Australia will deploy 3000 army reservists, the navy and RAAF planes to help rebuild fire-damaged communities and fight fires in an unprecedented national military response to the humanitarian crisis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the decision of the national security committee on Saturday, including $20 million to lease new water-bombing aircraft although they will not be operational for 7 to 14 days.
For families in short-term accommodation distress, some will be provided shelter and food at army bases across the nation.
Mr Morrison, who spent recent days in the communities, confirmed 23 people were confirmed dead and 1500 homes lost. He said the time for following the protocol of waiting for requests from the states was over.
“First of all, just around half an hour ago, the Governor-General signed off on the call-out of the Australian Defence Force Reserve to search and bring every possible capability to bear by deploying army brigades to fire-affected communities across Australia,” he said.
Mr Morrison said a two-star emergency ADF national support co-ordinator will have national authority over the ADF joint taskforces in each of the affected states working in co-operation to support state emergency authorities.
“The HMAS Adelaide will sail from Sydney this afternoon. I initiated that process earlier this week at the same time that we initiated the process with the Choules to do what they did so successfully yesterday,” he said.
“The Adelaide is fully equipped for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. 400 crew including medical staff, as well as 300 tonnes which have been loaded up in recent days of emergency relief supplies.
Three Chinook helicopters will support a range of resupply evacuation and transport tasks, across the affected area and an additional C-17 Globemaster, two C-121 Hercules will also be prepositioned to East Sale.”
While the ADF has been working across the country to help communities, including the evacuation of hundreds of tourists at Mallacoota, the Morrison Government said reservists call out was a first.
“It is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory and, in fact, I believe for the first time in our nation’s history,” Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.
“With the Governor-General’s concurrence in the last hour, the compulsory call-out will give the CDF the authority to direct reservists to provide continual full-time service, to provide civil, aid, humanitarian, medical, civil emergency and disaster assistance … to provide isolated communities with life-saving supplies for immediate relief,” she said.
The Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell said the ADF stood ready to assist isolated communities to evacuate, to work with fire agencies, with regard to the “cutting of fire breaks or the clearing of roads and any other activity that might assist those isolated communities in terms of resilience, support.”
“It’s your defence force and we are here to serve you,” he said.
More water bombers
One the same day that the NSW Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed the Federal Government had previously rejected the business case for more fire bombers, the Prime Minister confirmed he will spend $20 million to lease planes.
But they won’t arrive for 7 to 14 days.
— Casey Kirchhoff (@gumnut_case) January 4, 2020
“Today’s decision puts more boots on the ground, puts more planes in the sky, puts more ships at sea, and puts more trucks to roll into support affected communities,” Mr Morisson said.
“I note last night at 8:00pm we were asked for one by the same agencies and we have provided four. Whenever asked, we are responding. As I said now, we are moving past responding, we’re not waiting to be asked.”
Smoke haze impacting health of communities
The Prime Minister said the Health Minister Greg Hunt was directly involved in examining the long term health effects of the smoke blanketing parts of Sydney, Melbourne, fire-affected areas and Canberra.
“My advice to those parents – I completely agree with you about their sense of anxiety about that, and that would also go to elderly people … one of the key actions that is being taken in a lot of the areas, in leave zones, I saw in the South Coast earlier in the week, is moving people out of the affected areas so they can get to places where it is a little less smokey.
“The haze will come and it will go, as Canberra residents know, as well as Sydney residents know, depending on which way the wind is blowing but the local health response, your local health providers, your local GP,
your local medical services are the ones best placed to advise you.”
PM response to Cobargo confrontation
After two days of insisting that he spoke to Cobargo mother Zoey Salluci-McDermott, who accused the Prime Minister of turning his back on her, Mr Morrison accepted it had been a brief interaction.
“What she spoke to me about was the need for more local fire brigade support,” he said.
Asked why he turned his back on her, Mr Morrison said there were many people to speak to in the town.
“There were a number of other people there and wanting to talk with me which is what I did,” he said.
“I understand her anger. I understand the first person who is going to walk into that town was going to feel the anger and the fury and the frustration and the loss and the fear that was effort in that community.
“Others I offered to talk to, they didn’t want to talk to me and they had some other advice they gave to me – colourfully. I understand that.
“These arms have given a lot of hugs in the last three months, in fact almost the last year and a half in which I have been Prime Minister,” he said.