Prime Minister Scott Morrison today pledged to support public service workers and volunteers with at least 20 working days of paid leave for those contributing to the firefighting efforts.
“We’re helping get more boots on the ground and giving people who’ve been out there for weeks some relief,” Mr Morrison told the media in Mt Barker in South Australia.
“With bushfire seasons starting earlier, one of the things I’ve heard on the ground is that some people are dipping into their other leave entitlements to stay out there battling blazes.
“Today’s announcement is about ensuring our volunteer firefighters can keep focused on the job at hand.”
Mr Morrison also said nearly $23 million in disaster recovery payments had already flowed to affected families and businesses, while waterbombing planes and helicopters had been given an extra $11 million.
“We’ll do everything in our power to ensure these fireys have the resources and support they need,” he said.
“We call on other large employers to follow our lead and we commend those who have already put in place more generous volunteer leave arrangements.
“We know this does not address the situation for self-employed and small businesses directly, but it does mean those working for larger organisations can step in and take some of the load from those volunteers who work for themselves or small businesses.”
When speaking to reporters this afternoon, the PM rejected suggestions the government should offer direct cash reimbursements for volunteers.
“I need to restate that these fire services are run by state governments,” Mr Morrison said. “They’re not run by the Federal Government. What they need is for the focus to be on the issue … And I’ve got to back in the operational agencies that are fighting the fires.”
Mr Morrison said he had reached out to large private companies to reconsider how they offer leave to employees who volunteer to fight fires but resisted invitations to name and shame.
“It’s really up to each and every company to make their own decisions,” he told reporters.
“I know that the companies are good in providing leave. For many, it won’t be any change, and for some, it might. So I invite them to look at the assessment.”