Scott Morrison Statement on Bushfires Deaths

Last night we tragically lost another volunteer firefighter, in terrible circumstances in Jingellic, New South Wales.

Sam McPaul was a brave firefighter and a member of the Morven Rural Fire Brigade.

In one of the cruellest developments, Sam and his wife Megan are due to have their first baby next year.

I cannot imagine the terrible sense of loss and grief that Sam’s family are now feeling.

I have spoken to Megan to extend my deepest sympathies and our love and support at this terrible time and express that same sentiment on behalf of the entire country. Sam McPaul was the best of us.

This is devastating news and I also extend my sincere condolences to his entire family, friends and fellow brigade members.

It is an unimaginable loss and one felt by the entire country.

A further three firefighters were injured in the same incident, one severely.

Our thoughts are with these brave firefighters and their families in this difficult time. We wish those in hospital a fast and full recovery.

The firefighters were working on the Green Valley, Talmalmo Fire, approximately 70km east of Albury when extreme winds flipped their truck and a second vehicle.

They were doing what thousands of other volunteer firefighters are doing around Australia, and have been doing for months – selflessly and bravely protecting their local communities. For that, the nation is incredibly grateful.

The devastating impact of these terrible bushfires is continuing. This week, fires in South Australia and Tasmania, brutal fires in Victoria and, of course, the fires rolling on in New South Wales, many at emergency levels.

As these fires continue to rage, the response continues to be run and well-led at a state level. We will continue to provide every support to those state firefighting agencies through the Commonwealth.

In particular, through the support of the Australian Defence Force. These are well-resourced, well-coordinated, well-responded to fires.

I thank all of those who are directly involved out there on the fire grounds and the teams supporting them behind the scenes.

This will continue to be a significant effort in the days and the weeks ahead and I fear, in the months to come.

We are expecting more difficult news out of New South Wales and Victoria today as the assessments are undertaken of the terrible fires from yesterday and last night.

I am closely monitoring the situation in all states and I am receiving regular daily briefing on all emerging issues. I am also in regular contact with the premiers and fire authorities.

I have seen the impact and devastation of these fires first hand, but I have also seen communities pulling together and caring for each other with a remarkable spirit. This is the Australian way.

We have stood up and responded to these terrible disasters before and we have come through the other side. We will rebuild and we will stay strong.

I urge all Australians to continue to listen to the warnings from the authorities and take care.

To those fighting these fires; please be safe, and continue to pull together in this difficult time. Your country is behind you every step of the way.

RFS volunteer dies, two injured when truck rolls – Jingellic

Investigations are continuing after an RFS volunteer firefighter died and a two were injured when their fire truck rolled, while on-duty at a fire in the state’s south.

About 5.50pm yesterday (Monday 30 December 2019), police received reports a NSW Rural Fire Service truck with three men on board had rolled on a property at River Road, Jingellic, about 110km east of Albury.

A passenger, believed to be a 28-year-old man, died at the scene.

A second passenger, a 39-year-old man, was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in a serious condition suffering burns.

The driver, aged 52, was treated at the scene before being taken to Holbrook Hospital for minor injuries and has since been released.

It’s believed the two passengers were firefighting from the refuge area behind the main cabin when the vehicle rolled.

Officers from Murray River Police District attended and established a crime scene, which was examined by specialist forensic officers.

A report will be prepared for the information of the Coroner and inquiries continue.

Man charged with five counts of arson – Raymond Terrace

A man will face court today charged after he allegedly set fire to several cars and bins in the Raymond Terrace area earlier this month.

About 9.15pm on Thursday 12 December 2019, police attended a dance studio on Port Stephens Road following information it was well-alight after fire spread from a burning garbage bin.

The fire was extinguished and the building sustained major damage.

On the evening of Saturday 14 December 2019, two bins were set alight on William Street.

The following evening, (Sunday 15 December 2019), emergency services attended Port Stephens Road, after reports two cars were alight and caused damage to a nearby building.

About 1am on Wednesday 18 December 2019, another vehicle was set alight in the carpark off Sturgeon Street. The fire was extinguished; however, the blaze caused damage to a nearby shed.

Detectives from the Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commenced an investigation.

Following inquiries, an 18-year-old man was arrested in Waratah West yesterday (Monday 30 December 2019).

He was taken to Waratah Police Station, where he was charged with five counts of malicious damage.

He was refused bail to appear at Newcastle Local Court today (Tuesday 31 December 2019).

NEW PAYMENTS TO SUPPORT NSW VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS

Volunteer firefighters will receive financial support from the Morrison Government for loss of income, where they have been called out for extended periods of service.

Rural Fire Service Volunteers in NSW who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses, and who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season, will be able to apply for the payments.

The payments will provide for lost income of up to $300 per day up to a total of up to $6,000 per person.

These payments are tax free and will not be means-tested, but are targeted to those most likely to suffer lost income by volunteering for extended periods of time.

For most, this will represent the equivalent of at least 20 days’ emergency leave for employees of small and medium sized businesses and volunteers who are self employed.

The Prime Minister says this will include farmers, small business owners, tradies and contract workers in rural and regional areas who have been hit especially hard by this fire season.

“Earlier this week I announced the Federal Government would be providing paid leave for up to four weeks for Commonwealth public servants fighting these devastating fires.

“This announcement provides employees of small and medium sized businesses and self employed volunteers with the same level of support.

“We expect larger companies to provide their employees with 20 days of emergency services leave.”

The Australian Government will cover the costs of the grant payments. The NSW Government will administer the payments.

Other State and Territory governments are invited to enter into a similar scheme based on their assessment of need and the demands on their volunteer effort from their own fire seasons. Other requests for assistance will be assessed on their merits.

“I know that our volunteer firefighters in NSW are doing it tough, especially in rural and regional areas. The season started early and has a long way to go.

“The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer fire fighters.

“While I know RFS volunteers don’t seek payment for their service, I don’t want to see volunteers or their families unable to pay bills, or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making.

“This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss. It’s targeted and is the result of a direct request and consultation with the NSW RFS and NSW Government, following the Commonwealth’s announcement of increased emergency services leave for Commonwealth public servants earlier this week.

“As I have said on many occasions – we take our advice on what is needed and what the priorities are from the organisations running the operational response. That’s what we are doing here.

“The fire chiefs and state and territory governments know they have our full support.

“We’ve already got our Defence Forces providing helicopter search and rescue, ground transport, accommodation, meals and re-fuelling. We’ve boosted our support for water bombing planes and helicopters by $11 million.

“Disaster recovery payments of $23 million have also flowed to affected families and businesses with more to come.”

These arrangements have been put in place for this financial year only. Any longer term arrangements will be considered by leaders at the COAG meeting in March, after there has been proper opportunity to assess the most recent fire season.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW Government has a strong record of standing side by side with RFS volunteers, many of whom have been on the front line fighting fires for weeks, and in some cases, months.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to protect the community,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“The NSW Government already provides unlimited paid leave to all state public service employees who volunteer with the RFS or the other emergency services.

“On top of that, NSW public service employees are able to take rest leave to allow time for their recovery before returning to work.

“NSW has committed more than $166 million in additional natural disaster funding this bushfire season over and above our record firefighting budget.

“We are now pleased to provide administrative support to the Commonwealth to compensate our brave volunteers for loss of income.”

Minister for Natural Disasters and Emergency Services, David Littleproud, said volunteer firefighters personify the Australian Spirit.

“This is a helping hand from the Federal Government for those giving to their community through an extreme fire season.”

“These payments will help support volunteer fire fighters financially for all the support they’ve provided their communities.”

Payments are expected to be available before the end of January 2020.

Investigations continue into out-of-control party – Lake Macquari

A 17-year-old girl was knocked unconscious and police attacked with glass bottles after several brawls erupted at an out-of-control house party in the Lake Macquarie area last night.

About 10pm (Saturday 28 December 2019), officers from Lake Macquarie Police District attended Rhodes Street, Blackalls Park, after reports a large house party was out of control and spilling onto the street.

When police arrived, there were more than 150 people on the street who then threw glass bottles and other items at the officers and their vehicles.

Additional police resources responded after numerous people started fighting, which resulted in a 17-year-old girl being knocked unconscious.

The girl was later taken by NSW Ambulance paramedics to John Hunter Hospital, where she remains in a stable condition.

The group continued to brawl, and police deployed OC spray in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Further officers from Newcastle City Police District, the Dog Unit and Operations Support Group also attended to assist and move the large group along.

During the operation, five people were arrested and will be charged with offences including hinder police, resist arrest, offensive behaviour, possess prohibited drug, possess knife and trespass.

It will be alleged that a 23-year-old Teralba man physically interfered while a Sergeant was dealing with another man, and violently resisted other police who came to assist.

A Police Dog also assisted with restraining the man, who is currently being treated in hospital for a dog bite to his left calf.

Investigations into the incident, including the assault of the 17-year-old girl, are continuing.

STOP STALLING AND ACT TO FINANCIALLY HELP VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS

Today we have once again witnessed Mr Morrison stall and offer no plan to financially help exhausted volunteer fire fighters.

Even his own senior ministers are finally voicing their concerns.

Enough.

We are talking about people’s livelihoods.

I have met people who are struggling to make ends meet while they work around the clock to serve their communities.

I have met people that have taken out loans to pay for the basic essentials of life.

It has now been well over a month since I wrote to the Prime Minister asking to work with him to act on this issue.

He dismissed me.

He has repeatedly refused to act on this issue when it has been raised with him.

He has said it was a “distraction.”

He has said it was a “state issue.”

He has said volunteer firefighters “want to be out there.”

Our firefighters have to pay bills and put food on the table for their families.

No firefighter should have to choose between continuing to serve their community with courage and distinction and being able to provide the essentials of life.

There is a precedent for providing support for volunteer firefighters.

This issue was urgent when Labor called on the Prime Minister to act in mid-November.  With fires raging across the country and predictions there’s worse to come it is now more urgent than ever.

Mr Morrison has consistently underestimated the scale of this year’s bushfire crisis and has repeatedly asserted that resources are adequate.

So far this bushfire season, the Prime Minister has:

  1. Refused to meet with ex-fire chiefs, who wanted to warn him about the dangerous conditions we now face
  2. Rejected concerns about fatigue among our volunteer firefighters, saying “they want to be there”.
  3. Refused to provide any kind of compensation to exhausted volunteer fire fighters.
  4. Said there will be no changes to climate change policy.
  5. Ignored warnings from his own Department of Home Affairs that bushfires in Australia would be worse due to climate change and national action was required
  6. Dismissed Labor’s suggestion to hold an urgent COAG meeting to ensure Australia was prepared for future bushfires and other natural disasters

Police investigate attempted armed robbery of petrol station – Raymond Terrace

Police are investigating the attempted armed robbery of a business in Raymond Terrace overnight.

About 7.10pm (Friday 27 December 2019), a man entered a petrol station on Adelaide Street and approached the counter.

The man asked for a pack of cigarettes before allegedly threatening the male staff member with what appeared to be a firearm and demanding cash and cigarettes.

The man jumped the counter, before struggling with the staff member who managed to escape from the premises.

The staff member returned, and a further struggled followed. The man ran from the store, jumping on a bicycle and fleeing the scene without any cash.

No customers were inside the store at the time, and no one was hurt.

Officers from Port Stephens-Hunter Police District were called and began their investigations.

A crime scene was established, and a number of items were seized for forensic testing including a paintball pistol in the shape of a firearm, a cap, a bag and a bicycle helmet.

The man is described as being of Caucasian appearance, aged between 20 and 25 years old, around 180cm tall, with red hair and a medium build. He was last seen wearing a brown hooded jumper, brown pants and black shoes.

Anyone with information about this man or this incident are urged to contact Raymond Terrace Police Station on 02 4983 7599 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Man charged over deliberately-lit fires near Cessnock

A man has been charged after allegedly deliberately lighting two fires in the state’s Hunter region yesterday.

Just after 11pm (Friday 27 December 2019), officers from Hunter Valley Police District were on the scene of a bushfire near Greta Street, Aberdare, when they noticed a man emerging from bushland covered in soot.

After police spoke with the man, he was arrested and taken to Cessnock Police Station, before being taken to hospital for assessment.

Upon release, he was taken back to Maitland Police Station and charged with two counts of intentionally cause fire and be reckless as to its spread.

Police will allege in court the man deliberately lit two fires in bush area – one at about 3.30pm near Cessnock Road, Neath, and the second near Greta Street, Aberdare, about 11pm.

He was granted conditional bail and is due to appear before Cessnock Local Court on Wednesday 29 January 2020.

ADF Continues to Support Firefighting Effort

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will increase its support to fire authorities, deploying additional specialist personnel to advise Incident Controllers at Fire Control Centres in New South Wales.

Planning will also begin for the recovery effort to access and clean-up affected areas, which could involve support from the ADF, if requested by NSW state authorities.

“This deployment will see Defence Liaison Officers positioned at all 14 Incident Control Centres in New South Wales with a list of equipment and support that can be made available. This will include bulldozers, bulk water carriers and troops,” the Prime Minister said.

“We’ll continue to do everything in our power to ensure our fireys have the resources and support they need.

“We’ve already got our Defence Forces providing helicopter search and rescue, ground transport, accommodation, meals and re-fuelling. We’ve boosted our support for water bombing planes and helicopters by $11 million.

“Disaster recovery payments of $23 million have also flowed to affected families and businesses with more to come.

“My Ministers and I remain in constant contact with our state and territory counterparts and fire chiefs and we stand ready to deliver whatever extra help they ask of us.”

Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds CSC said enhancing its liaison network will enable the ADF to continue providing extensive support to State emergency services.

“These additional liaison staff will embed with Fire Control Centres across NSW to advise their NSW Rural Fire Service counterparts and help coordinate ADF logistical and engineering support,” Minister Reynolds said.

“All three services of the ADF continue to provide significant behind the scenes support to firefighting efforts across the nation, 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.

“Navy helicopters have helped with evacuating residents from their homes, Army crews have provided assistance with clearing fire breaks, while our Air Force bases are supporting the state Large Aerial Tanker fleet.

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

Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, the Hon. David Littleproud MP offered his congratulations.

“This is another great example of how the bushfire response has been coordinated between all levels of Government,” Minister Littleproud said.

“They’ll be wearing two different uniforms but have one objective, protecting Australians and their property.”

The Federal Government stands ready to deploy whatever further assistance State and Territory authorities request to manage this disaster.

Details of ADF’s support to the firefighting effort is updated daily here: https://news.defence.gov.au/national/defence-continues-bushfire-support

Murder charge laid over fatal stabbing near Newcastle

A man has now been charged over the alleged fatal stabbing of another man near Newcastle overnight.

Just before 11.30pm (Thursday 26 December 2019), emergency services responded to reports of a stabbing on Silsoe Street, near the intersection of Myola Street, in Mayfield.

Officers from Newcastle City Police District attended and located a 50-year-old man critically injured with a wound to his neck.

He was treated by NSW Ambulance paramedics at the scene before being taken to John Hunter Hospital; however, despite attempts to resuscitate him, he was declared deceased on arrival.

A 36-year old man was arrested nearby and taken to Waratah Police Station, where he was charged with murder.

He was refused bail to appear at Newcastle Local Court tomorrow (Saturday 28 December 2019).