In December of 2019, amidst the Black Summer Bushfires, it was reported that then-Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had rejected calls for more help for the New South Wales fire fighters, stating that these crews “wanted to be there,” and also ignored questions of compensation for volunteers.
On Tuesday the 10th of December, Mr. Morrison was in Sydney to discuss the Religious Discrimination Bill. On that day there were a total of 85 fires burning across NSW with 42 of them uncontrolled. These fires had brought Sydney’s air quality 11 times worse than the minimum threshold of hazardous levels.That week was also predicted to see temperatures above 40C with conditions expected to deteriorate further.
Mr. Morrison was asked about the tens of thousands of volunteer firefighters, many of whom had been battling the blazes and away from their usual work for several weeks, and how they were expected to continue fighting the bushfires without pay. Mr. Morrison responded:
“These fires have been going on for some months now and when I was speaking with the commissioner on the weekend out where we have the megafire at the moment we were talking through the crew rotations…And the fact is these crews, yes, they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities. And so we do all we can to rotate the shifts to give them those breaks but … in many cases you’ve got to hold them back to make sure they get that rest. And I thank them all for what they’re doing, particularly all those who support them."
Mr. Morrison also rejected the idea that Australia’s volunteer firefighters, reportedly the largest volunteer fire fighting unit in the world, should be professionalised:
“The volunteer effort is a big part of our natural disaster response and it is a big part of how Australia has always dealt with these issues…We are constantly looking at ways to better facilitate the volunteer effort, but to professionalise that at that scale is not a matter that has previously been accepted and it’s not currently under consideration by the government.”
Roughly a week after this interaction with media, Mr. Morrison had flown to Hawaii for a family holiday while the bushfire crisis continued.
The Guardian also reported that a month prior to Mr. Morrison’s comments on the ongoing bushfire crisis, a group of 23 climate, fire and emergency experts had been attempting to meet with Mr. Morrison since April of 2019 but had been “locked out” of any discussions. It was also reported that the government had been ignoring their advice for “political reasons” and that the government “fundamentally doesn’t like talking about climate change.”