For the first time in history, thousands of Australian Defence Force Reservists will be deployed to help respond to the worsening bushfires crisis.
They will be supported by the Navy’s largest vessel, the HMAS Adelaide, which will set sail from Sydney today.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined the assistance the ADF will provide across multiple states, which continue to grapple with raging infernos.
“Around half an hour ago, the Governor-General signed off on the call-out of the Australian Defence Force Reserve to bring every possible capability to bear by deploying army brigades to fire affected communities,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference in Canberra.
HMAS Adelaide will assist in the evacuation from Victoria’s coast, heading to Mallacoota from Sydney this afternoon.
It is expected to arrive tomorrow afternoon, and is fully equipped for disaster and humanitarian aid.
It will join the Choules and Sycamore, which are already working in the area, ADF Chief General Angus Campbell said.
“The announcements today see a lift in our naval on-water presence … an increase in the number of aircraft and helicopters operating in affected areas involving Chinook helicopters, multi-role helicopters, light liaison helicopters, as well as P-8 surveillance aircraft, C-17, C-130 and C-27-J transport and lift aircraft.”
Defence will also throw open the doors of bases across the country to house people who’ve fled from disaster zones or lost their home to fires.
Mr Morrison announced the appointment of a two-star emergency ADF support co-ordinator, will have national authority over the joint taskforces in each of the affected states.
The PM said the priority of the deployments is to assist in ensuring safety of life, to support the evacuation of affected people – particularly those in isolated communities – and to provide assistance to both isolated communities and state-managed evacuation centres.
There are currently two taskforces established in New South Wales and Victoria, where unprecedented fires continue to burn.
Mr Morrison announced a third taskforce will be set up for South Australia, where deadly blazes have claimed two lives today.
The task force in SA will focus on Kangaroo Island at present, said Mr Morrison, “as well as support what is occurring in Tasmania”.
If needed, further taskforces will be established “based on what we believe to be the requirement on a move-forward basis in other states.”
For those in short-term evacuation distress, defence force bases from Brisbane to Adelaide will provide temporary transit accommodation and support arrangements.
Mr Morrison also announced that government have committed up to $20 million to lease four extra planes, in order to fulfil the request and to meet any future requests.
“That will include two long range fixed wings DC-10s with 30,000 litres capacity and two medium range large air tankers with an 11,000 litre capacity,” he said.
The Reservists who are called up to serve will have their day jobs protected by law.
Those who are already assisting in volunteer rural and country fire services will be exempt from the call-out, as will those whose homes are currently under threat.
Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds, herself a Reservist, said the action announced today is a first.
“This is the sort of thing the ADF does best,” Senator Reynolds said.
If you are a member of the Reserves and have questions, you can call 1800 DEFENCE for answers