Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt hasn’t ruled out the prospect of taking a holiday during what’s been forecast as the most brutal bushfire season since the 2019-2020 Black Summer crisis.
The minister took questions ahead of a historic two-day summit in Canberra, where more than 200 organisations will gather to discuss what more can be done to prepare for the oncoming heat.
He said he intended to take one week off in December that “will depend on the disaster situations that we face”.
“I can assure you, since I’ve been the minister, I have not had a whole lot of holidays and every time I have I’ve been on the phone to my staff,” he told media.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison weathered fierce backlash two years ago when he flew to Hawaii for a family vacation while the worst bushfires in Australia’s history burned across the country.
He was heavily criticised by then opposition leader Anthony Albanese for a “lack of transparency” about the timing and location of the trip, which Mr Morrison later apologised for.
Mr Albanese and Senator Watt will join crisis management, response and recovery specialists this week to discuss how to prepare for the high-risk season.
Mr Albanese said he was very concerned about the “worrying conditions” and wanted to avoid clashes with state governments this summer.
He cited the “great deal of disagreement” between Mr Morrison and then NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who publicly clashed over a lack of consultation on the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel.
“This week is all about preparedness, we are bringing together all the states of territories,” Mr Albanese said on Monday.
His concerns came after the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed the country would be experiencing an El Nino weather event for the next year, bringing an increased risk of extreme heat as well as a worsening bushfire outlook in southeastern Australia.
National Emergency Management Agency co-ordinator-general Brendan Moon said people should also prepare for the possibility of cyclones and floods.
“The strategy for this week is to look at national arrangements to actually deal with those compounding and cascading events that may impact the nation during this high-risk weather season,” Mr Moon said.
Stakeholders from the logistics, food and groceries, insurance, energy and utilities, telecommunications and non-government sectors will also meet with federal and state leaders and emergency services for the two-day summit.
The parties will join in examining a range of scenarios based on seasonal outlook, examining how each organisation will respond and how they will work together.
Senator Watt said since the Black Summer bushfires, two-thirds of Australians had been impacted by a natural disaster – some more than once.
“I’m confident that as a country we’re well prepared for the conditions forecast, but we aren’t complacent and want to make sure we’re doing everything within our power to get ready,” he said.
“Today’s summit is the next step in (the Albanese government’s disaster) plan to make sure that all who have a role in disasters know what to expect this upcoming season and that they are as prepared as possible.
“The summit will ensure all key stakeholders know what resources and capabilities state and territory governments can draw upon and when as well as additional operational and information sharing support.”
After an El Nino weather system was declared last week, which typically leads to reduced rainfall and increased temperatures, numerous bush and grass fires broke out in Queensland and NSW.
Climate change and its contribution to higher temperature, fuel load and dryness are also expected to exacerbate the risk of bushfires.