The nation’s emergency leaders are set to converge on Canberra from tomorrow in preparation for what experts fear could be the fiercest fire season since the “Black Summer” blazes of 2019-2020.
The Albanese government will hold the inaugural National Bushfire Preparedness Summit which will bring together approximately 250 representatives from state and territory governments, emergency services, industry bodies and the community sector.
Speaking on ABC News’ Insiders program on Sunday, Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said the event would build upon the existing preparations to streamline response and recovery efforts ahead of a likely hot, dry spring and summer period.
“There’s been a huge amount of work over the last few months between federal, state and territorial authorities to be ready,” Mr Watt said.
“What’s different about this is for the first time we’re also bringing together people from outside government so that we’ll all have a shared understanding of what we’re facing.”
The Summit is also set to include a war gaming exercise to practise a nationally coordinated response to identify any weaknesses that may exist in current systems.
“We’d rather find any gaps that might exist in the system before we get to this summer, rather than learn about them when they’re actually happening.”
Mr Watt assured viewers that the country was in a better position to face the impending bushfire season than had previously been the case during the “Black Summer” of 2019-20.
“Australia is much better prepared for this coming season than we were heading into Black Summer. We have implemented almost all of the recommendations of the bushfire royal commission that were made to the federal government.
“We will actually have more aircraft available for firefighting than we ever have had in this country, including one extra large water bombing aircraft and plenty more helicopters.”
But Mr Watt also accused the former NSW Coalition government for failing to adequately prepare for the impending bushfire season.
It comes after Regional Development Minister Kristy McBain had expressed concern that many states had not progressed the required hazard reduction burns to reduce fuel loads in bushfire prone areas.
While Queensland has reached its target for fuel reduction, Mr Watt said states like NSW and Victoria had not yet reached their goals due to flooding.
“I think if you look at Kristy‘s comments, what she was more reflecting on was the activity that didn’t take place under the former NSW government, and she made the point that she is not just talking about the last few months,” Mr Watt said.
“But one other thing that will be different heading into this bushfire season is you are seeing a lot more co-operation between federal, state and territory governments and we won’t be engaging in what we saw under the former government of finger-pointing and blame-shifting.”
The minister also said the establishment of a semi-professional firefighting force to alleviate pressure on volunteers and defence personnel could be considered by the government.
“It is possible in the future that we will have the need of turning to semi-professional firefighter services like they have in California,” Mr Watt added.
While committing to making defence force personnel available if need be, Mr Watt stressed that the most pressing priority for the ADF would need to be defending Australia.
“Every time we do call on the Defence forces to assist in a disaster situation, that is taking them away from their training and their preparedness for their core duty.”
As the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) declared an El Niño weather system on Tuesday which typically leads to reduced rainfall and increased temperatures, numerous bush and grass fires broke out in Queensland and NSW.
Climate change and its contribution to a number of factors including temperature, fuel load and dryness, are also expected to exacerbate the risk of bushfires.