NSW fires live: premier says ‘not much left in Balmoral’ as South Australia bushfires continue to rage – latest

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “SA premier says 72 homes destroyed in Cudlee Creek fire as NSW blazes rage on – as it happened” was written by Josh Taylor and Amy Remeikis, for theguardian.com on Sunday 22nd December 2019 06.59 UTC

6.59am GMT

We are going to leave the live blog there for the night.

If you need updates on the fire situations:

• The CFS site is for South Australia
The VicEmergency site is for Victoria
The RFS site is for New South Wales

There are two fires at watch and act level in New South Wales: the Gosper Mountains fire and the Grose Valley fire.

Authorities are keeping an eye on ember activity in Athelstone in South Australia from the Cudlee Creek fire.

Although conditions have been less severe today, it is expected the fires will continue without significant rainfall.

We will have updates in the morning, and in the meantime, please stay safe.

Updated at 8.03am GMT

6.49am GMT

6.46am GMT

My colleague Helen Davidson wrote this just two days ago about the effort to save Balmoral. It’s so utterly devastating that almost all of the town is gone now.

6.35am GMT

AAP has some more horrific detail on the extent of the devastation in Balmoral. The town has around 150 houses and a population of 400. There is “not much left” but we don’t know exactly how many homes were destroyed yet.

AAP:

Matthew Deeth, who’s the mayor of the neighbouring Wollondilly Shire Council, says everyone knows everyone in the small village.

“They were all banding together until they got hit yesterday and they were just decimated,” Deeth said on Sunday.

“Most people were pulled out of their houses and if there was nobody defending houses they kind of just all lit up.”

Residents in the nearby town of Bargo, north-east of Balmoral, were counting themselves lucky on Sunday.

One house in Bargo’s Ashby Close was lost to the Green Wattle Creek blaze, with fire damaging a number of other properties in the street.

Joe Cefai, 50, said the blaze just missed his home.

Cefai, who evacuated with his two young children and a neighbour, lost a number of buildings next to his house.

“It could have been far worse,” he said on Sunday. “I could have easily kissed my home goodbye. To return to see how close it did get, words can’t explain.”

Updated at 6.40am GMT

6.08am GMT

A total fire ban has been declared for tomorrow in the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia.

5.56am GMT

5.46am GMT

An update on the situation in Victoria from AAP:

Bushfires in Victoria’s East Gippsland have been downgraded as firefighters get a leg up on blazes thanks to milder weather conditions.

A watch and act warning remains active on Sunday for Tambo Crossing, Wattle Circle and Stirling, while the bushfire at Marthavale- Barmouth Spur is still not under control.

“Emergency services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay,” the VicEmergency website states.

Fire crews have managed to get a handle on two blazes with warnings lowered to advice across Goroke, Lawloit, Little Desert, Peronne, Burnbank, Evansford and surrounding towns.

One of the fires, the Lexton-Ben Major bushfire in the vicinity of Mt Lonarch, has been contained after burning through 2,711 hectares, and an advice warning in place.

It comes as the temperature took a dip on Sunday with about 24C forecast in Tambo Crossing and a milder 22C in Melbourne after a top of 44C in the Victorian capital.

The bushfires have been burning since 21 November but flared up on Saturday after a cool change came through and brought dry lightning strikes.

Updated at 5.52am GMT

5.41am GMT

72 homes destroyed in Cudlee Creek fire, South Australian premier says

ABC is reporting SA premier Steven Marshall has said 72 homes have been destroyed in the Cudlee Creek fire. It is up from 15 yesterday.

A total of 404 outbuildings and 227 vehicles were also destroyed in the fire.

Updated at 5.45am GMT

5.38am GMT

5.19am GMT

Here’s a bit more on what the Australian defence force has been doing to help out the firefighting effort in the past day.

An aerial tanker has been provided to the NSW RFS from the RAAF base in Richmond. The HMAS Albatross has helped with water refuelling and retardant loading for the Currowan fires from the naval air station in Nowra.

The army is also supplying personnel to prepare meals three times a day for 250 firefighters in the northern rivers region from November until mid-January. It is also assisting with transport and logistics for the RFS in Glen Innes, Kempsey, Casino, Wollondilly and in the Hawkesbury.

Helicopters and accomodation are also being supplied

You can read more about what defence is doing to help out here.

Updated at 5.24am GMT

5.00am GMT

4.53am GMT

I am going to leave you in the very, very capable hands of my colleague Josh Taylor for the rest of the afternoon.

Conditions continue to be a lot better than yesterday, but that just means firefighters are having to try and use what time they have to get ahead of what is coming after that.

Please pay attention to the alerts and make sure your plan is ready.

Thank you for following along with me today – and as always, take care of you and those around you.

Updated at 5.02am GMT

4.42am GMT

Journalist Royce Kurmelovs has another update from the South Australian fires:

James Tilbrook coughs from the smoke inhalation as he picks through the wreckage of his Adelaide Hills vineyard.

“It’s not good,” James says of both the cough and the scene.

The boutique Tilbrook Estate winery and vineyard is run by James and his wife Annabelle, who fled their property on Friday morning as the Cudlee Creek fires started to burn out of control. Coming back, James says he is shell-shocked.

“We’ve lost everything,” he says. “Our house is on a separate property. My wife, son and our dog left at 10.30 for Mt Barker. At about 11am I had to choose between staying to defend the vineyard, or going to defend our home. I had to make that choice. The result is our house – our home – is still standing, but the vineyard’s gone. We’ve lost our livelihood.”

“Once our house was safe, I went to help a friend with his home. I figured the vineyard was toast, there was nothing I could do there, so I might as well go help friends.”

As the fire swept through, James says “cooked” the decades-old vine plantings and melted the winery on the property. A neighbouring cherry orchard was also destroyed in the blaze.

“We were only a small producer, we make 1000 cases a year but all our stock was in the winery,” James said. “All the barrels of our last vintage. All our wine in tanks. All the wine in the tank is still there, but it’s probably cooked too.

“I got a photo of some bottles that were sitting on top of a filing cabinet and the bottles have melted or collapsed. Someone said to me that the melting point of glass is 1400 to 1600 degrees. It would have been fucking hot in there. Excuse my language.”

James says the biggest problem going forward is going to be income. The couple planted their first vines on the property in 1999 and it will take years for them to recover or regrow. In the meantime, they have a multi-million dollar mortgage to pay.

“Someone told me there’s a chance the vines may recover and come back,” James says. “I’m usually a positive person, but I just don’t know. I don’t believe it.”

Some friends have already set up a fundraiser for the family.

4.30am GMT

Victorian fire update, courtesy of AAP:

Bushfires in Victoria’s East Gippsland have been downgraded as firefighters get a leg up on blazes thanks to milder weather conditions.

A watch and act warning remains active on Sunday for Tambo Crossing, Wattle Circle and Stirling, while the bushfire at Marthavale – Barmouth Spur is still not under control.

“Emergency Services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay,” the VicEmergency website states.

Fire crews have managed to get a handle on two blazes with warnings lowered to advice across Goroke, Lawloit, Little Desert, Peronne, Burnbank, Evansford and surrounding towns.

Wine bottles destroyed by fire on the Tilbrook Estate winery in Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
Wine bottles destroyed by fire on the Tilbrook Estate winery in Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Owners James and Annabelle Tilbrook fled their property as the Cudlee Creek fires started to burn out of control on Friday. Photograph: James Tilbrook/Facebook

One of the fires, the Lexton-Ben Major bushfire in the vicinity of Mt Lonarch, has been contained after burning through 2711 hectares, and an advice warning in place.

It comes as the temperature took a dip on Sunday with about 24C forecast in Tambo Crossing, and a milder 22C in Melbourne, after a top of 44C in the Victorian capital.

The bushfires have been burning since November 21 but flared up on Saturday after a cool change came through and brought dry lightning strikes.

A relief centre has been set up at the Omeo memorial hall, 60 kilometres north, for people affected while generators have been set-up to restore power and services.

Hundreds of firefighters on the ground and in the air have been working across the state to contain the fires, which are concentrated in steep and largely inaccessible terrain.

People are advised to monitor the VicEmergency website.

Updated at 4.49am GMT

4.13am GMT

Anthony Albanese’s office has just released the transcript to the press conference, which includes this line at the end:

In terms of this crisis, I have tried to visit the Rural Fire Service headquarters … Minister Littleproud, can I say this, has been exemplary at providing information and briefings to the opposition, but I have made a request now for days to visit the rural fire service. And that request has not been met up to this point.

That would be the headquarters Scott Morrison held his “I have returned” press conference from this morning.

From my time covering state politics in Queensland, those decisions are usually up to the state government.

Updated at 4.17am GMT

3.45am GMT

You can hear the terror and the frustration in this video.

These fires – they are different. It’s not just authorities saying it. It’s those on the ground, the “quiet Australians” who have lived through previous seasons, but not like this.

Which is why politicians saying they’ve seen smoke haze in Sydney before, or that we’ve always had fires, or quoting Dorothea Mackellar is not good enough, on any measure.

Updated at 3.48am GMT

3.37am GMT

3.35am GMT

NSW police say a man is missing in Lithgow, following a fire.

From AAP: NSW police say a man is missing from the rural village of Bell after a huge bushfire tore through the Lithgow area, destroying dozens of buildings.

The man in his 60 or 70s lives on a remote property in Bell and the area was engulfed in fire on Saturday, NSW police chief inspector Chris Sammut said on Sunday.

Another elderly man who had been missing from neighbouring Dargan has been located “safe and sound”, the Rural Fire Service tweeted on Sunday morning.

He was found at an evacuation centre in Lithgow which was threatened by the huge Gospers Mountain megafire over the weekend.

Sammut said the man who was still unaccounted for lived on one of the remotest properties in Bell.

“He may have self-evacuated or went to stay with friends and we want the public to let us know any information they have to assist us locate this missing person,” he said.

Sammut confirmed up to five properties were burned in Lithgow on Saturday while about 30 buildings were lost in Clarence and Dargan.

Those numbers include sheds and other structures.

About 350 residential homes in Lithgow remained without power on Sunday afternoon.

Updated at 3.39am GMT

3.33am GMT

For those who missed the prime minister’s press conference, here is the beginning, including where he apologises for causing anxiety:

But I am comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here simply so I can be here alongside them as they’re going through this terrible time. And I say to those Australians who I caused upset to, and I apologise for that. It is important I think when you [are] confronted with these things you front up and are honest with people and that is what I am seeking to do now. The time for that discussion is over. We need to focus on what is going out there today.

Updated at 3.39am GMT

3.30am GMT

Bits and pieces are slowly coming out of Balmoral.

Updated at 3.32am GMT

3.28am GMT

Anthony Albanese says he won’t be leaving Australia this summer, and thanked David Littleproud for being “exemplary” in providing the opposition with briefings.

In the briefing that the opposition’s had this morning, there are cooler conditions expected as we’re experiencing today, over the next few days, but north-western Australia is a real issue. And of course, when you have heat, that’s where the heat begins.

And it’s there now and is expected to come across the country to the east coast to the more heavily populated areas over the next week.

Around north Queensland, around Townsville, Mount Isa and in that area, is also being looked at very carefully at the moment.

And people should bear in mind the warnings that are there if they are thinking of going on driving holidays, for example, down the south coast, they need to listen to the expert advice which is there and not take any risks.

The first priority is keeping people safe. And I thank minister Littleproud for the ongoing briefings that he’s provided, and the personal discussions I’ve had with him as well.

Updated at 4.06am GMT

3.24am GMT

Back to Scott Morrison’s decision to leave Australia, Anthony Albanese says:

I wouldn’t have made the decision that he made to go – that is a matter for him and his family circumstances and it is difficult – I haven’t sought during this week to, to pass judgment on that, it’s a matter for his judgment.

He chose to leave.

He chose also to do it in a way that I think created a major issue of secrecy.

This government has a real problem with being accountable with any scrutiny whatsoever, and the circumstances whereby Michael McCormack wouldn’t say whether he was acting prime minister or not, whereby people didn’t know when Scott Morrison was coming back – and even after he said he was coming back, he didn’t come back and wouldn’t tell the media or public when he would be returning.

I just think this government has a problem with scrutiny and openness and it’s on display all the time, over so many issues.

I’ve raised this for a considerable period of time – it is part of Mr Morrison’s character that when asked a question, that’s just a straight question, he dismisses it, or he prevaricates, he speaks about the bubble, or he says it’s just gossip and he won’t provide answers to simple question whether it’s in parliament or from the media.

And I say to the media that they need to hold him to account, and we’ll do our job of holding him to account in the parliament, with a whole range of issues in which he just won’t provide a straight answer.

Updated at 3.32am GMT

3.21am GMT

Anthony Albanese on Scott Morrison’s assertion his government won’t be changing its emissions reduction policy:

Well, I just find it staggering that in the current circumstances, whereby he’s sent Angus Taylor, a discredited minister, who has been misleading parliament since his first speech, to represent our nation at Madrid to try and undermine international action on climate change, including arguing for accountancy tricks rather than lower emissions.

Australians do want action on climate change.

The deputy prime minister yesterday said new measures were needed and a new response – and today, going from the acting prime minister to the real prime minister, we have a dismissal of the need for any action on climate change.

The government needs to listen to the International Energy Agency head, who has said it is time for Australia to get our act together.

And quite clearly, when it comes to climate change, the prime minister’s attitude is there’s nothing to see here.

It’s business as usual.

Well if he thinks there is nothing to see her, it’s because he can’t see through the smoke that’s coming from those bushfires.

Updated at 3.23am GMT

3.18am GMT

Anthony Albanese press conference

Anthony Albanese on Scott Morrison’s return from Hawaii. (Earlier in the week, Albanese said he would not be criticising the PM for taking leave.)

Now I note that today, Scott Morrison has returned from his holiday in Hawaii.

It’s a good thing that he is back.

But we saw today no change in strategy with regard to the bushfires, a Coag meeting to be held next March.

I wrote to the prime minister in November, asking him to convene Coag in November, prior to the emergency levels of the current crisis. And that was dismissed.

We see no change to climate change policy.

And we’ve seen no commitment to provide compensation to our volunteer firefighters who are giving up working and the wages that comes with that in order to help their communities, but they’ve still got to pay the rent, they’re still going to pay their mortgages, they’re still going to buy food for their families, and they are really struggling, they’re fatigued.

And there’s a need for the government to look at making sure that they’re properly compensated.

So they don’t have to choose between whether they continue to help out, or whether they have money to put food on the table for their families.

Updated at 3.34am GMT

3.05am GMT

Australian Associated Press has an update on the South Australian situation:

Smoke from the Adelaide Hills bushfire had dropped the city’s air quality rating to poor.

The Environment Protection Authority says air quality readings are improving but parts of the hills and metropolitan area remain affected by bushfire smoke.

The situation on Sunday was further exacerbated by an early morning temperature inversion layer which kept smoke low to the ground.

The EPA said anyone with health issues or concerns should stay inside with windows and doors closed.

A watch and act warning remains in place for the blaze, with the Country Fire Service reporting some renewed fire activity within the 127km perimeter.

The fire has burnt through more than 25,000 hectares and destroyed at least 15 homes.

Before it was sparked on Friday, the Bureau of Meteorology also reported that smoke from the NSW bushfires had made its way to Adelaide.

Updated at 3.07am GMT

3.00am GMT

Anthony Albanese has just held his press conference in Rozelle.

Unfortunately it hasn’t been broadcast as yet, and I am in Canberra, so I will bring that to you as soon as I can.

Updated at 3.07am GMT

2.45am GMT

We are still waiting on Anthony Albanese’s press conference.

It should be soon.

Updated at 2.48am GMT

2.28am GMT

The smoke has officially made its way north.

Updated at 2.37am GMT

2.20am GMT

2.15am GMT

Which brings Scott Morrison back in to the frame:

I think all Australians, I think, are very proud – I know the commissioner is very proud and the premier is very proud of the services that the lead. But all Australians are extremely proud of what is being done here, and in so many places around the country.

… All Australians are proud and have a great, great reason to be proud.

This is this is Australia at its best, Australia at its best, and we thank them for it.

Updated at 2.21am GMT

2.13am GMT

The commissioner finishes with how proud he is of the fire services:

We’ve seen only tragically this week, the risk is real.

And the consequences can be fatal. And and as a result of the events only this week, there are there are families, there are loved ones, there are wives and there are children and there are mates, who will never be the same again because of the horrendous that unfolded this week.

I could not be any more proud, not just of the extraordinary volunteers that that I have the privilege of being the commissioner for, but the entire coordinated fire response over here in NSW, partnering with the commonwealth,

… It’s a massive, huge logistical operation maintaining and sustaining more than 2,000 people per shift, day and night – the people behind the scenes of people on the front line, I could not be any more proud of the extraordinary efforts and commitment and dedication that we see following rolling out day in day out, and we know that they’re going to be doing it as long as their community and the people of NSW are going to be threatened and, and all we pray for is rain. And unfortunately, we need a lot of rain to start getting some reprieve.

Updated at 2.15am GMT

2.06am GMT

Balmoral fire ‘really confronting to contemplate’

Shane Fitzsimmons on Balmoral:

Unfortunately I don’t have the specific numbers – there are teams in the field today.

But as the premier indicated the team inside there say that it was devastating, and I think I coined the phrase “there’s not a lot left or there’s not much left”, and that’s just really confronting to contemplate and, and whether it’s Balmoral or Buxton … we are talking dozens of properties, dozens of buildings.

As a matter of fact, right across all the far grounds of the last 24 hours, we could be talking about another hundred buildings that being added to the state tally so far this season.

That doesn’t mean there’s 100 homes and we need to make sure we differentiate between buildings, property and homes.

The detailed analysis going on in the field now will seek to differentiate between what is a home, what is a house, what is a shed, and you know, and that takes some time, we need to access these areas.

But the toll is significant.

… There’s a long way to go before we really have an understanding of the magnitude and scale of the the loss and damage here as a result of these fires.

Updated at 2.11am GMT

2.02am GMT

Commissioner Fitzsimmons on what is coming up:

We’ve got to keep in mind that we’re not expecting any rainfall to make any meaningful difference to these fires until January /February. That’s still a way to go. We’re still talking four to six weeks at best before we start to see a meaningful reprieve in the weather, based on the forecast are available.

And then, as the prime minister indicated, we will want to do some very critical post-incident reviews, post-season reviews, gather the information gathered the support from firefighters and communities right across NSW.

That will take some time.

And the last thing we want is ad hocery or, or unnecessary reactiveness so close to the end of this season, and particularly when other states and territories are still going to have challenges heading well and truly into March.

So they will need to be a very concerted effort to consolidate the learnings to ensure that we’re hearing far and wide and formulate that into lessons and proposals in due course but it is certainly something [we] will be very much focused on.

Updated at 2.13am GMT

2.00am GMT

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on that same issue:

Fatigue management, and the drain, the relentless nature of this season is certainly taking a toll and so to is a geographic spread of the activity – you might recall for several months between July and and into September, most of the effort was really concentrated in north-east NSW, we’ve now got fires spreading from north-east NSW and Queensland border down to the south coast of NSW.

Those logistical challenges, those transport and, and accommodation challenges spreading and moving people right across such a broad geographic area all add to the challenges of fatigue and crew rotation.

Underpinning all of this is a combination of members that are in a very strong position, a very ready position to sustain ongoing efforts and support for three days, five days at a time, coming back for rest and doing another three to five days coming back from a rest.

Not everybody can do that. There are also teams that need to maintain a local presence and our local level of fire covering case we get new fires.

And then on days like yesterday, where we saw such a broad area affected by catastrophic forecast and unfolding in the day, devastating fires, we saw a whole, a whole bunch of people in the order of 1,000 people stand up and make themselves available to bolster that effort.

We’ve got another 30 people that the prime minister met this morning in at the state headquarters that have just arrived from Canada and the United States.

We’ve got commitments to see beyond that, from our interstate colleagues, and our overseas colleagues to help us with the fatigue management and the crew rotations and where appropriate, the bolstering of numbers on those difficult days.

It is a tough challenge. It is a difficult challenge, and something that we work very closely on, and we will continue to work very closely on as we see through the balance of this season.

Updated at 2.05am GMT

1.57am GMT

Scott Morrison on the fatigue volunteers are facing:

It’s obviously one of the many significant issues that the commissioner manages with this incredible volunteer fighting force that is out there.

But I gotta tell you, one of the things that commissioner told me this morning just, again, just impressed me so much is when a call went out yesterday for extra hands. An extra thousand firefighters showed up in response to that call. A thousand.

That is just incredible. People know what’s at stake and they’re all making their contribution.

Updated at 2.05am GMT

1.56am GMT

Scott Morrison on the scheduled March Coag:

Well, the immediate needs as I said this morning, simply require the requests to come forward as they do through the regular meetings that are held of the fire chiefs and commissioners.

The ministers responsible … they only met a few weeks ago. And what we need to do in March is to ensure that we deal with the recommendations that come out from many of the lessons that have come through these fires not just here in NSW, but in other states and territories as well that have been affected.

And we look forward to receiving those proposals then, right now they are fighting fires, and we don’t want them sitting around writing submissions.

We want them [to] obviously be focused on the operational tasks they have in front of them.

Coag has been very busy over the back end of this year, particularly dealing with a lot of the environmental issues that we’ve been working on and waste management which I thank the premier for her support on and will be considering those proposals.

A lot of the ministers have been meeting through their various councils in recent weeks and months.

And that means there will be a really good body of work that comes forward to character in March which will be in NSW and it’ll be in Rooty Hill. And I’m looking forward to bring out their their wonderful new facility out there in Rooty Hill.

Updated at 2.00am GMT

1.39am GMT

From Australian Associated Press:

More than 3,000 properties in the Adelaide Hills remain without power as a result of the devastating bushfire that swept through the region and continues to burn.

SA Power Networks says crews are working in a number of areas to restore electricity supply.

But it says the timeframe to have all power restored is unclear, and in some cases it could take several days depending on access and the extent of the damage.

The company said it had already identified a number of spots where trees had fallen on powerlines.

“Anyone in fire-damaged areas is urged to keep clear of power poles and wires as there may still be some that haven’t been inspected,” it said.

Among those without electricity are properties in Woodside, Lenswood, Mt Torrens, Charleston and Lobethal.

The Adelaide Hills fire has so far burnt out more than 25,000 hectares inside a 127km perimeter.

A watch and act warning remains in place for the blaze which has destroyed at least 15 homes.

Updated at 1.46am GMT

1.23am GMT

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says fire authorities don’t expect any real relief in terms of conditions until well into January.

1.21am GMT

‘There isn’t much left in Balmoral,’ NSW premier says

Gladys Berejiklian:

Question: There’s been concern in Balmoral specifically about when people will be able to get back in and see whether or not their home is still standing?

Berejiklian:

Look, it’s devastating not knowing whether your property is standing or not.

Unfortunately, we have received bad news. There isn’t much left [in Balmoral].

I might ask the commissioner to add to my comments. I understand expert teams are going in on the ground in a lot of those communities today, to make full assessments and to let people know when it is safe to go back.

Even if people have lost their properties, they still want to go back to see what’s left and if there is anything they can salvage.

We know that’s part of the recovery.

We want people to have access to their land, to their property, as soon as they can, but it has to be safe.

Updated at 1.39am GMT

1.19am GMT

Scott Morrison:

As the premier has just said, the category C assistance is being extended to the Wollondilly shire.

That, as the premier said, includes payments for small producers and businesses of up to ,000 and includes things like mental health support and small grants to communities in both shires to help them rebuild particularly with community resilience programs and things of that nature coming out of that fund.

That support is going to over – around 40 local government areas around NSW at the moment. It’s the same sort of support that’s been provided in many other parts, say, of Queensland where they have had the fires as well in recent times.

These programs are designed to help people with their immediate needs.

The premier and I have agreed also this morning that those ,000 disaster assistance recovery payments that are paid to – for each individual and the 0 that are paid for each and – each child, in a family, that will be extended to the shire as well.

It is already in place for Wollondilly. Those arrangements will be put in place today. These things are done as a partnership.

This is the best coordinated, the best resourced, the biggest-hearted response that I think we’ve seen once again here from our response to these terrible disasters.

It is something, I think, Australians – as I said earlier today – can be be enormously proud of, seeing their country at their best.

That is what we have to keep focused on – allowing Australians to continue to be at their best, supporting them as they get tired and ensure that we can continue to roll out what has been an extraordinary performance from all of those who have been involved.

Updated at 1.24am GMT

1.18am GMT

Scott Morrison is called to the front – he starts with a repeated call for “kindness”:

It is great to be here with you of course, your colleagues, and Angus Taylor, the local member, and Commissioner Fitzsimmons.

Thank you, again, for the tremendous job you’re doing with all of your team – all around New South Wales.

As the premier said, it is humbling as you come and speak to families and individuals, you speak to volunteers, and you see the best of Australia on every single occasion.

That’s what we’re seeing here again today.

Friendships, neighbours looking after each other, simple kindnesses that are being extended.

I met one wonderful, wonderful lady today from Malta. She was there with another lady, a single lady, who was finding it tough. She was looking after her. She was making sure that she gets back to her property today. She’s holding her hand. That’s what she’s doing.

And this is the – these are the – this is the grace, this is the kindness, that events like this need and that’s what’s being displayed here on the ground.

That will continue. Not just through the ordinary everyday things that are done by members of the community off their own bat, but also by the many volunteers.

We rightfully praise those in the RFS, but equally today we met with members of St John’s Ambulance, the State Emergency Service – those who are looking after the care and welfare of animals, and others – there are so many people who stick up their hands in these times.

We thank them very, very much for everything they are doing.

Updated at 1.27am GMT

1.16am GMT

Berejiklian finishes with this:

The devastation is shocking. I have also been just literally bowled by the way the community’s come together, the resilience and people’s generosity.

People with not much are giving away everything they have to support others. And it’s times like these when you really appreciate what New South Wales and what Australia’s about.

1.15am GMT

Gladys Berejiklian:

So, as you know, we announced joint funding and now that joint funding is in excess of m across the state and extends to a dozen councils.

These two are now part of that.

… I also want to stress – I have mentioned this to the mayor who is here today – that m is on top of the m the New South Wales government’s already set aside to get rid of hazardous materials and just to start the clean up.

For some families, some families will be given notification they can go back to their properties, perhaps today, tomorrow.

Other families have to wait. We want to make sure – no matter what people’s circumstances – just the hope of being able to move forward is so important.

If we pick up the tab – sometimes it costs thousands of dollars – to get the hazardous materials off the property, whether you are insured or not insured, the state government is picking up that cost to get on with rebuilding as soon as you’re physically and emotionally ready to start the rebuilding process.

As I’ve said, we’re not just here today and tomorrow but we will be with you for the weeks and months and for some communities years.

Updated at 1.22am GMT

1.13am GMT

Gladys Berejiklian is addressing the media – she is formally announcing the additional areas who can now access the disaster relief funding.

Updated at 1.22am GMT

1.09am GMT

Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian have arrived at one of the Green Wattle creek fire evacuation centres – the Picton Bowling Club.

About a dozen people had stayed there last night.

Updated at 1.10am GMT

1.06am GMT

If you haven’t seen it, Lenore Taylor has written on what she took out of Scott Morrison’s press conference. A taste:

This isn’t about an adjustment to your language, it requires an adjustment to your policy, it requires a credible policy, the kind of policy we know could benefit us economically, that business is begging you to enact so that they can invest. And we know that would mean we could fight for effective international action rather than continue to act as a hindrance.

We know we can’t solve the heating that is exacerbating this crisis on our own, so please don’t insult our intelligence again with that “1.3% of global emissions” argument like you did at the start of this fire season. Given the consequences we are suffering, we should be doing everything we can, and we know that we are not.

You’ve just kept pretending.

You’ll find the whole thing here:

Updated at 1.08am GMT

1.04am GMT

Two more areas have been given access to disaster recovery funding. From the release:

The commonwealth and NSW governments are providing another .5m to extend the community recovery assistance program under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) to the Wingecarribee and Wollondilly LGAs.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said this additional funding brings the total federal-state recovery fund to more than m.

“Having witnessed first-hand the devastation these bushfires have inflicted on locals and their communities it is vital the government act right away to provide assistance as quickly as possible,” Berejiklian said.

“We have already made available support for people who are suffering personal hardship; help for people whose homes have been damaged; funding for firefighting operations and to restore damaged essential public assets; and financial support for small businesses, primary producers and non-profit organisations.

“Importantly, we are also supporting these communities to become more resilient to disasters by extending the NSW Bushfires Economic Recovery and Community Resilience Grants Program.”

Updated at 1.09am GMT

12.36am GMT

12.35am GMT

12.28am GMT

The ACCC has responded to the National Electricity Market price report – and it is not as rosy as Angus Taylor made out.

From the ACCC public media release:

The average annual bill for households in the National Electricity Market fell in 2018–19 compared with the previous year, by or 4%, the latest ACCC electricity markets report has found.

But while average household bills fell to 09 in 2018–19, households were still paying about 20% (4) more than in 2007–08, and the average price for a unit of electricity drawn from the grid was about 45% higher in real terms.

“There is still work to be done to make electricity more affordable for households,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“We continue to seek action on our previous recommendations, which we believe will help drive bills down.”

Further action on environmental scheme costs needed

Environmental costs have been the biggest driving factor behind the increase in average household bills over the longer term, due to federal and state government policies aimed at encouraging greater uptake of renewable generation, promoting energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. Customers with solar panels made up about 16% of all residential customers in the National Electricity Market (NEM) in 2018-19, compared to 0.2 per cent in 2007-08.

Many of these policies, such as premium Feed-in Tariff (FiT) rebates, result in additional costs for retailers that ultimately flow through to customers’ electricity bills, unless funded through other means. The costs of such schemes accounted for 3 or 41% of the long-term increase in household bills between 2007–08 and 2018–19.

…For example, the average household pays about 0 a year (or 9.4 cents per kWh) more than a household with solar panels, a situation the ACCC believes raises significant questions about fairness.

“The cost of installing solar panels has reduced significantly in recent years, so environmental schemes like the premium FiT rebates are no longer needed to make solar an attractive option for those households that can afford it,” Sims said.

Indeed, all customers who can, should consider how much they could save by installing solar panels.

“We are primarily concerned about the additional costs such schemes have imposed on households that cannot access or afford to install solar panels,” Sims said.

“Funding environmental schemes through government budgets rather than through increased electricity charges should also be considered as a more equitable option.”

Updated at 12.32am GMT

12.25am GMT

A very welcome piece of good news from the NSW RFS – a missing man has been found, safe.

Updated at 12.26am GMT

12.19am GMT

Scott Morrison is still making his way to an evacuation centre in Picton

12.18am GMT

South Australia fire update

Royce Kurmelovs has provided an update on the South Australian fires for us:

Adelaide has woken up to the smell of smoke as a haze lingers over the city from fires burning in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island in the south, but the South Australian CFS says it is hopeful they will have a handle on the situation in the coming days.

While the CFS is not confident enough to issue a statement on containment, cool conditions overnight have allowed fire crews to get on the front foot, with back-burning operations currently being performed in an effort to contain the Cudlee Creek fires in the northwest.

So far the blaze in that area has consumed over 25,000 hectares, destroyed homes and properties, injured lifestock and native wildlife. Two people have been confirmed dead within South Australia during the bushfires, and 26 CFS volunteers injured battling the blaze.

Road blocks remain in effect areas as fire crews are working to manage hotspots along the perimeter and are wary of flare ups in the coming week. The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast temperatures in the 30’s in South Australia, with the mercury to climb as the days wind out.

Elsewhere, the “complex” series of fires on Kangaroo Island has been downgraded and is being treated as two separate fire fronts with 50 firefighters currently on the scene.

A spokesperson for the CFS said mop-up operations are expected to continue.

“We’ll have fire crews on the firegrounds for quite some time. Even if we do get it contained, there’ll be fire crews out there checking the ground doing mop up for a few days yet.”


12.17am GMT

I’ve just been alerted to Scott Morrison addressing the US and Canadian fire fighters at the Sydney RFS headquarters, which was shown on Sunrise (which is why I missed it the first time).

He cracked a joke about Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Let’s hope he is talking about Trudeau’s love of a selfie, given the circumstances.:

We value the same things, we share the same values, that we will be will all be doing, over this period time – I will be making sure to pass on my personal thanks to prime minister Trudeau and president Trump later today. I’ll get a pic and send it to them – I know Justin like his pictures. (There is laughter.)

I’m not teasing him, I promise. We’ve often done that together, when we’ve been together.

Updated at 12.23am GMT

12.03am GMT

The Grose Valley fire has been raised to “emergency”.

Updated at 12.11am GMT

12.03am GMT

The smoke haze has hit Brisbane.

Updated at 12.11am GMT

11.44pm GMT

Where the fires are at right now

As of 10:30am AEDT, here’s what we know the fire situation is across Australia at the moment.

  • In New South Wales there are five fires at watch and act level: Gospers Mountain fire, Green Wattle Creek, Grose Valley, Kerry Ridge, and Upper Turon Rd, Palmers Oaky.
  • In Victoria there are three fires at watch and act level: Tambo Crossing and Wattle Creek, Ensay and Reedy Flat and Brookville.
  • In South Australia there are still two fires burning at Duncan and Menzies on Kangaroo Island, and a watch and act in place for a fire in Cudlee Creek.

The weather conditions are a bit milder than yesterday, and there’s no emergency warnings currently in place, but we will update if that changes over the course of the day.

Updated at 12.12am GMT

11.36pm GMT

Just before Scott Morrison’s press conference, RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons* gave an update on the NSW fires:

We have still got an enormous amount of fire burning in the landscape. Conditions are particularly dry and fire behaviour continues to be very challenging for firefighters and those areas affected by fire.

A big focus this week, a significant focus this week, and starting today is the implications now for the entire Blue Mountains community along the Great Western Highway.

We effectively got fire now stretching from the Darling Causeway, Lithgow area, in the western areas of the or the upper Blue Mountains, and only four, 4, 5km north of the Great Western Highway spreading all the way down to Currajong Heights, that’s due north Winmalee, Springwood, which is not far the Penrith escarpment and region.

We have seen widespread damage and destruction being reported across a number of those fire grounds and we have got impact assessment teams already deployed into the field this morning trying to gain access to those impacted fire grounds to do assessments and undertake surveys in order to identify the extent of damage and the extent of destruction.

As we indicated last night, the reports are still indicating that we are expecting another heavy toll, unfortunately, with estimates that property loss could be in the dozens of – of buildings including homes, outbuildings, sheds and businesses.

That damage and destruction effectively ranges from places like Lithgow, Clarence, Dargan, Bilpin, all along the Bells Line of Road, we got places down around Balmoral and out towards Buxton and Bargo down on the Green Wattle Creek fire.

We have also got down the Currowan fire south, up in the north-west corner of that, the communities of Neriga. There’s a very wide area of impact overnight and those assessments will be undertaken.

*apologies for the typo in the original post

Updated at 12.25am GMT

11.33pm GMT

11.23pm GMT

Anthony Albanese will be up at 1pm.

I imagine he wants Scott Morrison’s press conference to sit and marinate for a while, before he adds his two cents, given you know, the prime minister wants us all to be kinder to each other, and leave any division to the side – unless of course, you need to make your own political point.

For example:

Scott Morrison at the beginning of the press conference:

It is time to be kind to each other. This is not a time for division, it is not a time for argument, it is not a time for partisanship, not a time for point scoring. It is a time to support people who have an important job to do, to give them the space and time, to give them the support they need.

Scott Morrison half way through the press conference:

I know there are some who tried to make political points and score points over these issues in the midst of these disasters and that is disappointing.

I will do what I said I would do because that is how I am with the Australian people. I said we will meet our 26% emission reduction target.

Emissions under this government are on average 50 million tons less than they were under the previous government.

Emissions have fallen over the last two years. Emissions are lower than at any time they were under the previous government.

We have had record investment in renewables in Australia and now, thankfully, as a result of policies the government has put in place if we are also getting electricity prices down, some a year.

And on top of that we are doing it without embracing the reckless job destroying and economy crunching targets that others are seeking to force upon us. I don’t think that is a balanced approach.

We will take a responsible approach to taking action on climate change.

Updated at 11.29pm GMT

11.21pm GMT

This ‘debate’ if you can call it that, given Chris Smith seems to have decided his job, now that he is returning to Sydney radio 2GB is just to yell over anyone who has a different view, or you know, the facts, sums up most of the country right now:

11.12pm GMT

Angus Taylor has also decided right now is the perfect time to put out a release on electricity prices coming down:

Residential electricity bills are coming down according to the latest Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Inquiry into the National Electricity Market report.

The November 2019 report found:

    • a reduction in the average residential electricity retail price across the National Electricity Market (NEM) from FY2017-18 to 2018-19 of approximately 3 per cent,
    • average annual residential electricity bills across the NEM have decreased by , or approximately 4 per cent,
    • the most recent annual reduction in household bills of is part of a longer-term trend that has seen bills fall by 9 in real terms since 2013-14, and
    • average household bills across the NEM are at their lowest since 2013-14.

(Which we knew they would, because a butt load of renewables have come onto the grid, which was anticipated for quite some time)

10.58pm GMT

So to quickly recap that press conference:

Scott Morrison defended leaving the country to take a holiday (which he said he planned six weeks ago), having “made a promise to my kids” but said in hindsight, he would have made a different decision. (Morrison was due to return to work, as scheduled, tomorrow, December 23, according to what his office told the New Daily’s Samantha Maiden last week).

I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your children you try and keep it, but as prime minister you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism and that is why Jenny and I agreed it was important that I returned, particularly after the tragedies we saw late this week.

I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress.

They know that I will not stand there and hold a hose. I am not a trained firefighter nor am I an expert like those in the next room doing an amazing job.

But I am comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here simply so I can be here alongside them as they go through this terrible time.

He has “learnt lessons” including about how his office dealt with the media:

I understand there is media interest in the engagement of briefings between my office and the gallery and those sorts of things, I get that. There have been lessons learned this week and they will be imported and included next time.

After pointing back to the one comment he made in February linking climate change to worsening disasters “among other factors” for the majority of this (early) bushfire season, Morrison made an explicit point of joining the dots

There is no argument, in my view, or the view of the government, and any government in the country, about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world – but I’m sure people would equally acknowledge the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion to make that link.

But there will be NO change to Australia’s emissions reduction policy under his government.

People can expect my government to do what it promised to do, what it took to the last election. I know there are some who tried to make political points and score points over these issues in the midst of these disasters and that is disappointing. I will do what I said I would do because that is how I am with the Australian people. I said we will meet our 26% emission reduction target.

Morrison also believes the time to talk about his holiday is in the past, and the time to talk about climate change is not now.

This is not a time for division, it is not a time for argument, it is not a time for partisanship, not a time for point scoring.

It is a time to support people who have an important job to do, to give them the space and time, to give them the support they need.

… Australians know we need to rally together. The time for argument is not now. It is not to say there is no time to talk about climate change, of course there is and we are talking about it.

But let’s do it in a way that does not distract from the very immediate need of protecting people’s lives, protecting their property, honouring those who are out there doing everything they can.

And so I simply ask people, particularly this Christmas time, to reflect on that, to come together to support each other and to focus on the things we need to do now and on the other side of these fires, Australia will prevail. We always will.

Updated at 11.11pm GMT

10.45pm GMT

On whether he believes he has shown leadership, Scott Morrison says:

This has been going on for a long time, since September, and on each occasion I have been here, whether it is in Taree or out at Wilberforce a couple of weeks ago.

Not on all occasions have I gone and been there with a travelling media team.

I have been there on occasions just in a low-key way, talking to those in incident control rooms, and it would seem that whether it is myself or others there will always be criticism made but what I have confidence in and have always had confidence in is in the fair mindedness of the Australian people.

As I said for I take responsibility for my own decisions and I take responsibility for those I made in relation to my family and, more broadly, in terms of my leadership responsibility for the nation and that is why I am here.

Updated at 10.56pm GMT

10.44pm GMT

On Labor’s proposal for tax breaks for volunteer firefighters who are unable to work while they deal with the bushfire emergency:

Q: Labor wants compensation for volunteer firefighters. Is that something you are considering?

Scott Morrison:

I don’t know what the specific proposal being proposed …

I will take that where it is.

But these are things that the government has been considering, in the first instance these are matters for state governments. The RFS and the fire services around Australia are run by state governments so it is not for the commonwealth to step in and make decisions.

But these are things that I think can be contemplated.

But I very much want to do that in consultation with state and territory governments.

As I said to the commissioner today, whatever they need, whatever they think they need to bolster support, sustain the operations that they are running, they simply need to ask.

And they will get that support.

I think there are immediate issues that need to be addressed there with the rural firefighters, particularly as they get into areas of terrible fatigue now.

… They have been fighting fires for a while now and they are still going. Thankfully, as I was briefed this morning, those parts of the state are more under today than they were when I was there not that long ago.

But these are the many issues that I think we need to understand. Let’s not forget, there are 210,000 rural firefighters around the country, and there are thousands of surf-lifesavers who will be patrolling our beaches, those who are volunteering on meals on wheels and carers and others.

Australia is a magnificent country because it does have that volunteer spirit. And Australia relies on them and they should be celebrated and we do so.

And where there are ways that we can further support that volunteer effort, we are very open to considering this.

Let me say one thing, all our firefighters are professionals. They are all professional at what they do.

They are well-trained and they are very good at what they do. One of the things we focused on this morning was ensuring how we can better supplement the clearing work and the other things that need to be done in those areas that have been ravaged by fires and ensure that we can get even more prompt defence support into those arrangements.

There has been defence liaisons in these … there has been in Queensland other places, and I am sure we can get some … at local level as well through the state government.

The defence forces being deployed in those, defence force members who are firefighters, are out there fighting fires, just like any other employee would be.

They are not in their platoons, they are in their brigades.

Updated at 11.02pm GMT

10.40pm GMT

Scott Morrison on why the government is not considering changing its climate change policy:

The Kyoto targets set by the previous Labor government, when we came to government, there was the projection that we would miss those by some 700 million tonnes.

Now we’re going to beat them … And I would hope that not only will we meet, and I’m sure we will, our Paris commitments, that we will beat them as well.

And there is a long time between now and 2030 and we will continue to refine our policies because we’re about taking action.

But what we will not do is act in a knee-jerk or crisis or panicked mode. A panic approach and response to anything does not help.

It puts people at risk. Not just their livelihood but if you walk out there into the control room you will not see people panicking, you will see people be very professional, very focused on the job they have, talking to each other in a very professional way and getting the job done.

Government is the same thing. Whether it is taking action on climate change or ensuring that, as the midyear economic statement shows, that the government is on track to achieve a surplus or the further job creation that is all over the last week.

Over 100,000 jobs created since last election.

You get these results by being calm and by being stable.

And having clear goals and having the policies in place to achieve them. Whether that is on taking action on climate change or job creation or ensuring that we get the welfare system targeted to support those who need it most or dealing with the environmental challenges of waste management and plastics and any of these issues, mental health issues, the government is addressing them.

On all these issues the government has clear plans and a clear approach to deal with them and is doing it in a very patient and in a very applied and professional way.

Updated at 11.16pm GMT

10.38pm GMT

No change in climate policy – Morrison

We get back to climate policy – there will be NO change.

Q: The government has been criticised for using carryover credits. Going forward after these fires, how can your government provide a more genuine commitment to making Australia a responsible global actor when it comes to reducing carbon emissions?

Scott Morrison:

People can expect my government to do what it promised to do, what it took to the last election. I know there are some who tried to make political points and score points over these issues in the midst of these disasters and that is disappointing.

I will do what I said I would do because that is how I am with the Australian people. I said we will meet our 26% emission reduction target.

Emissions under this government are on average 50 million tonnes less than they were under the previous government.

Emissions have fallen over the last two years. Emissions are lower than at any time they were under the previous government.

We have had record investment in renewables in Australia and now, thankfully, as a result of policies the government has put in place we are also getting electricity prices down, some a year.

And on top of that we are doing it without embracing the reckless job destroying and economy crunching targets that others are seeking to force upon us.

I don’t think that is a balanced approach. We will take a responsible approach to taking action on climate change.

We are taking action and we will continue to take action. We are part of a global action on the commitments we have made, we are meeting.

We are meeting and we are beating. So I do not accept the suggestion that Australia is not carrying its weight. We are carrying our weight.

We are meeting and beating our target and there are very few countries who can say that.

Q: You said you have learned some lessons from this past week. What are they?

Morrison: I think I have already outlined that in my earlier remarks.

Updated at 10.41pm GMT

10.34pm GMT

Question: You were critical of the Victorian police commissioner when she went to dinner during the Black Saturday bushfires.

Scott Morrison:

I have already made a number of comments today, as you know, where I think I have held myself to that same standard.

Equally I would note that I am not the operational leader of an emergency service or police force. I am the prime minister. And as prime minister I was kept regularly and sought to be kept regularly updated on the events.

The acting prime minister was in full control of what was it occurring ably supported by Minister Littleproud.

The premier was leading, obviously the governments of the operational response here in New South Wales, and I have been in contact with the premier [regularly] on these arrangements …were in place to ensure that I could continue to do and fulfil my responsibilities, but I understand and the reason I have returned is out of a deep respect and sympathy for those Australians who were tragically killed a few nights ago.

That demanded my attendance here, I believe, out of simply respect and sympathy for them and what they were going through and that is why I have been pleased to return.

That is a decision that Jenny [and I made] and we told the kids about it and Australians are fair-minded.

They know at the end of a difficult year people go on leave and they know that when a dad makes a promise to the kids they like to keep it.

And events late last week are not where they were today so I think it would be unfair to say the events in very recent days were the same as a week or so ago.

Nevertheless, I understand the anxiety and my people have been upset at this and that is why I am pleased to be back.

Updated at 10.40pm GMT

10.32pm GMT

This is not exactly a glowing defence of the deputy prime minister.

Q: Why were questions referred to your office; why couldn’t McCormack simply say he was acting?

Morrison:

These are not the matters I am focused on now, I will leave those matters for others.

Australians are worried about the fires and the support necessary to support those out there today.

I understand there is media interest in the engagement of briefings between my office and the gallery and those sorts of things, I get that.

There have been lessons learned this week and they will be imported and included next time.

Updated at 11.17pm GMT

10.31pm GMT

Question: But you knew about these catastrophic fire conditions. Are you sorry to the residents?

Morrison: I already said that. I already said it.

Q: Do you believe that the release of the information about this was handled poorly and the public needed to know?

Morrison: The deputy minister was the acting prime minister and each time I have taken private family leave as prime minister I followed exactly the same process. There was no change.

On my earlier leaves no statement was issued. I took private family leave and no objections were raised by the press on those occasions but it is something we will rectify.

(No one knew he was leaving the country).

Updated at 11.18pm GMT

10.30pm GMT

Question: Where have you been and why the secrecy?

Scott Morrison: I was in Hawaii, a trip with my family, a trip planned seven weeks ago and when I take family leave, it is a private family time.

10.29pm GMT

And then the prime minister asks us to all be kind to each other:

Let me finish by saying this, and I apologise for the lengthy nature of my remarks this morning, it is time to be kind to each other.

This is not a time for division, it is not a time for argument, it is not a time for partisanship, not a time for point scoring.

It is a time to support people who have an important job to do, to give them the space and time, to give them the support they need.

If people have something they want to contribute, that is fantastic and I want to thank all those who turned up to fire stations and made donations and you may want to think of dropping off some toys for the children of the firefighters who may not have had time to go out and buy some this Christmas because they have been too busy.

These are things that people can do constructively. Australians, we need to rally together.

The time for argument is not now. It is not to say there is no time to talk about climate change, of course there is and we are talking about it.

But let’s do it in a way that does not distract from the very immediate need of detecting people’s lives, protecting their property, honouring those who are out there doing everything they can.

And so I simply ask people, particularly this Christmas time, to reflect on that, to come together to support each other and to focus on the things we need to do now and on the other side of these fires, Australia will prevail. We always will.

Australia is the most amazing country on earth.

How do I know that?

Because I see what is happening out there right now on those fire front and in the communities that have suffered terrible loss.

That is why Australia is the best country in the world and that is the country I am proud to lead.

know we all support in the cause which we all rally now and focus on supporting efforts of Australians.

10.27pm GMT

Scott Morrison says he believes Australians are “fair minded” and will understand why he took his holiday.

Two other points. I have returned from leave and I know that has caused some great anxiety in Australia and Jenny and I acknowledge that. If we had your time over again and the benefit of hindsight we would have made different decisions.

I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your children you try and keep it that as Prime Minister you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism and that is why Jenny and I agreed it was important that I returned, particularly after the tragedies we saw late this week. I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress.

They know that I will not stand there and hold a hose. I am not a trained firefighter nor am I an expert like those in the next room doing an amazing job.

But I am comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here simply so I can be here alongside them as they go through this terrible time.

And so to those Australians who had [cause for upset] and I apologise for that.

I think it is important when you confronted with these things you front up and are honest with people and that is what I am seeking to do now.

The time for that discussion is over. We need to focus on what is going out there today.

Updated at 10.28pm GMT

10.25pm GMT

And then we move on to power prices:

We must take action on climate change and we are taking action on climate change. At the last election I said we would, I said we would meet and beat our Kyoto targets, I said we would meet our Paris commitments at a canter and we will.

We welcome the record investment in renewable energy technologies and at the same time we welcome the fact we pursue our climate policies while getting electricity prices down as the ACCC noted today with a reduction as a direct result of the policies in place to get power bills under control in this country.

And we will do it without destroying the economy or jobs. We will do it with sensible target to get the balance right.

That is what I promised Australians when we went to the last election and that is what I am committed to doing.

We are not going to beat our Paris target “in a canter”. Emissions are still rising in Australia and have every year since 2014, when the carbon charge was scrapped by the Coalition.

10.23pm GMT

Scott Morrison on the climate change link debate:

I appreciate that when things get as anxious as they have become, then people will think, you know, what’s been prepared? Is anything happens?

Or have they thought of this? I understand that those anxieties are positively meant and are natural.

But I want to reassure you that this- our officials, our commissioners, our firefighters, both those professionals who are paid and those who are unpaid, they are doing this year-round to prepare for events just like this.

And that is why this response is something where we’re seeing the best of Australia, not the contrary. Flowing on from that public anxiety, there is also been other issues that have been raised, not just about the response and the resources which I think I have addressed, but also around issues of climate policy.

It is also been the case – our Government has always and I have always acknowledged the connection between these weather events and these broader fire events and the impacts globally of climate change.

It’s one of many factors as I have said. The drought conditions have certainly been a big contributor in terms of the dryness of the fuel load.

There are also many other issues as you would be well aware and they’ll all come under scrutiny as we prepare for what needs to happen next time – issues of management in national parks of fuel loads, issues of back-burning and managing native vegetation and building codes and all of these sorts of things, ensuring our communications programs are important.

I mean, there are some fires that have been started by just carelessness. Others sadly have been the result of direct arson. Many have been created by dry lightning strikes.

And understanding all of that it will be important as we move through to the next phase.

There is no argument, in my view on the view of the government, and any government in the country, about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world but I’m sure people would equally acknowledge the direct connection to any single fire event is not a credible suggestion to make that link.

10.21pm GMT

He moves on to the anxiety he says he sees the community dealing with:

In talking to the Commissioner, I want to acknowledge what he has acknowledged – and that is as we face these fires at the moment, I want to assure Australians of this because I know people are anxious and I know people in some places are rightly fearful of what is literally at their door, and the haze and the smoke and all of these things heighten that anxiety as you think about your kids and your family and your can see the red tinge at night if you’re close enough, but our fire services in Australia are the best in the world.

The response to these disasters, these fires, is the best in the world.

This is a time when Australia should be very, very proud that we have the best-resourced, most-coordinated, best-equipped fire services of any nation on earth to deal with this.

And that’s because as a country, we’re used to dealing with fires – admittedly and very rightly this season is much more lengthened and started a lot earlier and there isn’t the respite rains that we can expect any time soon and that is making this season harder than we have seen in a long time.

But it is also true that after every fire, we sit down, we learn the lessons and we make sure we’re better prepared next time and that’s what’s happened on this occasion.

The coordination is seamless between not only the states and the Commonwealth, but between the states and overseas jurisdictions as well.

Our defence forces are deploying wherever they’re called upon and particularly now as you look at the burnt-out vast territories across particularly here in New South Wales, but in other states as well, there is wreckage to clear, there are trees to remove, there is access that needs to be provided to people’s properties and businesses and homes, and that’s the work that our defence forces can, are and will continue to play and they have been doing it since September – airlifting, ensuring they’re providing night flights for recognisance, and providing that heavy support that is backing in and complementing the amazing work of our firefighters.

There’s some 70,000 firefighters here in New South Wales alone. That’s bigger than the entire of our defence forces and reserves.

So we’re talking about an enormous force that has drawn together here in New South Wales and that’s about a third of the national force. So they will continue to get everything that they need and I have run through some matters this morning with the Commissioner and I have been speaking to the Premier as well – there will be a COAG meeting in March and at that meeting, as always, I have already put on the agenda the response capabilities for future disasters and lessons, of course, will be learned by these responses but I do know the response you’re seeing right now is informed by how this work has gone on each and everyday since the last fire.

I mean, emergency management Australia which is the Commonwealth agency responsible for our engagement, both in drawing in the ADF and the other systems of support, including the important income support, later today I’ll be announcing with the Premier further disaster assistance payments into new areas of affected areas as three payments have been rolling out.

10.17pm GMT

Scott Morrison moves into addressing the issues which have exploded since he left on his holiday:

There are over 100 fires active in New South Wales today and many of those are quite serious, but I do remind people that there are also severe fires in South Australia and in Victoria.

I spoke to the South Australian Premier last night when I arrived back in Australia to get an update and there’s been loss of life there and there are fears for others.

We have heard further news this morning of people missing, an individual missing out in Lithgow where the fires also have raged overnight.

No-one wants to be out there fighting these fires, no-one wants these fires to be happening at this time.

But when those fires do occur, as they have for a very long time in this country, then those who have – there’s over 200,000 of them in Australia – who have signed up and put their hand up to be there to defend their communities, then they go out and they do this work and they do it on behalf of all of us and they’re getting tired and they’re getting fatigued because this has been going for a very long time and this is one of the key issues I have been in discussion with the Commissioner about thismorning and also with the Premier and I know that Minister Littleproud, who joins me here and I thank him for that, David, and the work you have been doing, and the Deputy Prime Minister during my absence, we will continue to look at all of these issues as we go forward. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service and all the fire services across Australia will continue to get everything they need from the Commonwealth.

As you know, the operational response to these disasters is delivered and is run at a state level, but with great Commonwealth support.

10.15pm GMT

Scott Morrison continues:

A few months ago I was up in Canungra when the first of these dreadful fires started to appear.

…When we got out to Wilberforce just a few weeks ago up in Queensland and here we are again today following the terrible tragedy that occurred earlier this week.

Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton. Their families, Lisa and their little daughter Charlotte, 19 months. Jessica and their 19-month-old son, Harvey.

When our volunteers go out there, they do it for so many reasons, but I can’t help but thinking that one of the most important things that inspires them is their love of family – family is community and they’re out there defending their community on that fateful night.

And Jenny and I my heart broke when he heard of their terrible loss and their great sacrifice and I just want to extend to them our great sympathies, our love and support.

They’re getting tremendous support from their Rural Fire Service family out there at Horsley Park and from the broader families of the firefighting communities around the country.

What we, the rest of us, can offer them is our honour, our acknowledgment, and our respect for what they have done for all of us.

10.09pm GMT

Scott Morrison addresses the media

Scott Morrison:

…Men and women who are out there today here in New South Wales who were out there yesterday, the thousands of men and women around Australia, not just here in New South Wales, up in Queensland, down in South Australia where it’s also been a difficult week, down in Victoria, all those that have come from other states – Tassie, the west, the ACT, up in the Territory.

I want to thank those who have come from overseas – the Americans, the Canadians, our Kiwi cousins, those who have come to support us in this hour of need.

I particularly want to thank Commissioner Fitzsimmons and the amazing team he leads here in New South Wales and for the opportunity to be briefed this morning.

I want to commend the Premier, who I have been speaking to over the course of the last week, and for the tremendous job she’s been doing with her team here in New South Wales to respond to this disaster, this threat, that is ongoing and has been going for many, many months now.

Updated at 12.04am GMT

10.06pm GMT

The prime minster is now addressing the media.

10.06pm GMT

If you can, you should watch this with the sound on. The firefighters all remain so calm, despite what they are facing. The “got this” at the end just sums up everything about how our volunteers are handling this.

10.00pm GMT

The prime minister will head to Picton after the Sydney RFS briefing, to meet with evacuees.

9.58pm GMT

Here is what the government has spent:

Australia’s aerial firefighting force has been given an m funding injection from the Morrison government amid growing concern about the resourcing of firefighters combating the bushfire crisis.

On Thursday the federal government announced it would nearly double the commonwealth’s annual contribution to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which coordinated the 140 aircraft used to battle fires across Australia.

“In response to the request from our national fire chiefs we’re backing our firefighters and our water-bombing fleet with an extra m boost,” the prime minister, Scott Morrison said in a statement.

“That’s on top of the m we already deliver each year for aerial firefighting to tackle what has already been a devastating fire season.”

9.57pm GMT

9.57pm GMT

There is a lot of commentary over how prepared Australia was for this bushfire season. The fire authorities said they did all the preparations they could – including hazard reduction burns, but the group of former fire chiefs who came to prominence at the beginning of this season (which started early) said they wanted to talk about how to prepare for this new normal.

Paul Karp has found Labor’s bushfire policy from the election, given this debate.

The bushfire season in Australia is lengthening and already overlapping with the northern hemisphere, increasing the risk that we won’t be able to access the aircraft we need at times of peril.

At the same time, the Federal Government’s contribution to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre has plummeted from 50 per cent of funding to just 23 per cent, reducing our overall firefighting capability.

The Bureau of Meteorology has identified this summer as Australia’s hottest on record, which included devastating bushfires in Victoria and Tasmania. Now is the time to invest in giving our firefighters the resources they need to keep us all safe.

Labor’s national firefighting package will deliver:

million to establish the National Aerial Bushfire Fighting Fleet of aircraft

It will include retro-fitted Black Hawk helicopters as they are phased out from active use by the Australian Army and Erickson S-64 Air-crane helicopters (or ‘Elvis’ as they are commonly known) which has a 2,650 gallon tank capable of snorkelling or scooping fresh or salt water.

It’s expected that the national fleet will include a standing capability of up to six Large or Very Large Air Tankers, and up to 12 heavy rotary wing helicopters.

Australia’s first ‘smokejumper’ units

Smokejumpers are firefighters trained to be rapidly deployed by helicopters at remote fires during the short window during which those fires can be contained.

Smokejumpers usually rappel from helicopters and use chain-saws, hoes and other dry firefighting tools to establish a containment perimeter around the fire. They then patrol the perimeter to ensure the fire does not jump containment lines while working with water-bombing aircraft to ensure the contained fire is fully extinguished.

million for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC)

A Shorten Labor Government will stop the Federal Government’s reduction in funding for our firefighting capabilities by returning to a 50-50 funding split between the states and territories and the Commonwealth.

9.52pm GMT

Scott Morrison’s return to Australia last night has brought him back on deck a day before he was scheduled back to work – the PMO told reporters, including Samantha Maiden, that Morrison would be back to work on Monday, late last week

9.41pm GMT

At least one person died in the Adelaide Hills fire which blazed last night, with another reported missing. More than 50 people have been injured – including 23 firefighters and two police officers. At least 15 homes have been destroyed, with about 30 other structures having also been consumed by the fire.

But with residents only returning to take stock of the damage today, the number of structures destroyed is expected to rise.

The government has announced the disaster recovery payment has been extended to South Australia.

Claims will be open from Monday 23 December 2019. For more information or to make a claim visit www.humanservices.gov.au/disaster or call 180 22 66.

9.35pm GMT

Scott Morrison has not yet addressed the media – but here is what he had to say to the RFS at Sydney headquarters.

9.33pm GMT

Mike Bowers was at the Green Wattle Creek fire last night.

Here is some of what he saw

RFS crews fight a fire at the Green Wattle Creek fire near Bargo NSW tonight as it starts to rain.
RFS crews fight a fire at the Green Wattle Creek fire near Bargo NSW tonight as it starts to rain. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian
RFS crews celebrate the rain
RFS crews celebrate the rain Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian
RFS crews fight a fire at the Green Wattle Creek fire near Bargo NSW
RFS crews fight a fire at the Green Wattle Creek fire near Bargo NSW Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

9.21pm GMT

Good morning

Good morning. It is another day of watch and wait as fire fighters across the east coast and south Australia keep a very, very close eye on what

Emergency-level fires have swept across parts of New South Wales and South Australia, and the death toll and number of injured firefighters has risen, as the country’s severe heatwave and bushfire crisis continued on Saturday.

Two people were confirmed dead in South Australia, and homes were destroyed and communities evacuated in what authorities described as “an awful day” in which fires raged across three states, even creating their own thunderstorms in some parts of NSW.

At Lithgow, about two hours’ drive west of Sydney, residents were forced to flee as fires threatened the community of more than 10,000 people and destroyed several homes on the outskirts of the town. At 7pm, a person was reported unaccounted for in the Dargen area, near Lithgow, the ABC reported.

Four firefighters in NSW were treated for heat exhaustion on Saturday, the ambulance service said, while another firefighter was reportedly injured after being struck by a truck in Richmond.

Scott Morrison has returned to Australia – he flew in late last night.

He is starting the day with a briefing with the New South Wales rural fire service headquarters in Sydney.

9.21pm GMT

AAP have the morning update:

An elderly man whose home was consumed by flames remains missing and dozens of properties have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires which raged during heatwave NSW conditions on Saturday.

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the day as “awful” for firefighters, with up to 20 homes lost to the immense Gospers Mountain fire northwest of Sydney alone.

At least two more properties were razed near Batemans Bay on the south coast, and others at Balmoral southwest of Sydney.

Southerly winds moving upstate on Saturday evening fanned flames in new directions and caused erratic fire behaviour, before creating cooler conditions for the 3000 firefighting and emergency personnel in the field.

A fire-generated thunderstorm also formed over fires in the Shoalhaven.

With forecasts predicting close to a week of advantageous conditions across NSW, Mr Fitzsimmons said his crews would ‘make hay’.

Tougher conditions would likely return later in the week or next weekend.

Two total fire bans will nevertheless be in place on Sunday in the Northern Slopes and North Western regions, under “very high” fire danger.

“Our big focus is on trying to consolidate and establish containment lines across as many fire grounds as we can. We have significant fire spread south of the Bells Line of Road and through the valley system such as the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains,” Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters.

“So we will be looking at what are the options, what are the fall-back lines and at what point do we start implementing very significant strategies to secure protection for an impending threat to the Blue Mountains, particularly the communities along the Great Western Highway.”

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2 Replies to “NSW fires live: premier says ‘not much left in Balmoral’ as South Australia bushfires continue to rage – latest

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