Our country is facing devastating and widespread national bushfires.
They have been burning throughout the country for months now but today is shaping up as our most challenging day, with a state of emergency declared in NSW and Victoria while Tasmania and South Australia also face significant threats.
We are well prepared, well organised and well resourced, but we are also realistic: These fire conditions are unprecedented, and the challenge is formidable. If fierce conditions prevail, today could be a dark day for our country.
The rapidly escalating damage and the heart-breaking human cost calls for nothing less than an all-out response. The task in front of our country today and in the weeks ahead requires us to do whatever it takes; to not only fight the fires and protect lives, but ensure our fire-affected communities are well-resourced and functioning, and evacuations can be affected quickly and effectively. And when the fire threat has finally diminished, that we have the tools and personnel to reopen and rebuild.
Following today’s meeting of the National Security Committee, the Coalition Government is:
- Enacting a compulsory Call-Out of Australian Defence Force Reserve Brigades for the first time in the country’s history, together with specialist personnel,
- Deploying HMAS Adelaide to support the efforts of HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, as well as additional Chinook helicopters, C-17 Globemasters, C-130 Hercules and C-27 Spartans, and
- Leasing a fleet of extra waterbombing planes for the states and territories to deploy
It will mean boots on the ground, planes in the sky and ships out at sea all supporting the bushfire fighting effort and recovery.
We continue to support the states to run the operational response and we will continue to act on every request we receive for further assistance.
In recent months ADF resources have been deployed in response to state requests – from the operational base at Canungra in Queensland in September, to the 2,000 personnel already deployed to support with logistics, evacuations, catering, accommodation and clearing, our Air Force helping transport firefighters, Defence bases being used as refuelling and staging sites and HMAS Albatross assisting with water and fire retardant reloading.
We have also been listening to the people on the ground in these fire-affected areas and we are unilaterally changing the posture of the ADF to proactively mobilise and position our resources where we expect they will be needed most.
Through the authority of the Governor-General, the Government has directed the Australian Defence Force surge to bring every possible capability to bear by deploying Army Reserve Brigades to fire-affected communities across Australia.
Australians have watched with admiration as our emergency services have dealt with the fires and extreme weather events engulfing much of the country. We have their backs.
Two-Star Emergency ADF National Support Coordinator Major General Justin Ellwood will have national authority over the ADF Joint Task Forces in each affected state working in cooperation with and to support state emergency authorities.
The priority for this deployment is to assist in ensuring the safety of life, support the evacuation of affected people from isolated communities, provide assistance to isolated communities and support State-managed evacuation centres.
The ADF surge includes the deployment of up to 3,000 designated ADF Reserve forces including the 4th Brigade from Victoria, the 5th Brigade from New South Wales, and the 9th Brigade from South Australia and Tasmania and specialist logistic elements of the 17th Brigade headquartered in New South Wales to push Defence resources into fire-affected areas progressively, and in coordination with State authorities, from as early as tomorrow. These Brigades will be enhanced with specialist ADF personnel with skills in engineering, medical, logistics and transport support.
Following the Prime Minister’s conversation with the Chief of the Defence Force on New Year’s Eve, the HMAS Adelaide, the Navy’s largest amphibious ship, has been readied to join HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore in supporting evacuation of citizens from fire affected areas along our coast line. HMAS Adelaide will sail from Sydney this afternoon, and will be located offshore from the fire affected areas tomorrow afternoon. The Adelaide is fully equipped for disaster relief and humanitarian aid and is able to operate all ADF helicopters, 400 crew including medical staff as well as 300 tonnes of emergency relief supplies.
The Government has ordered relevant ADF air lift and reconnaissance capacity to pre-position to RAAF Base East Sale, which will remain the central hub for the Defence response in southern areas.
From tomorrow an additional three Chinook helicopters from Townsville, will be deployed over the coming week to support a range of resupply, evacuation and transport tasks across the breadth of the affected areas. An additional C-17 Globemaster, two C-130 Hercules and three C-27 Spartans will also be pre-positioned to East Sale.
For people in short term evacuation distress, other Defence bases from Brisbane to Adelaide will provide temporary transit accommodation and support arrangements.
This is a major step-up in ADF involvement and assistance and demonstrates our absolute commitment to supporting states to fight the fires, and to immediately swing into disaster recovery operations as soon as the fire-front has passed.
Following a request from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council at 8pm yesterday for one additional waterbombing aircraft, today we have also committed $20 million to lease four extra planes to fulfil that request and to meet any further requests – two long-range fixed wing DC-10s with 36,000 litres capacity and two medium-range fixed-wing Large Air Tankers with 11,000 litre capacity. The Commonwealth will fully fund the leasing costs with operational costs to be shared with states and territories as usual.
From the heart-breaking loss of life to the destruction wrought on towns and communities, businesses, farms, livestock, homes and our wildlife, the impact of these bushfires has left deep financial, emotional, mental and environmental scars.
We are conscious of the enormous challenge of rebuilding these devastated communities. Australians are resilient and want to rebuild – and we will be with them every step of the way.
The Government has already processed 20,600 claims for assistance this bushfire season and delivered nearly $25 million in Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance as well as deployed Mobile Service Centres and extended Centrelink’s phone hours including opening them this weekend. But, as with the floods and drought, we can and will ensure communities and businesses have the helping hand they need. The Government will detail further work to aid the recovery in coming days.
Our government’s entire focus is on supporting Australians in this difficult time – those facing immediate danger and those who are recovering after the fire-front has passed.
The Prime Minister has postponed his state visit to India and his official visit to Japan to stay close to the disaster and recovery operations underway in Australia. We deeply appreciate the arrangements that India and Japan have made to date and look forward to rescheduling the visits at a mutually convenient time in the coming months.
Everywhere across the country in the communities we visit we see the absolute devastation and despair these bushfires have wrought. What we have also seen is the best of Australians coming together, supporting one another.
We urge Australians to keep informed about the situation in their area and to follow the directions of state and territory authorities and the ADF as they work to keep people safe.
We will do whatever it takes to get Australians through these terrible times.
Full details on the ADF’s operations to date are available at https://news.defence.gov.au/national/defence-boosts-bushfire-support.