Doorstop Interview - HMAS Albatross, NSW

06 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, it's wonderful have the Premier Gladys Berejiklian with me here, of course, Commissioner Fitzsimmons and Major General Ellwood, who's taken on the two star role, which is overseeing all of the ADF's operations right across the country with the various joint task forces, they are reporting up through to him. He's based in Russell in Canberra, and it's been a very good opportunity this afternoon not only to see the work that has been done here out of Albatross and particularly what they've been dealing with most recently and the capability, and the capability of what we see behind us here is the same capability which is currently sitting on the Choules and the many other assets that you are familiar with. I want to thank very much Premier, you for the close working relationship we've had over many, many months as we've worked through all of these fires, whether it's standing together up in Rappville all those months ago.


PRIME MINISTER: And here we are again today and as we will be for many months to come, and can I thank you also Commissioner Fitzsimmons, for your incredible leadership over these many, many months, going back to August for you. And I know that puts a very heavy load, and despite that, you turn up fresh every single day. And it's always a great encouragement to see that and to Major General Ellwood, it's been a good opportunity for you and of course, the Commissioner and the Premier and I to talk about the announcement that was made yesterday and to address any range of issues to ensure we are getting that close communication in place, and I'm looking forward to that being a very, very strong relationship going forward as it indeed has been through the embedded nature of the ADF in the New South Wales operations now for a very long time. So I want to thank you for that Gladys and there is a lot more work to do. Both of us will have to return to our various bases straight after this. Of course, the Commissioner and the Premier returning to Sydney and I and the Major General to Canberra. There will be a cabinet meeting there tomorrow and National Security Committee meeting there also tomorrow. We've both conducted rather lengthy press conferences today, Premier?

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Thank you Prime Minister, it's good to be here and to obviously continue to work together. The Defence Forces have already been embedded in our operations intimately in New South Wales for a significant number of months. We're grateful for the support we have received to date. And we look forward to this ongoing close working relationship.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Gladys. Commissioner?

SHANE FITZSIMMONS, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW SOUTH WALES RURAL FIRE SERVICE: I can confirm that we've still got 150 fires across New South Wales. We are certainly seeing an easing of conditions right across the state. And as a matter of fact, there's even a bit of drizzle happening down here on the south coast. And it's certainly a welcome reprieve. It's a psychological relief, if nothing else. For all the communities being affected by these fires. But unfortunately, it's not putting out the fires. It's not helping us with the furthering of the work of back burning and consolidation work. So we will have to wait till we see this moisture dissipate so we can get on with the important work of containment lines and back burning and consolidation right across the enormity of these fire grounds. Hundreds of thousands of hectares. As a matter of fact, millions of hectares currently in New South Wales on active fires will be doing that right throughout the coming week before we see a return to warmer conditions and more windy conditions towards the end of the week. All our fires are now off the emergency warning alert level. We've got nine at the watch and act alert level, which is indicative of ongoing fire behaviour and potential and fire still burning in and around lots of communities. There's lots of damage and destruction. So roads are being assessed and being repaired and being made good. So people please sustain your vigilance, maintain that vigilance, maintain the focus. Yes, we can, we can take a bit of a reprieve in the weather conditions but what we want everyone to do is remain focussed. Complacency kills and we've still got a long part of his summer to go.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. Major General? He's been in Victoria yesterday and New South Wales today.

Major General Jake Ellwood DSC: It’s been actually a really good opportunity get out on the ground and see what has been happening, there's been some amazing work from the emergency services. I've been to Victoria and I've been to New South Wales. Fantastic integration with the ADF and obviously now a significant surge in capabilities available. And we will work very closely with the states to make sure that it is in sync and we have the right forces at the right time doing the right things.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. Time for a couple of quick questions?

JOURNALIST: In your conversations with Commissioner Fitzsimmons today have you apologised to him for what you've described as poor communication?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah we've had that discussion today and we've been working closely together for many months and the communications issues have been addressed within Defence. And that's been a good opportunity today for the Major General and the Commissioner actually just to talk through the arrangements that have been put in place today. And it's been a good opportunity to follow that up this afternoon.

JOURNALIST: Lucy [inaudible] BBC News. Given the severity of the crisis and some of the missteps that have been made, why should Australians be confident in your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER: The response that you're seeing rolled out here in Australia at a state level and a commonwealth level is unprecedented. This is the largest single call out ever of Defence Force reservists working together with our full time Defence Forces to provide support which this country has never seen before. On top of that, the financial support that is going to be provided and I will be making more announcements about that yesterday, but already, some $25 million, working in close partnership with the states and territories. What it matters is what happens on the ground. The resources that are made available, the delivery of the services that are necessary and the rebuilding effort, and the recovery effort that we will see into the future, I'm focussed on the work that needs to be done, just like the Commissioner, the Premier and the Major General.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a quick follow up. We've flown from London this morning via Singapore. The whole world is watching Australia right now. The hashtag is Australia on fire- what message would you like to give the world and the people who are watching?

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much for your support. Thank you.

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Thanks, everybody. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]?

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: I think we've covered those issues, thank you very much.