Defence Bushfire Briefing
9 January 2020
ELLWOOD: Alright, good afternoon. I'll now provide a briefing update on Operation Bushfire Assist.
I, this morning, visited Mallacoota, which is extremely worthwhile. Again, so impressed with our emergency management services and our volunteers and the community writ large and, of course, the ADF are doing a wonderful job in their support. It was a really worthwhile visit. I had an opportunity to understand the issue of fuel in the town and we are now resupplying fuel to make sure that the generator has sufficient to power the town and we're also providing a logistics planner to make sure that obviously with the town currently being isolated, it has a number of complexities and so we need to make sure that we can have people there who will continue to plan and understand exactly on the ground what the needs are.
Now, obviously, concurrently, we have engineers that are working their way through to open routes in and I also note the other complexity of a sandbar that's formed where normally landing craft would go and I saw the work being done to dredge that sandbar so that we can get landing craft in.
You would have seen this afternoon news about the issue of Kangaroo Island and the fact that the fire has broken containment lines in the north. We have had forces there for several days, both in the north and the south, ready to provide support for evacuation if required and I know the teams are working very closely with Emergency Management Services to make sure that we can provide whatever it is that they need at this complex time and obviously acutely aware of the difficult conditions that we will see over the next 24 to 48 hours in other areas as well and we are postured for that.
We're providing engineer support to containment lines in Kangaroo Island, as I said, Tumut, Eden, the ACT, and also in Bega. We are supplying remote communities in the Alpine and Snowy regions and I'm pleased to say while the Greater Alpine Road is open, it only has limited access and that's for Emergency Management Services and contractors who have passes to go through for specific purpose.
Our army support teams are expanding in the southeast coast, the Southern Highlands, Tamworth. We are providing additional medical support in Tumut Hospital. We're undertaking fire mapping to support our emergency services and that's particularly looking for hot spots. We're still doing assessments, obviously, on damage, but in particular, with the difficult conditions, we are making sure we are providing as much information as we can to Emergency Management Services to inform what they need to do here and now.
We finished, last night, disembarking evacuees from the 'Choules', which is great news, and now the 'Choules' is loading again stores, necessary stores to take back to Mallacoota. We are providing fodder resupply into Bairnsdale. The filtration pumping system is now set and working in Kangaroo Island and we have unmanned aerial vehicles that are online in Victoria today and we will see what taskings they provide in due course but principally the purpose of those unmanned aerial vehicles will be to provide assessment of damage so that we can inform, again, Emergency Management Services but also inform for the recovery phase as we move forward.
We have New Zealand engineers ready today providing they will provide support in South Australia and in particular Kangaroo Island. We have our first New Zealand helicopter that is on station in Nowra and we will have two additional coming online over the next couple of days, which are very welcome indeed. We will have New Zealand C130 support shortly. I note the Singaporean Chinook is now operational out of East Sale.
Papua New Guinea Defence Force has very kindly offered an engineer element of around about 100 strong which will work, at this stage, in Victoria, although we will continue to reassess and see what the needs are when they arrive. But I've got to say, it's a wonderful thing to get their support and I think it really does show the close relationships that we have forged over the decades and I, for one, are very happy to have them on board.
We are supporting eight Department of Human Services popups over New South Wales and Victoria, four split each way. We have a joint task force in South Australia currently linked up with Tasmanian leadership and emergency services just to make sure we're well postured if situations should change there and we have a liaison node and three communication nodes supporting Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to make sure, again, we are postured to support the Emergency Management Services there should they require it.
Yesterday I spoke to Andrew Colvin about obviously the recovery phase that will come and I committed to him that in the coming period we're going to develop a database of all the things, all the issues and needs that we see because obviously we have a lot of people out there talking to a lot of people, we can provide that to his team in a database which hopefully will provide a seamless transition. I think collecting information now is critical so that there is no pause.
In terms of our reserve numbers, yesterday was reported by General Bilton 1,200; we're now at 1,600 army reserve and continuing to grow.
And my last point, having been at Kangaroo Island yesterday, Mallacoota today, I just want to say, again, having seen it with my own two eyes, the wonderful, wonderful work of our emergency management services, volunteers and the community at large, it makes you very proud to be Australian and I know the ADF are very happy to be supporting them.
So that is all for my update. I will now ask if there are any questions about specifically Operation Bushfire Assist.
QUESTION: That sandbar at Mallacoota, how long do we expect it to take before it's cleared?
ELLWOOD: I'm sorry, the sandbar?
ELLWOOD: I'm told between three and five days, although I did say to the team that are doing it the quicker the better.
QUESTION: Right. So you can't land those landing craft there until that's out of the way?
ELLWOOD: No, Until that's gone, no, we can't.
QUESTION: With the Papua New Guinea offer, is there are date when those troops or those engineers might arrive in Australia?
ELLWOOD: I think it's over the next five or so days but I think the exact details are still being worked through. And, look, the other great thing about this is because the 3rd Brigade that are based in Townsville constantly work with the PNGDF, and the engineers specifically, we are going to be able to partner up people who have worked over on Exercise Pukpuk, which is one of our activities that we do with Papua New Guinea Defence Force engineers. We're going to partner them up so that that when they're here they have some very friendly faces that they know.
QUESTION: Sorry, just in regards to Tasmania, is Brigadier Cantwell there today?
ELLWOOD: He is.
QUESTION: Can you talk us through what he's doing there?
ELLWOOD: Absolutely. He's talking to the leadership, the local leadership, State leadership and he's also been engaged with the Emergency Management Services leadership. I just spoke to him before. He hadn't yet spoken to the Premier but he was about to. But he's engaged with the management with the emergency management team and they are coming up with a plan of how we're going to make sure we're well postured to support anything should the need arise.
QUESTION: There's warmer weather expected there over the weekend. Are you expecting to send anyone in?
ELLWOOD: Look, I'll wait until they've had their discussions. Whatever's needed. Obviously we already have reserve forces based out of Tasmania so it would be a matter of making sure that we have the right capabilities at the right time.
QUESTION: Can you tell us where he has gone in Tasmania? Sort of what regions?
ELLWOOD: I couldn't tell you specifically, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Just with reservist numbers, when are you expecting to have the full complement of 3,000?
ELLWOOD: The numbers continue to grow but, again, I want to stress that it's important that we understand that the time on this is ill-defined. So we need to make sure that we have capabilities over a period of time, so we just need to, we need to manage that.
QUESTION: And just with, sorry, Kangaroo Island as well, can you talk us through what the teams are helping with evacuations there today? What sort of things are they doing?
ELLWOOD: So, look, I was a very late it was late-breaking news. What I do know is that I've provided guidance to my commanders and my guidance was they are to work with the emergency services and to not wait, to act. So I have every faith that between them and the emergency management services they'll be doing exactly what they should be doing.
QUESTION: On the South Coast at Eden, has the HMAS 'Adelaide' been called onto a greater extent? Over the last couple of days Defence has been saying that they're ramping up operations; what's that looking like?
ELLWOOD: Yes, so I've already had vehicles that have come off the 'Adelaide '. We've had element forces that have come off the 'Adelaide' to go into the southeast coast area, so they're actually well postured to be able to do that. But, again, with the difficult conditions coming, it's really handy to have. The other thing is that should we’ve found in recent in the recent past that times when we can actually have a helicopter take off but we can't land because of the smoke cover. What 'Adelaide' provides us with the opportunity to do is to land on the deck and then cross-load people or stores, whatever it is, onto landing craft and put them onto shore and then they can drive to wherever they need to. So it's a very flexible and handy thing to have.
QUESTION: Apologies if you've mentioned this at the start. But in Victorian high country, like Bright, Wangaratta, Hotham, where is the military going to base assets, if any, if things kick off tomorrow?
ELLWOOD: Look, I can't give you the specifics of where they are going to posture specifically tomorrow but I know that they are teams are up there and they will move to wherever they need to go at the specific time. But we certainly have forces up there at the moment.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on the numbers of reservists on Kangaroo Island?
ELLWOOD: So yesterday I think we were at around about 100; I couldn't tell you where we will be at today.
QUESTION: Is there a breakdown of reservists generally State by State?
ELLWOOD: We do have that, we do have that breakdown and we can get that to you after if that would help.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ELLWOOD: Great, thank you.