PM: ‘Fire chiefs can ask for more support at any time’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected calls to bring forward a meeting of states to discuss bushfire management as blazes ravage the nation, insisting fire chiefs can ask for more support at any time.
The prime minister said "plenty of issues" including hazard reduction and compensation for volunteers would be up for discussion at the next COAG in March, but ruled out having the meeting sooner.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has questioned Mr Morrison's leadership, saying the COAG meeting - to discuss the development of a new national strategy for disaster preparedness and the appropriate funding by governments for emergency services - must be brought forward.
But Mr Morrison rejected this, saying he did not accept the proposition that COAG had to meet for things to get done because options and proposals for improving fire management were already being worked on.
"There will be plenty of issues to review - everything from how hazard management is dealt with in national park areas (to) … carelessness in some occasions," he said.
"What we don't want to do is distract from the here and now operational requirements, and that's where we need the focus of our chiefs right now."
Mr Morrison said if authorities needed specific assistance sooner it would be addressed.
"I've been talking to (premiers and fire chiefs), and they … are very comfortable with the arrangements that we have," he said.
"I know that some will seek to take political opportunity in these events. I don't think that that is very helpful.
"What's really helpful is focusing on what the fire commissioners and the premiers are talking to me about on a daily basis."
Mr Morrison said support for volunteer firefighters would be up for discussion but he did not believe "compensation" was the right way to describe what was needed.
"What is important to give the fire commissioner the tools that they need to best support and raise that volunteer force as it's needed over across the fire grounds and where they need to meet that need," he said.
"These are issues that will continue to be worked up together between states and territories."
Mr Morrison also rejected the suggestion his position on climate change was at odds with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who last week agreed more could be done to combat the issue.
"I know that people want to play word games and look for conflict where there isn't any, and there's not here," he said. "We have a clear policy on these things, and we'll continue to pursue it."
Mr Morrison also visited firefighters at Ilford and Running Creek where blazes are still burning just kilometres from the local fire station.
Running Stream Wildlife carer Monique Newson introduced Mr Morrison to baby wombat Blossom, who was orphaned in a road incident, and said the locals would go into the burnt bushland looking for injured native wildlife as soon as it was safe.
"It will be at least a month before there's any grass again and that's when the risk of wildlife starving is high," she said.
"So we will put out dishes of water and fruit for the birds and other natives to sustain them until the environment improves."
PM TOURS RAVAGED BUSHLAND AREAS
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken an aerial tour of ravaged bush land in NSW where a "fireball" destroyed dozens of buildings over the weekend.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is still determining the damage from bushfires that occurred on the weekend but it's believed another 100 homes could have been lost.
Mr Morrison today flew over the bushland where the Gospers Mountain megafire destroyed buildings around the Bilpin, Dargan and Clarence areas in the Blue Mountains, before arriving in Mudgee to meet evacuated residents and NSW Rural Fire Service members.
Residents fled their homes on Saturday night after the massive Gospers Mountain and Oakey Creek fires joined, creating what locals have described as a fireball that tore through the area north west of the Blue Mountains.
Mr Morrison spoke with locals staying at the Mudgee Evacuation Centre who were nervously waiting to hear if their homes - saved once already on the weekend - were again about to be in the path of the megafire after it changed direction.
Ilford family John and Nova Cunningham and their three children arrived at the Mudgee Evacuation Centre at 11pm on Saturday, and have been forced to remain in town while they wait for an update about their home.
"There was a fireball that came through, it was this huge roar and that's when it just hit everybody and we had to leave," Ms Cunningham said.
"Our house is okay we think and we're hoping to hear an update today if we can return, but the wind has changed the fire's direction so we're definitely not in the clear yet."
Mr Cunningham said he thought it was "good" Mr Morrison had visited but felt he shouldn't have gone on holiday last week.
"I believe everyone is entitled to a holiday, but I think as the voice of the people he probably should have stayed," Mr Cunningham said.
"I think it's a good thing he made the time to come out though."
Running Stream farmers Diana, 73 and Keith, 76 Rutter said they were pleased Mr Morrison visited the evacuation centre but didn't think he should have cut his holiday on Hawaii short to do so.
"He shouldn't have come back from holiday early, because he's going to be needed so much more in the new year," Ms Rutter said.
"And what difference does it make, okay it's good for moral but when he came back he would have been refreshed because he's going to have a hard time when this is over and down with, there's so much damage to NSW."
Mr Rutter said the fire came within a foot of his back door on Saturday, but the blaze has since changed direction and is headed back toward his home.
"So far were okay, some of my animals got a bit singed, but now the worry is the fire is coming back," he said.
The Rutter's son is a volunteer with the RFS and has been away fighting fires since they started.
"He's a farmer so when it started he just went and he's been fighting the fires ever since," Mr Rutter said.