Australia bushfires volunteers to get compensation

0
66

Volunteer firefighters in New South Wales will get compensation for loss of earnings after spending time away from jobs to battle bushfires in the state, Australia’s federal government says.

The offer of up to A$6,000 ($4,200; £3,200) for privately-employed volunteers follows weeks of wrangling.

PM Scott Morrison, who had previously rejected the idea, said it should not lead to permanent pay. More than 100 fires are continuing to burn, with the largest near Sydney.

Authorities fear a heatwave forecast to sweep across Australia in the coming days could see the bushfires escalate. Temperatures are set to hit over 40C (104F) in several bushfire-affected states including New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

Mr Morrison’s compensation announcement came after weeks of criticism by opposition parties.

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

There are 70,000 people in the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, most of them unpaid.

Earlier this month two volunteer firefighters – both young fathers – were killed when a tree fell on their truck as they drove towards a massive fire in the state.

The compensation scheme is a joint initiative between the federal government and NSW. The federal government says other states and territories could bring in similar schemes.

Volunteers who are employed by small- and medium-sized businesses or are self-employed will be able to apply for up to A$300 per day that they have volunteered if they have spent more than 10 days battling the flames.

“While I know RFS volunteers don’t seek payment for their service, I don’t want to see volunteers or families unable to pay bills, or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making,” Mr Morrison said.

“This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss.”

New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons had also previously rejected the idea compensation.

“Don’t do the volunteers a disservice by suggesting that you’re going to pay them, because then they’re no longer volunteers and that’s absolutely the sentiment that I’m getting loud and clear everywhere I go,” Mr Fitzsimmons said earlier this week.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, more than a quarter of a million people have signed a petition to cancel the New Year’s Eve fireworks and spend the money on fighting bushfires instead, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

But Sydney Mayor Clover Moore said earlier this month that the fireworks had been planned for more than a year and could not be cancelled. She said the display would make A$130m for the regional economy.

 

Zainab Sa’id