Australian fires: RFS commissioner not told of Scott Morrison’s call-up of ADF reserve | Australia news
The New South Wales RFS commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said neither he nor defence force personnel working from the state control centre were informed by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, of a plan to deploy 3,000 army reservists to assist in the bushfire crisis.
Fitzsimmons was “disappointed and frustrated” to learn of the plan through media reports on Saturday when fire crews were battling the most challenging conditions to date in terms of the number of concurrent fires in NSW.
He said Morrison had not told him personally of the plan and commonwealth and ADF liaison officers embedded in the state control centre were also unaware.
The government launched an ad about the plan on Saturday and announced it after weeks of pressure on the prime minister over his handling of the bushfire crisis.
Morrison posted the ad on social media within hours of his announcement.
“What I commented about was my disappointment about learning about this intervention yesterday through media reports,” Fitzsimmons said on Sunday.
“We spent a fair amount of the day yesterday trying to seek clarity from our commonwealth liaison personnel embedded here in the state operations centre, our ADF people embedded here in the state operation centre.
“It’s fair to say they weren’t across the details either.”
The government responded by saying state premiers had been contacted after the meeting of the national security committee of cabinet on Saturday.
Fitzsimmons said it “took us some time to understand what the announcement was, what it meant, and how it was it expected to be integrated into what was already a high performing and a highly effectively integrated suite of operations across NSW”.
In earlier comments on Sunday Fitzsimmons said he had spoken to Morrison’s office overnight about his concerns.
He said his focus now was on how to best use “whatever the number out of 3,000 it turns out to be” in recovery work and community support.
The defence minister, Linda Reynolds, told the ABC on Sunday that premiers were contacted about the plan “straight after the meeting” of the national security committee of cabinet.
Interviewer David Speers asked her why the commissioner, as the person in charge, was not consulted.
“Well, the prime minister has been in constant contact with the premiers, daily, in fact, in some cases,” Reynolds said.
Asked why liaison officers at state control were not even aware of the plan, Reynolds said: “That’s the reason we have the liaison officers out there. I do acknowledge yesterday that we could have, defence could have worked quicker to push the information out. We acknowledged that yesterday.
“I would say in relation to the commissioner of New South Wales that that information was passed to the premier. That information was communicated to the state authorities.”