• Tony Bosworth

RFS water bombers from Richmond help fight Perth fires but still no go on national force

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman – who back in October asked the government to base a national fire fighting air force at Richmond RAAF base but was knocked back – has once again brought the issue up as Perth hills fires destroy 86 homes.

“Two of the RFS planes that have headed over to help have come from my electorate, from the Richmond base, and I know the thoughts of everybody in the Hawkesbury are with the people of Perth and the awful situation they’re facing,” said Ms Templeman at a media briefing outside Parliament House in Canberra.

One of the main recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission was for a sovereign aerial fire-fighting force to be established, rather than having to rely on costly leasing arrangements with foreign companies when help was needed during bushfire seasons.

The other issue is, with expanding bushfire and wildfire seasons here and overseas, it may not always be possible to call on foreign-based planes and crews when Australia has another serious bushfire outbreak.

But PM Scott Morrison has been luke-warm on the idea of a sovereign aerial fire fighting force.

“Having been someone who’s lost their house in a bushfire, I know exactly what people are going through today [in Perth], waking up to the reality of not having a home and it’s not something you’d wish on anybody,” Ms Templeman said.

“All our thoughts are with them at such a difficult time.”

MP Susan Templeman talking to media this week outside Parliament House, Canberra

Thursday (February 5) marked 100 days since the Bushfire Royal Commission handed down its 80 recommendations, following the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires which killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3000 homes and three billion animals.

One of the recommendations was to swiftly establish an Australian-based aerial fire-fighting force, and that would almost certainly have been based at RAAF Richmond where crews are currently based during fire seasons.

Ms Templeman says three months after the Commission released its 80 recommendations, disaster-prone regions are still waiting on the Federal Government to outline a full timeline for changes which would make bushfire response more robust. “As a matter of urgency the Morrison Government must accept responsibility for developing and leading a sovereign aerial fire-fighting fleet, which will ensure Australia has access to enough valuable fire-fighting aircraft when fires burn across multiple areas,” Ms Templeman said in a joint media release on Friday with Labor Senator Murray Watt, the Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management.

“The ongoing bushfire situation in Western Australia is a clear reminder of what is at stake,” said the two Labor politicians in their statement. “Scott Morrison and his government cannot afford to continue to sit on their hands and do nothing, like they did in the lead up to the Black Summer bushfires. “This week’s announcement of an achievements tracker is not enough to forge real change in bushfire-affected regions. “These Royal Commission recommendations cannot be allowed to become yet another bushfire report gathering dust in an office drawer. “We must strive to do better.”

“Today marks 100 days in which the Morrison Government could have done something tangible to help our community recover, as well as help prepare for future emergencies,” Ms Templeman said.

“But instead we’ve found out the vast majority of $177 million in fast-tracked recovery funds has been funnelled to Liberal-held State Government seats.

“The seat of Macquarie – with a Liberal-held State seat and a Labor-held Federal seat – was a litmus test for this round of funding, and both the Berejiklian and the Morrison governments have failed the test.”

The federal government has pointed out there is more funding on its way for areas hit by the bush fires of 2019/2020, but there are scant details about how much and exactly where those additional funds will be allocated.

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