After weeks of mounting pressure, NSW volunteer firefighters will receive compensation payments for loss of income. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this weekend that volunteers will receive payments of $300 per day, up to $6000 in total if called out for more than 10 days this fire season.
Some firefighters in the South East have been on duty for weeks since the Palerang, Charleys Forest and Currowan fires broke out. The Charleys Forest, Currowan and Deua Valley fires continue to burn today and the RFS is bracing for heatwave conditions this week across the Capital region.
The RFS is dependent on the services of volunteer firefighters, many of whom have now been absent from their employment for the duration of the extended fire crisis, with no end in sight.
Victorian National Party MP Darren Chester broke ranks with the government at the end of last week and joined calls for firefighters to be paid, as community calls also mounted for recognition of the toll on volunteers.
The Federal Government had previously said that payment decisions were the responsibility of state governments and would be considered in consultation with them after the crisis had passed. Mr Morrison said this weekend’s announcement came as a result of a direct request and consultation with fire chiefs and the NSW Government.
RFS volunteers who are self-employed or working for small or medium businesses can apply for tax-free financial support from the Federal Government to cover lost wages. It will not be means-tested and the NSW Government will administer the payments.
The Federal Government’s expectation is that larger businesses will provide their staff with up to 20 days of emergency services leave for firefighting duties. While the scheme is currently limited to NSW, the focus of the crisis, it could be extended to other jurisdictions if similar conditions occur.
One-off Federal Government payments for volunteers have been authorised in the past by the Keating and Howard governments during previous crises, but the Morrison government has consistently said that management of the bushfire crisis rests with state governments.
As of 11:00 am today, the Charleys Forest fire is at control level west of Braidwood but now covers more than 33,000 hectares after growing from the Currowan Fire on its western flank. It is currently burning from Nerriga in the north to Monga Lane in the south and fire crews are focusing on maintaining containment lines and property protection to the north-west and west of Nerriga.
The Deua River Valley fire continues to burn approximately 10 km north-west of Moruya in the Wandera State Forest and Monga National Park. Crews are using heavy plant machinery to strengthen containment lines. Firefighters will be supported by waterbombing aircraft in an attempt to slow the progress of the fire.
Low lying areas around Batemans Bay and Moruya are likely to experience significant smoke impact.
The Currowan fire also continues to burn between Nowra in the north, Braidwood in the west, and Batemans Bay in the south and there has been a significant increase in fire activity south of the Kings Highway to the west of Nelligen. There RFS says that there is still a significant area of uncontained fire to the south of the Kings Highway, west of Nelligen.
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