Scott Morrison says compensation for volunteer firefighters not a priority

23 December 2019

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AUSTRALIA – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the Government is “not going to make any knee-jerk responses” to the growing bushfire catastrophe, despite calls for compensation for firefighters.

Key points:

  • Labor leader Anthony Albanese wants the state and federal governments to meet urgently to address bushfires
  • He has suggested the Federal Government provide financial support to firefighters
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the Government is not going to provide “knee-jerk responses”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese wants an urgent meeting of state and federal leaders to discuss the bushfire threat and address the need to pay firefighters.

“I say to the Prime Minister he can do three things immediately,” Mr Albanese said, “which is to bring forward the COAG [Council of Australian Governments] meeting, meet the former fire chiefs, and do something now to provide support for those volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for such a long time”.

Mr Morrison said the meeting would not be moved and he had received no requests from fire chiefs for firefighter compensation.

“It’s important to do the work properly. It’s important to properly consult with the state premiers and chief ministers,” he said.

“If there is the need, and fire commissioners and chiefs and state premiers wish to raise issues before then … I’ve been talking to them and they are not. They are very comfortable with the arrangements.”

He said “some” people seeking to take political opportunity in these events were not “very helpful”.

“What’s really helpful is what the fire commissioners and the premiers are talking to me about on a daily basis now I’ve come back [from Hawaii on holiday], and was happening before I went away, to ensure we get the resources where they need to be,” he said.

The Prime Minister said decisions continued to be made each day, such as additional support for affected communities and defence force assistance.

“I simply don’t accept the proposition that there has to be a meeting of COAG earlier for anything to get done,” Mr Morrison said.

Question of compensation

Mr Morrison confirmed on Sunday that a COAG meeting would take place in March to discuss capabilities for future disasters. He added compensation was something that could be “contemplated”.

But on Monday he reiterated that firefighters were volunteers and compensation was not a priority.

“We will always rely around the country on our volunteer forces, whether it’s on fires or surf lifesaving or anything else,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“But right now, the Commissioner has reminded me that they need to focus on the operational effort and not be too distracted by those issues at the moment.”

Mr Albanese wants the COAG meeting brought forward to develop a new national strategy for disaster preparedness, secure appropriate funding and consider expanding aerial firefighting.

The meeting would also address compensation for volunteer firefighters.

“There are a range of measures [of compensation] that could be considered,” he said.

“There are taxation measures, there’s one-off payments, there is leave payments.”

Mr Morrison has previously rejected calls to pay volunteers.

He was reluctant on Monday to use the term “compensation”, but was open to discussing additional resources that enable volunteer firefighters.

“What’s important is that we give our fire commissioners the tools they need to best support and raise that volunteer force,” he said.

“What is particularly taxing about this season is the length.

“That’s why I’m taking advice from fire commissioners for what is best needed to continue to support access to that important volunteer force.”

Volunteer Firefighters Association president Mick Holton said small business struggled to pay volunteer firefighters when they were called away.

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