Doorstop Perth Airport

media conference
Bushfire season, new air tanker to join WA’s aerial fleet, Minister Wong’s trip to China.

Doorstop interview with WA Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson and WA DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm.


STEPHEN DAWSON: Pleased to be joined today by Minister King, and also Commissioner Klemm to unveil our aerial firefighting fleet for this upcoming fire season. Western Australia had a very difficult fire season last year, particularly early February, we had four Level 3 bushfires over a couple of days, and that was unprecedented for Western Australia.The Bureau tell us that this year the weather will be the same if not worse, and so we're well prepared for it. Pleased that we will a range of tools in our toolbox to help fight fires this season. So today we're unveiling our large air tankers, but also our aerial fleet. During the course of the fire season, we will have 36 aircraft on standby to fight fires. Very pleased the Federal Government have placed their national large air tanker in Western Australia for the beginning of the fire season. It recognises the threat that we will face in Western Australia, and of course the different weather that the East Coast are having at the moment with still a great deal of rain happening on that coast. 

So we will have a national large air tanker here, and also for the first time a Western Australian funded air tanker. So the national large air tanker is a 737 jet, and our WA plane is a Hercules, two very different planes but both will be welcomed for our fire season. So far we've had a slow start to the fire season, where we had some fires around Jurien last week, and a fire down in Rockingham, and it still hasn't been as bad this year as last year, but we're certainly planning to have a difficult season. As I say we've been making a significant investment into our fire fleet, but also into our appliances and new personal protective equipment.

As I said, these are all tools in the toolbox. We need to rely, of course, on our volunteers and our career fire fighters on the ground to help fight fires.  I would encourage all Western Australians to please have a bushfire plan in place. What we saw in Jurien and north of Perth last week was the fire came very quickly, and those who had bushfire plans in place were able to clear out quite quickly. So regardless of where you are in Western Australia, please have a bushfire plan in place.  But today is about the aircraft, and so 36 aircraft in our fleet.  We're very pleased to have a national large air tanker based in Western Australia.  It will be put to good use, and certainly so will ours.

MADELEINE KING: Thanks Minister, thanks Commissioner as well.  Can I just start by thanking all those that work in the fire service, those in the paid staff, but also the volunteers that work over a long hot summer here in Western Australia to keep the wider community safe from fire, to protect, you know, lives are always the foremost concern for firefighting, but also of course people's property. The Federal Government, and as the representative of the Federal Government here today, I'm really pleased to be able to place the national large aircraft tanker here in Western Australia, it's pre‑positioned right now down in Busselton, that is one of those areas that we know, and have seen before, that are prone to bushfires around this time, and I think even last year at Christmas, me and my family had to evacuate from we were staying down in Osmington rather quickly to avoid fires down there. 

So we know it can happen at any time, and what is an exceptional circumstance is we've got the Australian Federal Government and the State Government working hand‑in‑hand to make sure there is provision for Western Australia as we go into this hot season. And I also just want to thank the State Government, the great work they did in my electorate last week fighting this fire in Kwinana and the Hope Valley and Wandillup. Again I was cut off from getting home at that point, but that's what you do, and it's really important that everyone obeys, you know, all the warnings we get given, those road closures, stay away from roads if they're smoky, and you can just go and, you know, take a break, have a coffee somewhere else and get back on the road later when it's all clear. And it's about listening to these warnings, keeping track of them, listening to the National Broadcaster which always does those warnings every 15 minutes, even though you might be wanting to listen to the cricket, whether it's a two‑day or five‑day test, but nonetheless it's important to keep listening to those warnings. So thanks to the State Government, thanks to the Commissioner, thanks to all the people that work in this area. It's a really hard job over summer, but we just want to work together to keep Western Australians, and all Australians, safe from the dread that is the bushfire season. Over to the Commissioner. 

DARREN KLEMM: Thank you. So today we're completing our aerial fleet for the bushfire season here in Western Australia, some 36 aircraft, the large air tanker, the Western Australian large air tanker that's based down at Busselton, and we thank the State Government for the support to provide that for us, and also the national large air tanker, which is here as a Federal Government commitment. It's here from 15th of December through to the 15th of January, and then at that point there will be a reassessment of the risk across the country to determine if Western Australia is the best location for it, determined on risk.  The two Black Hawks that we see here today came on‑line, they were the last ones that came on‑line on 20 December, and they have been a significant addition to our fleet over the last couple of years; last year was their first year. They carry some 4,500,000 litres of water and have really good speed across the ground and are incredibly versatile, and they have been really effective last year, and we're looking forward to that same level of effectiveness this year. Importantly, now's the time for people out in the community to go to the App Store, download the My Bushfire Plan app, sit down with your family and work through what your bushfire plan is going to be. It's absolutely critical that people sit down as a family and do this together.  You can save that plan on to your phone, you don't need connectivity to have it there on your phone as a family, and know that together you're going to act should a bushfire impact where you are. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: What kind of bushfire season are you expecting? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yeah, so the forecast certainly is for a particular difficult January through to March, that's where the weather outlook is for very dry conditions, dry, warm, and of course as you all know, when the wind is incredibly strong, that's where we find it most difficult. So December's been average, and that was the forecast, that December would be average in terms of [indistinct] temperature, but it's only been in the last week that we've started to see more instance occur, and as we move into January through to March, you know, we're expecting a particularly difficult season.

JOURNALIST: And any particular areas that are at highest risk? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yeah, well, the bushfire season impacts the southern half of Western Australia.  There has been some areas identified through the seasonal outlook that's put out, certainly that Darling Scarp area, from, you know, pretty well just north of Chittering, all the way down to South Collie, down to Manjimup, that follows the Darling Scarp, we know we've had significant fires in those areas before that are in difficult terrain, difficult vegetation that are challenging to get a hold of.  So people in those particular areas, they need to make sure that they've got that bushfire plan, and they know what they're going to do should a fire impact them.

JOURNALIST: How quickly can the situation change with the wind in Western Australia? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yeah, we saw that last week up at Cervantes, and Jurien Bay, we had a pretty strong sort of east‑south easterly wind which quickly changed down into having a more southerly influence and the fire ran up the coast, and you know, it was a little ways away from Jurien Bay, but that was certainly in our planning of something that could be impacted. So as you see those weather systems come across, you'll see the wind will be in the south‑east, and then it will move around into the north, and then come all the way around for your Fremantle Doctor, the south westerly that blows nearer the coast, and so those wind changes are the challenging parts for us to make sure that we've got the required resources, both the people, the trucks and of course the aircraft in the right position.

JOURNALIST: I thought if this aircraft for fighting fires having the aircraft in access [indistinct]? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yeah. So we talk about 36 aircraft, but it is a broad suite of aircraft that provide different capabilities, the helicopters are very good at finding water sources that are very close to fires, and so they have a really quick turnaround in terms of being able to put leaders on top of the fire, your large air tankers have to land to fill up, they're dropping more water, they're actually, you know, a lot more effective in dropping retardant ahead of the fire to put breaks and those sorts of things in, and then you've got the fixed wing water bombers which can, you know, land on a whole range of air strips and different standards anywhere, you know, in the southern half of Western Australia, have a quick turnaround, fill up, and a little bit quicker across the ground. So all those different capabilities together provides us with a really good suite of tools to combat the fires.

JOURNALIST: The Black Hawk was in some exercises over in [indistinct] yesterday, what can you tell us about that? 

DARREN KLEMM: I'd imagine that would be some preparation work, so they came on board on the 20th, and that will just be an exercise they're doing to check their systems, make sure everything's working the way it should be.

JOURNALIST: DFES said it was a multiagency exercise? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yeah, so they would have ‑ what that would have been is an exercise to coincide with the fact that the Black Hawks needed do that work, and so there would have been a bunch of other component parts tacked on to the exercise to test people's preparedness. 

JOURNALIST: There was a big recruitment drive for DFES volunteers last year and the year before. How did that go, and I guess how is the disposition now in terms of volunteer [indistinct]? 

DARREN KLEMM: Our volunteer numbers are reasonably steady, if anything they've just risen slightly, and that's, you know, particularly pleasing during COVID where it's been a difficult time for everybody in the community, and a lot of people are reassessing their lifestyles and what they're doing. So we're really comfortable with our volunteer numbers. You know, it is such a great commitment that the volunteers give all the way around Western Australia, not just for bushfires, but for car accidents, and structure fires in all parts of state, and you know, absolutely critical to me delivering my services and the things that I'm responsible for are volunteers in Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just for the Wandillup fire last weekend, how important was it to have the aerial fleet helping out with that fire in particular? 

DARREN KLEMM: Yes, that fire was in some particularly difficult country. We had what we call UXOs, so unexploded ordnance, issues in there which really limits our ability to get into the bush and really attack the fire, and that's where the ability to do it from the air is, you know, really critical, and we were able to use the large air tanker, and the helicopters that you see here today to help. 

STEPHEN DAWSON: Anything for me? 

JOURNALIST: With response to the police union [indistinct]? 

STEPHEN DAWSON: Okay, straight into the [indistinct]. Look, we recognise the great work that our police do in Western Australia, and so the State Government have made the decision to fast track the payment of their pay increases to them. The states through the Minister for Industrial Relations, continues to negotiate with the union, and we're hoping that the state through the Minister for Industrial Relations continues to negotiate with the union, and we're hoping that that will come to a resolution quite soon. 

JOURNALIST: It seems like the unions are pretty keen to push for that 5 per cent increase and the government's [indistinct], so how can that be resolved? 

STEPHEN DAWSON: Look, as I said, the Minister for Industrial Relations is the lead Minister in terms of negotiating with trade unions, but can I say again, we recognise the great work that both our police and our nurses do, particularly at this time of year when many people in the state are having a holiday, these people are at the coal face keeping our community safe or keeping those of us who are unwell alive and hopefully getting us better as quickly as possible. So we recognise the great work that they do. Certainly for police officers, I mean, so while it's a 3 per cent increase across the board for those, officers who are starting off, some of those will get up to a 5.3 per cent increase. Of course, on top of that there is a $3,000 payment, cost of living payment going out to public sector workers too. So the benefits are pretty substantial, because we do recognise the great work that our public servants, public sector workers do and have done over the last few years.

JOURNALIST: Any questions for the Minister? 

JOURNALIST: Penny Wong, obviously has just returned from talks in China. How encouraging is that as Resources Minister and I guess for Western Australia specifically? 

MADELEINE KING: Yeah. It's a really important visit by Minister Wong to China, of course it celebrates 50 years of the relationship between our two nations forged by Gough Whitlam, that 50 years ago. It's a great start, and we know there's, you know, more of a distance to go on the journey to rebuild and stabilise that relationship, but it's obviously very important to Western Australia, and it's the underlying relationships that are Western Australian iron ore exporters have maintained all through this, I guess episode, that is going to be really vitally important to stabilising that relationship into the future.

JOURNALIST: It's a bit outside your portfolio, but there would probably be cray fishermen and barley growers that would be pretty keen on movement on those two. Do you expect that that will happen any time soon? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, I mean I've seen the reports, obviously they'd be excited, and the loss of that trade was an enormous blow to barley farmers and also cray fishermen right around the state, and you know, in other states as well, but particularly the western lobster industry. But they have found, especially barley, has found other markets, which has been really important. So it will be up to the barley growers, also red wine producers as well, of course, and those in the crayfish industry to reassess how they want to reengage with that market. But as I said at the start, this is just the start of stabilising that relationship, and you know, we hope we can get that trading part of it back up to where it was, 'cause there's so many family businesses, you know, large and small that have put a lot of time into our relationships with Chinese industry, and also, you know, the Chinese people really like western rock lobster, and really like our excellent red wine, and our barley is the best in the world, and they make a lot of beer. So these are things that the Chinese people I hope get to enjoy again.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea how long it might take to get back to the previous relationship? 

MADELEINE KING: Look, I wouldn't want to predict that. I think it's an excellent step that Senator Wong has gone there, that everyone is reengaging, it's just an entirely positive start to rebuilding. 

JOURNALIST: And then just on the issue of coal, we have two coal miners in Western Australia, both of them struggling vitally. What do you make of that? 

MADELEINE KING: Well, the energy mix in Western Australia is quite different to the rest of the country, and whilst there is about, I think it's about 30 per cent on any given day in the south western [indistinct] system reliance on coal. That's not the same as it might be in Victoria, which is reliant, about 86 per cent of its energy is from brown coal, and I think in New South Wales it's 82 per cent. And we all, all the states and the Federal Government all want to transition to net zero emissions by 2050. Everyone's been very firm that that is our objective, and we know the State Government has ‑ the State Government of Western Australia has put a closure date on the coal‑fired power generators.  That will affect what happens in the coal mining sector, and we know there are a lot of people who do really good work in Collie to make sure there is a transformation of that economy that doesn't leave anyone behind. And I want to recognise the great work the AMWU are doing, as well as the State Government, to make sure that those workers transition to other work and are not left holding the hose, so to speak, in the negative sense. So, yeah, it's certainly complicated what's happening in the coal mines in Western Australia, but I know the Minister, Bill Johnston, is very much alive to the issue and is working to solve it so that we will have a good summer, where we'll still have the energy we need in the state. 

JOURNALIST: We see Synergy now importing coal from New South Wales, obviously a cap has just been placed on the price of coal. Is that fortuitous for Western Australians? 

MADELEINE KING: Look, I'm not really sure if the cap is designed around the type of coal that goes into the coal‑powered generators of New South Wales and also in Queensland, so it can be different to the coal we use here, and how it applies to purchases that get exported, even though it's a domestic situation, remains to be seen.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I just ask you one more question? We're just getting a message now about someone's been arrested over an arson fire in Northern which started on Tuesday. I'm not sure how much you know about that, but I guess as an overall ‑ obviously we know a lot of fires are deliberately lit. I guess what's your message about that? 

STEPHEN DAWSON: Look, don't be an idiot. Far too many of our fires in Western Australia happen because people do it deliberately, or because people make mistakes and don't listen to fire bans. Don't be an idiot over summer. You're putting your life, the lives of others and the livelihoods of others at risk. So I haven't heard the details of this person in Northern, but my message is don't be an idiot this summer, have a bushfire plan in place, don't light fires; if you light fires, you'll get caught.