A coalition of former fire chiefs is threatening to take matters into their own hands if the federal government doesn’t act to address Australia’s bushfire crisis which has been linked to climate change.
Emergency Leaders for Climate Action – a coalition that’s now grown to include 29 former emergency services bosses – is calling for a national summit to fill the “leadership vacuum” left by the Morrison government.
Morrison has copped criticism from Australians for refusing to offer assistance to firies, prioritising his religious freedoms bill and going on a private holiday.
Former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins says the group is prepared to act if the federal government doesn’t.
“I hope the prime minister will suddenly show some national leadership and say ‘Yes, I get it and I can see it and we’ll get people together to deal with the crisis’,” he told AAP.
“But I don’t see any suggestion that’s going to happen. They really are missing in action.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced $11 million for aerial firefighting.
But Mr Mullins argues the government was “embarrassed” into providing that funding.
“My major concern with the policy response from Canberra is they have resisted extra funding requests, initially resisted the use of the military, and they were embarrassed into doing those things.”
Emergency Leaders for Climate Action wants a national emergency summit to be held at the end of the current bushfire season.
The Australiasian Women in Emergencies Network also spoke out on Tuesday, saying they support calls for urgent action on climate change and how disasters are managed.
“The experiences of communities affected by previous disasters tell us that recovering from these will take decades,” AWE president Bridget Tehan said in a statement. Federal shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said Labor would engage if invited.
“It’s shameful the government has not sat down with the fire chiefs,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“It is shameful in the extreme that Scott Morrison hasn’t taken the views of those senior firies on board.”
But federal Water Minister David Littleproud insists the government is doing its bit.
“As the prime minister has said, and most cabinet ministers, we’ve made a commitment to the global community around emissions and we’re working towards that and we’ll put the shoulder to the wheel and make sure we live up to it,” he told ABC television.
Mr Littleproud said his door was open to the ex-fire chiefs and “anyone else with the wisdom and knowledge I don’t have”.
Former ACT Emergency Services Authority commissioner Peter Dunn says climate change is contributing to massive droughts and extreme weather events.
“The fires in those circumstances will be difficult to control,” he told AAP.
“We need to coordinate at a national level new methods of firefighting.
“Business as usual doesn’t work and we need a roundtable to get that sort of thinking with all agencies involved.”
Former Tasmania Fire Service chief Mike Brown agrees.
“We are seeing major losses at the moment and we are only a week into summer. There’s some urgency about this.”
This year’s fire season got off to an earlier than usual start in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
NSW has fared the worst so far, with bushfires consuming almost three million hectares of land amid hot, dry and windy conditions.
Six people have died and 724 homes, 49 facilities and 1582 outbuildings have been destroyed across the state.
Medical groups on Monday said smoke pollution from the bushfires was a creating a public health emergency that the prime minister couldn’t ignore.