The federal government bowed to pressure today to provide payments to those on the firefront this bushfire season, which in NSW has already cost eight lives, as many as 1000 homes and millions of hectares of bushland.
The payments of up to $300 per day will be available to Rural Fire Service NSW volunteers who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses.
They will be capped at $6000 per person and are tax-free.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the payments would be equivalent to 20 days of emergency leave for the eligible volunteers.
It follows the government’s announcement last week that Commonwealth public service volunteers would get at least four weeks of paid leave to fight bushfires under a plan to ensure more “boots on the ground”.
“This announcement provides employees of small and medium sized businesses and self employed volunteers with the same level of support,” Mr Morrison said in a statement today.
“We expect larger companies to provide their employees with 20 days of emergency services leave.”
The federal government would cover the payments, which would be administered through the NSW government.
Canberra has invited other states and territories enter a similar payment scheme, but this has not yet been taken up.
“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.
NSW Volunteer Fire Fighters Association president Mick Holton said last week members had racked up expenses, including on petrol spent driving to fire fronts, and been forced to crowd-fund for smoke masks.
Almost 110 fires were burning in NSW on Saturday, including large blazes ringing Sydney at Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle Creek.
Fire conditions are expected to again deteriorate in the coming week amid rising temperatures and dry winds, peaking on New Year’s Eve.