Fire authorities make damning claim: ‘We tried to warn PM’
A GROUP of 23 former fire and emergency chiefs tried repeatedly for several months to warn Scott Morrison and senior government ministers of a looming bushfire crisis.
Had they been successful in their requests for a meeting, the group would've urged authorities to immediately lease aerial firefighting resources from overseas, they say.
Those aircraft would've been invaluable in battling the blazes that have so far destroyed one million hectares of bushland, at least 300 homes and claimed the lives of four people.
Greg Mullins, former commissioner of the NSW Fire & Rescue Service, said he and the other seasoned experts from around Australia pleaded with the government to hear their concerns.
The group, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, first wrote to Mr Morrison in April and then again in September. Those requests fell on deaf ears, with the letter bouncing between multiple offices.
"This is very frustrating," Mr Mullins said.
"Had we spoken back in April, one of the things we would've said is to try to get more aircraft on lease from the northern hemisphere because (we knew) this was going to be a horror fire season. They can be a decisive weapon."
He said the group was well aware that it's "very difficult for current (fire) chiefs to get through the door" of senior figures in the federal government.
A business case for increased funding for aerial firefighting resources had been "languishing" in Canberra for some time, Mr Mullins claimed.
That report pointed out the urgent risk posed by bushfires and the effectiveness of aircraft in battling blazes when they break out.
"No answer. If there'd been an answer, there'd be more of those aircraft in the air as we speak," Mr Mullins said.
Mr Morrison hasn't directly addressed the ignored correspondence in the past week, but has described the conversation about climate change while fires rage as "unhelpful".
Mr Mullins said David Littleproud, Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, had "reached out" in the past couple of days.
The issue of climate change and its role in increasingly intense and longer fire seasons has caused political tension this week.
"You've got a group of 23 former fire and emergency chiefs with varying views and political backgrounds, they live in different areas, who've all come together," Mr Mullins said.
"If it's not time now to speak about climate change and what's driving these events, when?"
"Some people want the debate gagged because they don't have any answers."
The scale of the fires, now burning across three states, is unprecedented, he said.
"Never before in NSW history have we suffered such heavy fire losses outside of November, except in 2013, which was an exceptional event.
"This is showing how climate change is super-charging the bushfire problem in Australia."
And the crisis there could be far from over.
The state needed "hundreds of millimetres of rain" in order to bring the current level risk back to a normal level.
Bureau of Meteorology forecasts indicate the chance of significant rain in Queensland is highly unlikely.
"There's no rain forecast by the bureau until at least January, if not February, conditions are going to be extreme."