Bushfire recovery agency established as Scott Morrison brushes off criticism

A national bushfire recovery agency has been set up to provide a range of support measures including for mental health.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) and MP Darren Chester (R) visit an area devastated by bushfires in Sarsfield, Victoria, 3 January, 2020.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) and MP Darren Chester (R) visit an area devastated by bushfires in Sarsfield, Victoria, 3 January, 2020. Source: Getty

Former federal police chief Andrew Colvin will lead a large-scale national bushfire recovery effort.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced the immediate start of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which will work with state authorities and defence efforts.

"It will be modelling its operations closely on the successful response provided to the North Queensland floods," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference on the governments' bushfire response at Parliament House in Canberra, Saturday, January 4, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced the ADF would play a greater role in bushfire recovery, but no one told the RFS. Source: AAP


"That agency will be drawing on a series of support measures."

Mr Morrison was again forced to defend his response to the bushfire crisis after a produced by the Liberal Party attracted sharp criticism.

Mr Morrison denied it was an ad, shrugging off questions about his leadership.

"There has been plenty of criticism but I can't be distracted by that," he said.

"The public, I know, are not distracted by that."

He was also grilled about why about the army reservists would be deployed until after the public announcement on Saturday.  

"The decisions we took and enacted were a statement about the scale of the crisis - it is in no way a statement on the performance of the state and territory agencies," the Liberal leader told reporters in Canberra.

"There was a breakdown of communications at the defence liaison level with the headquarters yesterday. We've addressed any issues that have arisen from that."

Royal Commission under consideration

Mr Morrison didn't rule out a royal commission into the current bushfire crisis.

"It is something I would consider in concert with states and territories," he said.

Support measures from the national agency would include mental health, the prime minister noted.

Firefighters contain a small bushfire which closed the Princes Highway south of Ulladulla on Sunday.
Firefighters contain a small bushfire which closed the Princes Highway south of Ulladulla on Sunday. Source: AAP


"It's important we are addressing the mental health needs as well as the many other health needs that will need to be addressed.

"This organisation will be stood up for at least two years."

It would coordinate disaster relief payments, including those made to small businesses and local councils.

Canberra will not seek matching funding from states and territories.

"I have no doubt they will have a long list of recovery tasks that they will be performing ... rebuilding bridges, roads and other critical infrastructure and we will work hand in glove."

Black Hawk helicopters have been deployed to East Gippsland to help supply isolated towns.
Black Hawk helicopters have been deployed to East Gippsland to help supply isolated towns. Source: Department of Defence


He said there may be a role for a national agency when it came to hazard reduction burns.

"Hazard reduction has been a constant refrain as I have been on the ground but I also acknowledge the drought conditions can make that very difficult," he said.

Claims hazard reduction burns would have helped stem the bushfire crisis have been disputed by experts, with Australia's ex-fire chiefs saying climate change was the main culprit.

Asked on Sunday if it was appropriate to be blaming the Greens and environmentalists for stonewalling reductions, Mr Morrison said now was the time to focus on a response to the bushfires.



"Plenty of people have blamed me, people have blamed the Greens ... blame doesn't help anybody at this time," Mr Morrison said.

Weather conditions eased on Sunday but authorities warned the bushfire threat remained active, particularly in the nation's southeast.

Seven people now remain missing in Victoria, with grave fears for their wellbeing.

In NSW, thousands of properties are without power and the government expects to confirm hundreds more property losses from the past day.


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Published 5 January 2020 at 2:02pm