albanese said he had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison three weeks ago seeking a national response to the fires. He said it was clear Australia was not fully in control of bushfires and that fires “don’t recognise state boundaries”.
“He wrote back to me saying [a national response] wasn’t required and that everything was in hand,” he said.
“Quite clearly, it’s not.
“We need to actually ensure that we respond and the national government should be providing leadership on these issues.”
Both Mr Albanese and Mr Turnbull acknowledged the link between climate change and the severity of bushfires in NSW and Queensland.
Mr Turnbull also took aim at the negative influence of climate “deniers” within the Liberal Party.
“The government’s policy on climate is being held to ransom by a group of deniers within the party and in the media and other sections outside the parliament. Therein lies the problem,” he said.
On Monday, former royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne blamed political “short-termism” for stifling Australia’s response to climate change. He was backed by former Liberal leader John Hewson.
The comments came as soaring temperatures and low humidity formed a “lethal” cocktail of weather conditions in NSW on Tuesday, with communities warned to brace for yet another day of fire danger.
Sydney-siders also woke to another day of choking smoke and hazardous air quality on Tuesday, with landmarks such as the harbour bridge and opera house disappearing behind a toxic haze.
This season, fires have now burnt out 2.7 million hectares with a perimeter of 19,235 kms.
Of this, the current 87 fires, incorporate 2.1 million hectares and a perimeter of 11,095 kms.
Thank you again to all involved, supporting and affected by this extraordinary season. #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/KoM6ZXxiQK
— Shane Fitzsimmons (@RFSCommissioner) December 9, 2019
Mr Turnbull said the federal government needed to take responsibility for tackling the ongoing bushfire crisis.
“We do have to come together and recognise that this situation with fires is going to become worse,” he said.
But Mr Morrison defended the fire-fighting efforts.
“I can reassure everyone that the nationally-coordinated effort and the specific state efforts leading the response in each of their jurisdictions has been incredibly professionally deployed,” he said on Tuesday.
He said the ADF was assisting state fire authorities, and thanked American, Canadian and Kiwi firefighters assisting in Australia.
“They are doing their job, the firefighters are doing their job,” Mr Morrison said.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has called for air force planes to be used for water bombing as the devastating blazes rage on. But Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said deploying more defence force resources to bushfires could pose national security risks.
“There’s a lot of political experts on this but I’ll listen to the professional experts,” he said.
Mr Littleproud said fire commissioners had backed the division of labour between firefighters and the military.
He also defended criticism there was a lack of resources to fight blazes burning across the country.
“We have said to them, if things change you need to let us know. But, as it stands, three to four weeks ago when I got a response from them, they wrote to me and said they have suitable assets.”