You are here

Police, Fire and Emergency Management – Firefighting Aircraft Fleet

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 June 2022

Tags: Bushfires

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, in the wilderness fires of 2018-19 our resources were stretched and there were calls for increased resourcing and people did come and provide support for us.

The situation overseas is that Australia and, therefore, Tasmania has traditionally been able to pool resources particularly with the United States and we have been able to use some of their big kit and their staff to come and help us fight fires. In Tasmania, we've been able to deploy resources and staff from interstate.

Much longer fire seasons mean that is increasingly less possible. Can you tell me what we are doing to make sure that we can access those very large air tankers and the other planes, the fixed wing planes, we will need if we have an outbreak in extreme conditions, say, in the wilderness area that we need to stamp on fast?

Mrs PETRUSMA - Over the summer season we had 12 specialised aircraft but we also had access to another 20 that were strategically located around the state. There is a good thing about fire seasons - the large air tankers move around the states, depending on where they're needed at the time; had access to two large air tankers at any time and they are available, and it's all looked at nationally. There's a lot of mapping and work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that we have resources that we can call on that are based in the state.

The Olegas Bluff bushfire, for example, we invested $3 million in aircraft to fight that fire with a heavy rate of rapid attack. We did what it took because we appreciated that there were historic 2000 year-old Huon pine trees that were irreplaceable. We did everything that we could with regard to that fire. We worked with the Aboriginal Lands Council of Tasmania, we worked with Tasmanian Aboriginal people and a whole team of people came together to make sure that we could put the rapid weight of attack and water resources into that to make sure that we did save that area.

Dr WOODRUFF - Are there conversations with AFAC or federally about the fact that there will be seasons where we will not be able to access that?

Mrs PETRUSMA - It is through NAFC that it is all done.

Mr BARRY - It is. Through NAFC, which is National Aerial Firefighting Centre, we coordinate the national resources. We get access not only to the aircraft that we have on standby or on contract, but we can also access interstate resources as well. The federal government, this year for the first time, paid for a large air tanker as well, which was available to the different states. New South Wales has its their own and the feds have one as well. At any given time, depending on the state of fires on the mainland, we have access to two large air tankers as well.

AFAC has a national resource sharing centre and that is how it is coordinated, and we have a bushfire aircraft support part of that. I chair that group. A part of it is when we have days of significant fire danger across the state or across the mainland as well, then we can sit down and talk about what the strategic use is of the existing resources and how we will preposition those to get maximum bang for our buck. There are times when the requests outweigh the physical resources. Something else the federal government has done in the last five years is change the defence posture. Defence went from last resort, where you could never access defence resources until you had shown you had exhausted everything within the state, to now adopting Lean Forward, where they proactively reach out when we have a large scale disaster - be it a flood or fire, any emergency.

Often the first call will be from Emergency Management Australia's Joe Buffone, asking 'What resources do you need and how can we help?' Australia has gone from a group of states working independently to such a coordinated and national approach now that you could almost mass the whole lot and say, here is a standing army of 30 000, 40 000 or 50 000 firefighters and we just move them interstate now. The game has changed; no state has the capacity to manage some of these emergencies on its own and we recognise that. Through the federal system we are able to share resources, aircraft and all those things.

Dr WOODRUFF - To follow up with that, there is an understanding that in some seasons we will not be able to access firefighters from other states because their fire season will be so long that they will be using them themselves. In that instance, we hope we will have access to defence personnel. Do we have a game plan for when we will not have a VLAT, when we will not be able to have firefighters coming from interstate? That is all people really want to know.

Mr BARRY - They have a thing called COSC, which is when all the chiefs get together, including EMA and these others. Whenever we get large emergencies happening anyway in Australia, they will call a COSC meeting, where all of the chiefs and different commissioners come together and we talk about the available resources and the priorities. We can prioritise at a national level as well. We had the terrible situation in 2019 when New South Wales and Queensland were burning. It is always possible that you will run out of resources, but we do have our own helicopters. We had 12 aircraft last year in Tasmania dedicated for us. Whatever happens, we have enough to fight a good fight on our own and then wait for, if we need them, greater resources from the mainland. There is a sensible discussion about what is best for Australia - gone are the days of protectionism. Now, all of the fire services and all of the emergency services work together cohesively across Australia, including defence and federal resources, recognising that the problem has escalated now.