Ex-fire chiefs say government 'asleep at the wheel' when it comes to climate crisis

A group of respected former fire chiefs say action is needed to fill the vacuum of leadership at the top of the federal government.

Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins with former emergency services chiefs

Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins and other former emergency services chiefs were outspoken during last summer's bushfire crisis. Source: AAP

The Australian government has been accused of being "asleep at the wheel" when it comes to climate change as a coalition of former fire chiefs vowed to take matters into their own hands to address the bushfire crisis.

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action - a group 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.

Former ACT Emergency Services Authority commissioner Peter Dunn says many Australians are experiencing a "horrific" start to summer with unprecedented bushfires.

"What I'm seeing is an absolute crisis in the leadership that we do not have right now in this country," he told reporters in Sydney.

"Our leadership is asleep at the wheel. In fact, in some areas, I think it's on life support."

Mr Dunn argued countries had to stop burning fossil fuels to combat climate change.

"This is not speculation - this is science," he said.

Other members of the coalition offered equally stark warnings on the desperate need for action.

Former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins says the group is prepared to act if the federal government remains "missing in action".

He said firefighters - many of whom have been fighting blazes for months - are doing a "fantastic" job should not be criticised.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who's currently on holiday - recently announced $11 million for aerial firefighting.

But Mr Mullins says while crews are well resourced "it's not enough ... because of climate change".

"Climate change is driving this problem to a place where you simply can't deal with it," he said.

A firefighter battling a blaze in Yanchep, Western Australia.
A firefighter battling a blaze in Yanchep, Western Australia. Source: DFES

Australia needs to step up on climate change in order to allow it to speak with "moral authority" to high emissions countries like China, India and the United States, he added.

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action wants a national emergency summit to be held at the end of the current bushfire season.

They hope Mr Morrison, federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese and the Greens will all attend.

"We hope they'll come, we hope they'll contribute, we hope they'll take away the findings and act on them," Mr Mullins said.

Federal shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers says Labor will engage if invited.

"It's shameful the government has not sat down with the fire chiefs," Dr Chalmers 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 TV.

"We're Australians, we do what we say we're going to do."

Mr Littleproud warned people to be careful not to "inadvertently talk down" the preparation current fire chiefs have made for this bushfire season.

Some 2200 firefighters are battling more than 115 blazes across NSW on Tuesday while bushfires also rage in Queensland and Western Australia.

Medical groups on Monday said smoke pollution from the bushfires was a public health emergency that the prime minister couldn't ignore.



4 min read
Published 17 December 2019 at 6:24am