Probing the polls: a quiet Christmas, but a fierce debate on ADF firefighting proposal

Genevieve Jacobs 30 December 2019 120
RFS volunteers

RFS volunteers have been fighting the fire crisis for months. Should the ADF be deployed on the front line? Photo: RFS Facebook.

While the shops were full of Christmas carols on constant repeat and every checkout operator was decked out in a Santa hat, it appears from last week’s poll that many RiotACT readers would prefer a quieter Christmas celebration.

In an age of all-encompassing consumerism around traditional holidays, we asked you what your preferred choice of celebration is. A total of 465 people voted in the poll.

And despite an early surge in the voting for the all tinsel, all Jingle Bells version of Christmas, the end result was surprising. Your options were: It’s not Christmas unless I’m wearing an elf hat 24/7, the carols are on constant repeat and we’re all eating Christmas pudding for breakfast. That choice received 131 votes or 28 per cent.

The alternative was It’s got a bit too commercial for me: a quiet day with the family is the best holiday treat. This was the clear winner with a whopping 72 per cent or 334 of the total votes.

This week we’re taking a look at a pressing issue that’s facing our region as the bushfires roll on across south-eastern Australia without an end in sight. As volunteer firefighters struggle to cope with the extended crisis, there have been growing calls for the Australian Defence Force to enhance its current logistical support role with frontline deployment.

Several days ago, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds described the assistance currently being provided by the ADF as “significant behind the scenes support … including aerial fire reconnaissance; helicopter search and rescue; logistical support such as ground transport; providing meals for exhausted firefighters; as well as basing, re-fuelling, water re-supply, loading fire retardant and air traffic management for firefighting aircraft”.

“This behind-the-scenes support from the ADF frees up more of our firefighters to perform their specialised roles fighting the fires,” she said.

But former NSW Australian of the Year and environmental activist Jon Dee says that the crisis is now so big that it requires “a war footing”.

He asked: “When do we get army fire engines? At what point do we get soldiers picking up hoses, similar to what’s happened in the UK when there have been national crises [there]?”

The proposal elicited sharply differing opinions among RiotACT readers. Liberalsocialist said: “The ADF is for the military defence of Australia – not fighting fires. If there is a need to have more paid members of the fire-fighting and other emergency services – then the states can stump up and pay for it.”

Anura commented: “Firefighting isn’t just a game of raw numbers ie. more people on the ground doesn’t mean better outcomes. There are lots of things the ADF can and are doing but I’m not convinced direct firefighting is what they should be doing.”

But Jess asked, “how is that even a question? Yes, every single resource should be utilised”, and from Forest Embassy, “it really is as simple as this: if mums and dads can volunteer (with lots and lots of training) to do something that our national defence forces can’t do then we are in big trouble … this is as bad as a war – it’s time we treated it as such”.

So what do you think?

Should the ADF expand its support to frontline firefighting?

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120 Responses to Probing the polls: a quiet Christmas, but a fierce debate on ADF firefighting proposal
Peter Mills Peter Mills 1:07 pm 04 Jan 20

The PM has at last ordered the Military to do everything they can. Only 5 days late and after a massive call from the Australian Public, thankyou Australia for 'forcing' the PM to actually 'lead'....

Marilyn Popp Marilyn Popp 1:50 pm 03 Jan 20

Didn’t mean to like - in fact I very strongly disagree with Chris W

Alan Goddard Alan Goddard 10:55 am 03 Jan 20

The ADF are taking 20 hours to move only 700 people by ship out of the needed 3000 plus . God help us if we need troops deployed in a hurry .

    M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 11:27 am 03 Jan 20

    Yes, good point. From my uninformed perspective I too say moving a 16,000 ton ship from Sydney to Mallacoota, as well as recalling all sailors on leaving and organising the logistics, should be done in a jiffy.

Matthew Soall Matthew Soall 10:40 pm 01 Jan 20

The NAFC (National Aerial Firefighting Centre) has estimated that it’s annual funding needs to be increased from 11 million to 26 million in order to effectively fight Australia’s fires. Former NSW Deputy Fire and Rescue commissioner Ken Thompson was part of a group of 23 former fire and emergency leaders who wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April to warn him that Australia needed to resource large aerial water bombers. As of this writing, both state and federal governments have refused to increase the funding. To put this in context last night Sydney paid 6.5 million for a fireworks display. To meet its share of funding New South Wales would only have to contribute 2.9 million dollars annually. If you care to let your representatives know.

New South Wales:


(02) 8574 5000


Daniel Andrews

(03) 9651 5000


Annastacia Palaszczuk

(07) 3719 7000

South Australia:

Steven Marshall

08 8429 3232

Western Australia:

Mark McGowan

(08) 6552-5000


Will Hodgman

(03) 6165 7830

Australian Capital Territory:

Andrew Barr

02 6205 0011

Northern Territory:

Michael Gunner

(08) 8999 6437


Scott Morrison

(02) 6277 7700

    Linda Johnston Linda Johnston 2:04 am 03 Jan 20

    Matthew Soall I think the issue is that the feds are supposed to make a contribution which hasn't increased in a decade or so, so it is this amount the fire chiefs want increased to $26 million.

Gillian Nolen Gillian Nolen 9:36 pm 01 Jan 20

The Defence Force has been involved with the fires since early November,

Hugo Fitch Hugo Fitch 9:03 pm 01 Jan 20

ADF are paid by the taxpayer whether they're fighting fires or not - get them out there and get them mobilised

Peter Mills Peter Mills 10:02 am 01 Jan 20

RoitActs own voting poll (this mornings vote on website) has overwhelmingly supported my view that the ADF needs to trained so they can be deployed totally usefully in these disaster situations. My god there are up to 20,000 of them that could be trained to safely hold a hose and roster onto tankers supplied by the Rural Fire Services, its an absolute no brainer.

    M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 10:19 am 01 Jan 20

    Yep, the majority of 635 people, or around 0.000025813% of the Australian population, voted for Peter's view. Clearly there's a mandate for this. And who knew effective firefighting was simply a case of being "trained to safely hold a hose"?

    Peter Mills Peter Mills 1:29 pm 01 Jan 20

    Martin Leonard get with the plan Martin, you are flogging a dead horse. The ADF is 'now' being deployed in many ways never thought of before so my views are well and truly done and dusted. And 'to basically hold a hose' (a figure of speech in fire fighting circles) no firefighter goes into a fire without Basic Fire Fighting training, after 25 years of actively fighting fires I actually know what has to happen, its a no brainer supported by a now daily increasing number of political leaders of our community. We simply cannot ignore a potential fire fighting force of approx 20,000 personnel and do you know that a number of them are actually fire trained already such as a bunch of personnel at the Majura Field Firing Range and they already have quite a few fire tankers at training facilities etc all over this country.

    M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 7:40 am 03 Jan 20

    Peter Mills Lot I could say in response but Phil Kristofferson has already said it: "Can we now close this ridiculous poll that is giving voice to the ill informed and uneducated?"

Steven Lee Steven Lee 7:53 pm 31 Dec 19

Safety of personnel, make it safe. Don’t put untrained people, ADF or otherwise, into danger

Una Nimitee Una Nimitee 4:25 pm 31 Dec 19

There are very few ADF trained in fire fighting. RAAF have fire crews and tenders on standby at Runways. But they don't have excess capacity to go fight bushfires. If they fight bushfires, there is no firefighting capacity for expensive aircraft. However most ADF tenders and firefighting capacity is provided by contactors. Government won't spend extra to pay contractors to provide bushfires support. This is the reason that ADF are not fighting fires, but are providing some logistics and other (also contracted) support for fuel, etc.

    Hugh Spencer Hugh Spencer 5:18 pm 31 Dec 19

    Una Nimitee Actually not quite correct. All Navy sailors are trained to put out fires on ship's. These include oil fires electrical and other. Obviously the bush is different. And different equipment is used. But the Navy certainly has significant experience both in training and in incidents. I am not familiar with the RAAF or the Army and as such cannot comment.

    Lisa Humphries Lisa Humphries 5:41 pm 31 Dec 19

    Una, where are your facts from?

    Una Nimitee Una Nimitee 6:11 pm 31 Dec 19

    Hugh Spencer ah yeah. I forgot about Navy. Firefighting on ships obviously very different to bushfires. Key point is it's a capability issue to remove military from posts, where they already have a critical role and not much back up.

Sharon White Sharon White 12:23 pm 31 Dec 19

They already

Andrea Hadley Andrea Hadley 10:54 am 31 Dec 19

The ADF are not trained to fight bush fires. But if you think they are not doing anything to help, think again

Phil Andrews Phil Andrews 10:40 am 31 Dec 19

The ADF may well have had this capability in the past, but the Defence bureaucracy has outsourced much of this ‘back end’ support as a result of the economic rationalist bureaucracy ’saving money’

Farg Gough Farg Gough 9:44 am 31 Dec 19

Alison Lawarik Alison Lawarik 9:35 am 31 Dec 19

The ADF should be trained in fire fighting, after all most are just sitting around doing exercises? Perhaps they could do fire training as part of their "exercises"

    Steve Rakic Steve Rakic 10:36 am 31 Dec 19

    Alison Lawarik do you realise how many ADF personnel are actually qualified firefighters? Obviously not, what a stupid comment!!!!

    Alison Lawarik Alison Lawarik 10:48 am 31 Dec 19

    Steve Rakic where

    Simon Mead Simon Mead 10:58 am 31 Dec 19

    Alison Lawarik you realise these ‘Exercises’ are training for their primary role in war fighting and the defence of Australia? What do you think they do on ‘exercises’ sit around in circles singing kombuya?

    Steve Rakic Steve Rakic 11:04 am 31 Dec 19

    Alison Lawarik if you did your research, you would know that the ADF are already involved in the current fire fighting efforts... How about you do some more reading instead of posting your uneducated and unhelpful opinions...

Melissa Liddon Melissa Liddon 9:34 am 31 Dec 19

Would you send our RFS volunteers in to defend our country against an invading hostile force because they’re ready to deploy quickly at a moment’s notice, even though they’re not trained for combat? This is the logic on which your argument is based.

Farg Gough Farg Gough 9:32 am 31 Dec 19

The ADF will do whatever the Government of the day tells it to do.

If that job is fighting bushfires in Australia there will be opportunity costs.

Melissa Liddon Melissa Liddon 9:30 am 31 Dec 19

Putting untrained and inexperienced personnel on the frontlines in large numbers is a recipe for an even greater disaster than what our country is facing now. Even with basic training, unless those skills are utilised and regularly refreshed, and experience gained on a fireground, this is not a workable plan.

Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 9:23 am 31 Dec 19

What about using public servants? They are all currently on Christmas shut-down anyway.

    Simon Mead Simon Mead 11:04 am 31 Dec 19

    Natalie Grey seriously are you for real? Grasping at nothing now. Those that are fit enough ARE most likely in the SES and RFS assisting already

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 11:54 am 31 Dec 19

    Simon Mead have a valid reference source for that claim do you? I certainly don't recall seeing any reports about the thousands of public servants rushing to volunteer during their fully paid shut-down aperiod. What I DO remember is that during the Canberra fires, my entire department was offered fully paid leave to fulfil volunteer obligations. Out of my entire Branch, only myself and one other person actually went. I was certainly not fit, I went anyway and did what I could. At least one of the volunteers at the Recovery Centre was 80 years old.

    Simon Mead Simon Mead 12:40 pm 31 Dec 19

    Natalie Grey have a valid reference for yours? I am a public servant, ex defence as a soldier and volunteer for emergency services. I’d say approximately half my area are public servants. To suggest dumping unfit untrained public servants on a fireground instead of RFS/ADF is ludicrous

    Jenny Pieper Jenny Pieper 2:12 pm 01 Jan 20

    Natalie Grey they’re all in Hawaii 🌴

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 2:22 pm 01 Jan 20

    Simon Mead I'm not saying they should be untrained. If ADF staff can be expected to do basic volunteer training, why not public servants? Graduates have to do a year of training anyway. And no one is saying we should dump unfit people in a fireground. There are plenty of support roles.

    Jack Spahr Jack Spahr 4:08 pm 01 Jan 20

    Natalie Grey why not motor mechanics and shop workers, why not why not, stop gibbering. This is just public service bashing, end of. Why not teachers, they are on stand down now? Why, well it's because they work in different areas of life. The ADF has bulldozers, water tankers and could, in numbers do a very worthwhile job. The airforce has capability. If not on the front line, then there is a capability where fires have been to clear behind. After cyclone Tracey the air force and army buggered off, the navy was sent up and they started the clean up. It's not beneath them,

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 5:51 am 03 Jan 20

    Jenny Pieper

    No, they’re down the coast or at work

James Montgomery-Willcox James Montgomery-Willcox 9:19 am 31 Dec 19

You know, maybe more people could volunteer to join the RFS? But they won't, it's much easier to sit on the sidelines sniping. Maybe Ms Jacobs could join up as a volunteer?

In fact, to make it easy, here's a link.

Anne Willenborg Anne Willenborg 8:32 am 31 Dec 19

Absolutely. This country depends way too much on people volunteering to provide services that the government should provide but won’t because people want tax cuts and governments want surpluses. How warped is this?

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