Australia has called up 3,000 military reserves to tackle the country’s ongoing bushfire crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday, the largest call-up in living memory.
“Today’s decision puts more boots on the ground, puts more planes in the sky, puts more ships at sea,” said Morrison, who has been pilloried for his response to the deadly months-long disaster.
A two-star general has also been appointed to oversee the military’s response to the crisis and the HMAS Adelaide — a helicopter carrier — has been deployed to help the bushfire effort.
Morrison defended his handling of the crisis and sought to play down the significance of heckling against him in bushfire-hit communities
Australia’s military has for months been assisting with aerial reconnaissance, mapping, search and rescue, logistics and aerial support. Around 2,000 military personnel have already been deployed.
In the small town of Mallacoota, Australia’s navy was called in to evacuate around 1,000 people trapped by fire and forced to wait for days on the foreshore.
The @AusAirForce have been providing support to evacuees from #Mallacoota at RAAF Base East Sale during #OpBushfireAssist. ADF updates ➡️ https://t.co/GWVubckbVL #AustraliaBushfires pic.twitter.com/j4naSj5wed
— Defence Australia (@DefenceAust) January 3, 2020
The first of two ships carrying families, pets and a few belongings arrived near Melbourne early Saturday.
Read more: Mass Evacuations underway in Australia as it is hit by ravaging fires
“The Government has not taken this decision lightly,” said minister of defence Marise Payne. “It is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory and, in fact, I believe for the first time in our nation’s history.”
A much smaller number of reservists had been called up late last year to assist with the bushfire crisis in Queensland.
I’ve spoken with @ScottMorrisonMP & authorised #ADF to deploy extra assets to the Victorian fires: 3 helicopters & 1 aircraft will fly to East Sale; HMAS Choules & MV Sycamore will sail to East Gippsland. A Joint Task Force has been stood up with Army personnel & Liason Officers
— Linda Reynolds (@lindareynoldswa) December 31, 2019
The announcement came after weeks of criticism target at Morrison over his decision to go on holiday to Hawaii in the throes of the crisis, refusal to raise emissions targets or curb coal exports.
Read more: Bushfires double the size of Belgium torch Australia
Morrison defended his handling of the crisis and sought to play down the significance of heckling against him in bushfire-hit communities.
All public briefings on bushfires shld be fronted by the commanders & staff of agencies involved to provide facts & objective safety warnings. Also helps preclude rumour, panic, political grandstanding & politicisation of media questions. Premiers & Ministers shld shutup. #auspol https://t.co/sqXWVfB8FL
— Australia Defence Association (@austdef) January 3, 2020
@AusAirForce C-27J flew 25 children and elderly citizens out of Mallacoota to #RAAF Base East Sale yesterday. We are ready for another big day supporting the outstanding efforts of our Army, Navy and State authorities in tireless work to support the community. #AlertandReady pic.twitter.com/Hu4dIoQ2nP
— Air Commander Australia (@RAAF_ACAUST) January 3, 2020
A tearful pregnant woman and a volunteer firefighter refused to shake his hand and other residents peppered him with verbal abuse and suggested, colourfully, that he leave.
“People in these situations have a mix of emotions,” Morrison said. “These arms have given a lot of hugs.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk.