Australia announces compensation for volunteer firefighters

  • December 29, 2019

New South Wales Rural Fire Service observers during back burning operations near Picton, Australia December 22, 2019. Picture taken December 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jill Gralow

Volunteer crews have been on the frontline of some of the most ferocious bushfires to hit Australia in years.

The Australian government announced on Sunday it would compensate volunteer firefighters in the state of New South Wales (NSW), as authorities braced for conditions to deteriorate again with more high temperatures forecast.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said volunteer firefighters will receive 300 Australian dollars ($209) a day, up to 6,000 Australian dollars ($4,190) in total, if called out to battle blazes for more than 10 days.

“The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer firefighters,” Morrison said.

The prime minister has been under pressure to tackle the fire crisis since taking a family holiday to Hawaii while parts of the country burned. He cut short the trip after two firefighters were killed.

The opposition Labor party has been pressing the government to consider widespread compensation for the volunteers who usually have to negotiate time off directly with their employer.

Morrison said the compensation was necessary so that the New South Wales fires commissioner was able to continue to call out the volunteer force.

The programme is expected to cost 50 million Australian dollars ($34.9 million), but will be uncapped with the first AU$10 million ($6.9 million) being made available next month. Morrison said it would be offered to other states and territories requesting help.

Fires have also ravaged parts of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, has endured the worst of the fires, which have killed nine people nationwide and razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months.