Defence Bushfire Briefing
14 January 2020
ELLWOOD: Good afternoon. We're now in the second week of significant support to the emergency management services, the surge, and I've been around the area over the last couple of days and I thought I'd take an opportunity just to talk about some of the things that I've seen out and about.
So, firstly, I went to Orbost in Victoria and what I saw there were some very, very tired firefighters and of course we have a situation where under normal circumstances, of which this is not, if there was a fire front, other firefighters from other areas would come in and support those firefighters but, of course, with the scale of the fires and the scale of the effort required, they're not getting that same reinforcement. So when I spoke to the leader of the local firefighters, he asked whether we would be able to provide tree-felling support and also to damp down areas and look for little spot fires and I said, "Absolutely," and the look of absolute relief on his face was palpable.
And, I guess, you know, that does speak volumes about how hard our emergency management services are working and it is great that we can be there to support the great work they're doing.
I then went to East Sale where I saw people coming out of Mallacoota and, there, they came off a C130 and they were put into what and a reception area. Now, this reception area I thought was pretty remarkable. It has ADF personnel but it has Red Cross, people from the emergency management services, indeed a whole host of people who have never worked together, have probably never seen what a reception area should look like but, together as a team, they formed this wonderful place, this safe place for people and when they step off the plane, they are provided with a surety that they'll have transport, with accommodation and they are provided with pastoral care if they need it and it just provides them with that, I guess, assurance. So it is wonderful to see how these teams can come together at a moment of crisis to make such a wonderful difference.
I then visited Kangaroo Island and there I saw no job was too big or too small for our Australian Defence Force personnel. I heard stories of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, there was one who was a barista, a makeshift barista, because there was a flood of people from the emergency management services, people doing clerical duties who perhaps have not done clerical duties before, soldiers erecting pens for some wounded many wounded animals and, indeed, it's pretty tough conditions to see that and wonderful that our people could make a difference and even putting up fencing to support our farmers where they've had fencing that has been burned down, destroyed, so that they can separate their livestock and also the wonderful work of the Australian Defence Force vets working amongst other volunteer vets and I've got to tell you it is pretty trying conditions, very tough to see and very impressive, impressive work being done.
Then I went to the Adelaide Hills where I saw an enthusiastic platoon of woodcutters. I'm not really sure if they were woodcutters before but they're certainly woodcutters now, trained and doing great work. Their faces charcoal-black and smiling but not smiling because of the circumstances but smiling because they can be there to provide a helping hand and I think they all feel like they're making a difference, which they are.
Then today I went on to the HMAS 'Adelaide' where I went out to a ship's company who were just so focused on the task. Of course, they just want to do more and you wouldn't want anything else. Interestingly, the pilot sorry, one of the load masters in the helicopter that flew us to and from the HMAS 'Adelaide', he himself had lost his property and he said, "Yeah, I've lost property but I really want to keep supporting," and I guess that's the sort of spirit you see across these affected areas.
I have seen the Singaporeans who are obviously flying their Chinooks. Some of them could have taken leave, elected not to, because they wanted to help the people that they've worked with before so, again, inspirational and our New Zealand contingent who are flying the Helos recently supported the tragedy at White Island but, again, wanted to get back and wanted to provide support to us in our trying times.
And I think as I went around the area, I asked many who was on leave when they were when the call came and many, many, many hands went up and that shows how much and how focused people are to support and it's the wonderful part about the Australian Defence Force but behind all those people are families affected and they make sacrifices but they do so willingly, knowing that their loved ones will be supporting our emergency management services and, importantly, our entire community.
I thought today was a good point as well, 10 days in, to provide some statistics but when I provide the statistics, I guess I want you to understand that it doesn't tell half the story, maybe not even a quarter of the story. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tasks going on every day by people who are just doing good and you would want nothing else.
So some of the statistics, though, that are of interest: We have 5,600 personnel within the Australian Defence Force who are currently working within Operation Bushfire Assist but when I give you that number, understand that the Australian Defence Force's main effort is providing the support and there are many others behind the scenes who don't come into those numbers who are doing much good in Operation Bushfire Assist.
We have 2800 Reservists. We have 261 personnel from other countries, three ships, 19 helicopters. We have 12 aircraft. We have visited over 90 communities across our area of operations. We have accommodated 508 evacuees in ADF bases. We have lifted 4,383 personnel now. They are arranged between Australian Defence Force personnel, civilians and emergency management services. We have moved 182 pets and we have lifted 361 tons of cargo.
So, we are so exceptionally proud of all the work that is being done but, again, the work is being done to help support our fantastic emergency management services and the community. So that is the end of my update. I would ask are there any questions?
JOURNALIST 1: Does that 5600 personnel include the 2800 Reservists?
ELLWOOD: It does absolutely because it is one force. Whether you're part-time, whether you're full-time and to be honest it doesn't matter, you're providing the same service and, as I've said before, that if I have a Reservist and a full-time individual standing one beside each other, after 30 years of service I still can't tell the difference.
JOURNALIST 2: Is there any State breakdown with those numbers?
ELLWOOD: We can certainly provide that and I'll give you that on notice.
JOURNALIST 2: Yesterday it was suggested that Defence were directly assisting in the evacuation of civilians from Mallacoota with armoured vehicles. I was wondering I understand that's not actually the case. Can you clear up what Defence's role is with those escorts?
ELLWOOD: What I can tell you is we provided support to a fuel tanker coming in, providing urgent feel resupply. We provided support to the fire brigade assessors who are coming in to make assessment. We have been doing also support obviously the clearance of that road as well in terms of support there and physically doing clearance and, again, I highlight that there are just a myriad of tasks going on, many of them many of them unseen to me, as I would want, because my expectation is that people are just going and doing what they need to do.
JOURNALIST 2: Do you have any estimate of the number of civilians on Mallacoota today?
ELLWOOD: So the figure I got several days ago and I think it will be slightly old now from the local police chief was around about it was around about 1200. Alright, thank you very much.