Federal Government's rejection of an aerial firefighting fleet labelled missed opportunity by MP

"How can we be confident we will have the resources we need into the future?" asks Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, following the Federal Government's rejection of a recommendation by the bushfire royal commission.

Last month the final report by the National Natural Disaster Arrangements Royal Commission made 80 recommendations, one of which was the establishment of a sovereign aerial firefighting capacity, including a very large or large air tanker, helicopter, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and supporting aircrew.

Federal Macquarie MP Susan Templeman with head of the Senate inquiry into the 2019/20 bushfire season, Senator Tim Ayres. Picture: Supplied.

Federal Macquarie MP Susan Templeman with head of the Senate inquiry into the 2019/20 bushfire season, Senator Tim Ayres. Picture: Supplied.

Ms Templeman said the Federal Government "noted" the recommendation and stated it had "'no desire to replicate or replace' the capabilities of states and territories, 'including in aerial firefighting'".

"It stated it was 'comfortable with the present arrangements of the states and territories involving the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC)," said Ms Templeman.

"So what we have now is the bushfire royal commission recommending a national aerial firefighting fleet, a Senate inquiry into the bushfires recommending a national aerial firefighting fleet, and ex-fire chiefs recommending a national aerial firefighting fleet. But a Prime Minister who is refusing to act.

"It's galling to hear the government suggest its current arrangements with the states is working, because that's simply not true."

Ms Templemand labelled the decision a dangerous missed opportunity.

She said the NSW and Queensland Governments had requested more aerial firefighting help from the Federal Government before the last bushfire season and were rejected.

"If the Morrison Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to invest in aerial firefighting last season - arguably the worst we've seen - how can we be confident we will have the resources we need into the future?" she said.

"I am really disappointed with this decision. Fire seasons are getting longer and more intense, not just here in Australia, but right around the world.

"If we continue to rely on additional aircraft from other countries to make sure that we've got enough water bombing aircraft in place here in Australia, we risk not having them when we need them."

Ms Templeman said COVID had shown the need to a "greater self-sufficiency".

"At the height of the bushfires we had a Prime Minister who said he 'didn't hold a hose'," she said. "Now he's ignoring the advice of experts and refusing to accept this very significant recommendation.

"Lives were lost last season, properties were burned to the ground and we lost about 80 per cent of our World Heritage Area here.

"Afterwards, the Prime Minister set up this royal commission and said he was interested in what it had to say. But now it's released recommendations, he's ignoring them.

Ms Templeman said when the royal commission recommended an Australian-based and registered national capability, she would push for it to be based at Richmond RAAF.

"The base could be an ideal location to train pilots and maintain an aerial fleet, and already has the NSW aircraft on site," she said.

"I call on the Government to listen to the experts and act on this significant recommendation.

"I think the people of the Hawkesbury expect lessons to be learned from last summer's crisis, and for the Liberal Government to act accordingly."

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