702 ABC Sydney, Drive With Chris Bath

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

Defence Media: media@defence.gov.au

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19 December 2019

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Now there's been plenty of talk about sending in the Army to help the RFS fight fires, about using the Defence Forces during the bushfires. Lots of people saying why aren't we doing that? Well, we actually are. The Defence Force is providing a lot of logistical support. You may have heard the Premier chatting to me just after four o'clock, she's confirmed that. In fact, one of Australia's biggest peace time movements of military personnel is under way. The Federal Defence Minister is Linda Reynolds and she joins me now. Minister, thank you very much for your time.


Thanks for having me on the program Chris.


Can you take us through what the Defence Force is doing to help in the bushfires?


I'll be very happy to Chris. But firstly, can I say that my thoughts are with all of those who have, and are continuing to face, these absolutely terrible fires across our nation, and of course, where you are in New South Wales. Particularly, I'd like to express my sympathies to those who have lost their homes, their loved ones and also their livelihoods. As you have said, our Defence Force personnel are doing an exceptional job, and have been for the last six weeks right across Australia, and particularly now in New South Wales. It is times like this that we really see the best in all of Australians.

This time last year, I was the Minister for Emergency Management and I witnessed up close and personal right across this nation with the Prime Minister, the devastation that natural disasters are having on communities, their families and their livelihoods. I saw not only Scott's compassion for those impacted, but also his resolution to help the States and communities rebuild. So in terms of what the Defence Force are doing for the last six weeks, as you know, our ADF personnel are not trained firefighters, but our permanent and also reserve members have been working with Emergency Management Australia for the past six weeks as part of our Federal Government, Whole-of-Government efforts to support firefighting nationally.


What sort of logistical support have you been providing? There was talk today that the Defence was providing chopper rescues for some people near Bilpin in this afternoon.


Yes, we've been providing a wide range of support, and this includes things like transporting firefighters across the country to where they're needed most, accommodation and catering, supporting the mapping of bushfires to assist firefighters with locating and tracking fires, they’ve been doing aerial reconnaissance using Rotary wing platforms, and also doing a lot of work to assist with clearing firebreaks.

For example, just in the last 24 hours alone, today we've deployed two extra Royal Australian Naval helicopters to help map the new bushfires in New South Wales, and they're doing that in conjunction with search and rescue operations. They’ve also joined other aircraft which have been carrying out night time reconnaissance as well as daylight, as it sweeps over the fire zones.


Do you have more up your sleeve to offer Minister if this continues to escalate the way it is?


Yes, we do. And perhaps if I had a look at it with you with all the three services, all three services have been providing support. So today we've got a RAAF Hercules, a C-17A Globemaster, and also one of our Boeing business jet aircraft, amongst many of the military aircraft which have been, and are today, taking firefighters across the country and also their equipment. That includes from Canberra to Port Macquarie, and also Melbourne to Coffs Harbour.

Our wonderful Navy at HMAS Albatross have been helping firefighters with water fuelling and retardant loading of aircraft fighting for the Kurrawong fires, from the Naval Air Station at Nowra. This includes six fixed-wing aircraft and also four of their helicopters. Our Army is also doing a brilliant job, and in things that people might not traditionally expect the Army to do. For example, Army personnel are helping in the kitchen; they're cooking three meals a day for over 250 absolutely exhausted firefighters in the Northern Rivers region in New South Wales, which means that I've got to say, our brilliant firefighters and volunteers are getting some rest, and also getting well fed. They're also doing logistical support and providing accommodation, so what we're doing already, is very wide ranging.

But in terms of what more can we do; for example today I've been working very closely with David Littleproud, and also, in fact, just before I came on air with you, I was talking to Andrew Gee, the Member for Calare, that has those absolutely horrific fires burning across his electorate, and he's in Cullen Bullen – the emergency services facility there – and they're looking for a Cat 7 vehicle to actually assist them. So, we're looking at ways that we can do further relief for volunteers so that they can get some rest, and we're also looking at a whole range of things – pretty much everything's on the table.


I guess Defence Force personal as you said, they're not covered under the Commonwealth Work, Health and Safety Act to fight fires, they are not trained to fight fires, but given the fact that a lot of volunteers need relief and it's not a bottomless pit, is there a case for training some of the armed forces to be firefighters in emergencies like this for the future?


Well, I think Chris in short, I'd say no, and I understand why people have been talking about that. But the real value for our ADF has been doing all of the things that I've gone through with you now, is actually providing all of the support in the things that they do better than pretty much anyone else. We are providing all of that support so that those who are trained to fight fires can do that - so that is really the best use of the ADF.


And you talked earlier about the Prime Minister's compassion you witnessed last year during an emergency, he's on holidays at the moment and he's copping a fair amount of flak for it. Do you think it was an opportune time for the prime minister to go away?


Look Chris, first thing I'd say is give the man a break. This is a Whole-of-Government effort and it has been for six weeks since the fires started. I continue to work hand-in-hand with the Prime Minister, with the Deputy Prime Minister, with Minister Littleproud and Minister Robert, and we are working together to make sure that the Federal Government provides all of the support we can to the States, and also to the local communities.

As the Deputy Prime Minister has said again today, the Prime Minister is on leave for a few days with his family and he'll be back at work for Christmas and the summer period, including leading a delegation to India and Japan, he's receiving regular updates, so I think that is – give the man a break he's on a few days away with his family.


Alright Minister, thank you very much for your time.


Thank you very much Chris.



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