Rex Patrick – Senator.

“Common sense” a rare beast.

Filling the rather large boots of Nick Xenophon in the Senate is no small ask. NX, despite being a very busy man, could always find not only the time to ‘hear’ a plea for equity but had the energy and interest to ask questions and move things along. A good man.

Senator Rex Patrick has made a very good start to filling the void. There is not too much publically available; however the grape vine carries nothing but praise for not only the degree of interest shown in matters aeronautical, but an appreciation of the deep, chronic ‘problems’ faced by both individuals and operators.

Quote:South Australia’s Rex Patrick has vowed to interrogate Civil Aviation Safety Authority officers when they appear before a Senate estimates hearing on February 27 over the event just before Christmas, which was exposed by The Australian.

Senator Patrick, of the Nick Xenophon Team, said the move by CASA to ground FalconAir, which operates out of Sydney and Brisbane providing medical evacuation and organ transplant flights with three aircraft, lacked practical logic, flew in the face of urgings by CareFlight and other organisations that the service was needed, and ran against legal precedent.

“Common sense hasn’t prevailed here, jurisprudence has been ignored,” said Senator Patrick, who replaced Mr Xenophon in the Senate in November.

On the plus side of the ledger he has an excellent RRAT committee to support his efforts. Welcome Senator, to the entrance gates of Sleepy Hollow. Please check your tray table is locked in the upright position and your seat belt securely fastened – it’s always a bumpy ride.

"Sic 'em Rex!" - Big Grin

Maybe not entirely PC but having placed a cyber watch on the encouraging progress of Senator Rex (so far), I thought the following 1989 'Antz Pantz' advertisement quite appropriate.. Rolleyes

Via YouTube:

And from the Senate Hansard yesterday an Adjournment Speech by Senator Rex Wink :

Senator PATRICK  (South Australia) (19:07): I rise tonight to speak on the topic of defence procurement. It is an important topic, noting the taxpayers' cost associated with it and the national security significance of it.

I have a real concern about defence procurement. Hundreds of millions, indeed billions, of dollars are being squandered and new capability is being brought on with significant delays—in some cases, of several years. Ridding ourselves of huge cost overruns in defence must be addressed as a matter of priority. On the strategic front, we need to pay attention to two distinguished strategists, Professor Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith of ANU's Strategic and Defence Study Centre, both former deputy secretaries of the Department of Defence, who made the following observations about management of our strategic risk:

Over recent decades, judgements in this area have relied heavily on the conclusion that the capabilities required for a serious assault on Australia simply didn’t exist in our region. In contrast, in the years ahead, the level of capability able to be brought to bear against Australia will increase, so judgements relating to contingencies and the associated warning time will need to rely less on evidence of capability and more on assessments of motive and intent.

Bottom line: we don't have the same warning time frames as we once did.

We won't necessarily have time to remediate problematic programs to ensure that they deliver the combat capability promised. Although everyone hopes that it will not be the case, Australia's changing strategic circumstances do mean there is a significantly greater risk that Australian forces may be called on to engage in conflicts of significantly greater intensity and to do so with much shorter warning than has been the case at any time since the Korean War of 1950, or indeed the Second World War. In these circumstances, we can no longer afford, if indeed we ever could, the sorts of defence procurement debacles that we have seen over the past 20 years.

You're all likely aware of notable examples of poor procurement, including the Seasprite helicopters which cost $1.5 billion and were never used in service, and the $44 million LCM2000 watercraft which proved too wide to be embarked on the amphibious ships they were intended for. I note the replacement watercraft appears to be not buoyant enough to carry the Abrams tank ashore, but that's another story in development. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about an even bigger procurement disaster, a $21.5 billion disaster—yes, that's right, $21.5 billion.

Last month the Department of Defence supplied an answer to a question from Senator Leyonhjelm about defence project procurement. The answer details, amongst other things, the total delays associated with a number of major defence projects. The delays range from a couple of months to 151 months. Being a former project manager, I was taken aback. Project delay equals cost. That's obvious. If a project is delayed you basically have to keep the entire project team on task until final sign-off. Noting there were decades of delay in the table, there had to be massive cost blowouts. Where was it being reported? Fortunately, a few days after the Leyonhjelm answer arrived, the latest ANAO major projects report came out. I examined it, and at first glance all seemed well—almost all projects were within their approved budgets. How can that be? Well, it turns out that the key to Defence's magic is the phrase 'approved budget'.

Let's go to a multirole helicopter. It's 60 months late but it's well within its approved budget. It has over $700 million remaining in the kitty. The answer to this quandary comes by looking at the project's second pass numbers. Let's recall how our defence capability process works. We start with a range of options to fill a capability need. At first pass we whittle down the options to one or two and then proceed to fully explore and fully cost those options. At the end of the detailed process the option or options are presented to government for what is called second pass. According to the Defence Capability Development Manual:

Second Pass approval is formal approval by Government of a specific capability solution to an identified capability development need. Second pass provides Government approval and acknowledgment of:

  …   …   …

e. budgetary provision for acquisition and operation of the capability solution, including all relevant FIC aspects and NPOC— that is, fundamental inputs to capability aspects and net personnel and operating costs.

At second pass, where government commits to a solution, the total cost is presented. The second pass cost for the multirole helicopter was $953 million. Despite $2.9 billion being spent on the project to date, it's still within the approved budget of $3.7 billion. Defence will and does explain this by saying, 'Well, there's been a scope change,' or 'There have been currency variations,' et cetera. Those variations, and, indeed, all manner of sin, can be covered off by getting a budget change approved by government. As a result, a cost blowout is hidden.

The entire defence project budget is like this. I invite you to examine ANAO's major project review and find a project that hasn't had a variation made to its agreed budget. It's a difficult task. The ANAO, thankfully, provides one number in its report: the total budget variation since second pass approval. In 2011-12 it was $5.9 billion. In the years that followed it jumped to $6.5 billion, then to $16.8 billion and then to $18.5 billion. This year, across the 27 major defence acquisitions in the ANAO report, it's the number I just talked about: $21.5 billion. That's a $21.5 billion blowout compared to what the government approved when it committed to the projects. Just lock that figure in the mind: $21.5 billion. But according to Defence there is no problem.

With this approach the books always look balanced when in fact they are seriously out of whack. The reality is that no-one can use the public numbers to work out how well we are or are not doing in defence projects. The realities are camouflaged and concealed, and that has to change. One could be forgiven for thinking Defence is one of the last bastions of old Soviet economics—perverse state socialism in which, no matter what the delays and cost blowouts, projects are always declared to be a success, everyone gets a medal and no-one takes responsibility. Perhaps the spirit of Leonid Brezhnev still lives on.

I'll be taking this up at Senate estimates with both Defence and the Auditor-General. Defence run to a plan—the Defence Capability Plan—with what is a finite budget. How can you execute a plan like that when you are diverting money for planned capability to deal with blowouts in current projects? The approved budget for the 27 projects reviewed by the Auditor-General was just shy of $62 billion. Across those 27 projects the average project delay is measured in years, and they are in total almost 35 per cent over budget. And that doesn't include the cost of keeping an older capability running until the delayed capability arrives—although I note, in the case of the Multi-Role Helicopter, Defence slipped in an 'upgrade Black Hawk' line item as one of the approved budget changes. The Multi-Role Helicopter was supposed to replace the Black Hawk. Neither does it include the cost to the dedicated sailors, soldiers and airmen who have to fight on with obsolete capability. It's a situation that is neither sustainable nor fair, at a time when the federal government is seeking budget repair. On one hand the government is cutting health, education, welfare and other important programs, while slipping through the fingers on the other hand are billions of dollars of Defence overspend.  

So the first thing we need to reform in Defence procurement is to start reporting projects against a second-pass baseline and provide absolute transparency of every dollar spent beyond that. That's a key element of any reform. Those responsible must take responsibility and do so when they are in the job. All too often, by the time delays and cost blowouts are belatedly revealed, senior managers have already moved on. All too often they have been promoted or have moved to a more highly paid job in industry. No-one takes responsibility. We can't have that continue when in the decades to come the men and women of the Defence Force face a significantly greater likelihood that Defence capabilities will be tested not in exercises, or even low-intensity hostilities, but in extremely demanding and potentially costly high-intensity conflicts. If we find our Defence capabilities to be deficient in those circumstances, it will be much, much too late. So there is a heavy burden of responsibility not only on Defence but also on the parliament, and particularly the Senate, in exercising our scrutiny function through estimates and other committee hearings to ensure that our Defence procurement is really on time and on budget. It hasn't been, but it must be in the future.

Senate adjourned at 19:17

See what I mean?  Rolleyes

MTF...P2  Tongue

And the legend grows - Shy

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Via the Senate Hansard yesterday:

Senator PATRICK  (South Australia) (15:42): I move:


(1) The Senate notes that:

(a) in April 2016, former Australian CEO of Future Submarine designer DCNS (now known as Naval Group), Mr Sean Costello, stated to the media that "over 90 per cent" of the $50 billion submarine build would take place in Australia;

(b) shortly after, the Minister for Defence Industry (Mr Pyne) reiterated those comments on ABC's Q&A program;

© in June 2017, Mr Brent Clark, CEO of DCNS Australia, told a Senate committee that "an aim point of greater than 60 per cent would be something that [DCNS] would aim for";

(d) in October 2017, it was reported by Fairfax media that the Minister made public comments at the Pacific 2017 Naval Conference clarifying the definition of a local build to be 60 per cent, and confirming that at least 60 per cent of the work on the submarines would be done by Australian firms;

(e) in February 2018, Mr Costello confirmed that the 90 per cent build figure "absolutely" went into the tender response presented to the Australian Government, "down to the percentile" and it is reasonable to presume that this 90 per cent build figure would have influenced the Australian Government's decision to award the contract to DCNS;

(f) the level of Australian industry involvement and local content in the Future Submarine Project is critical to Australia's defence industry, Australian jobs, and the economic benefit that the Future Submarine Project brings; and

(g) there needs to be clarity on the minimum level of Australian industry involvement in the Future Submarine Project.

(2) There be laid on the table by the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry, by no later than 3.30 pm on 14 February 2018, the Australian Industry Capability Plan submitted by DCNS to the Department of Defence in its response to the Future Submarine Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP).

I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Leave is granted for one minute.

Senator PATRICK:  This document is an important document which outlines the promise of DCNS, now Naval Group, to Australian industry as to what involvement it will have in the Future Submarine project. It is an important document that former Senator Xenophon requested under FOI in April 2017. What this means is that the Information Commissioner is about to make a decision about it. So I respectfully suggest to the minister that she needs to respond to the OPD in a very considered manner. I don't want to see the minister ordered to make another explanation as to why she got her OPD response wrong, because I can assure you I will not hesitate to protect the integrity of the Senate oversight processes in circumstances where the minister makes another bogus claim.

 "Sic 'em Rex!" -  Wink

MTF...P2  Tongue

It would seem a certain Senator is jumping on the bandwagon..

From the AOPA farcebook page..


Political Turbulence Exacerbates General Aviation's Bumpy Ride: Urgent Action Required On CASA Over-regulation

12 April 2018

Claims by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Michael McCormack, that he will take his time to consider desperately needed reforms to General Aviation’s regulatory burden hides the real reason for the delay.

“Inaction on mounting and calls for aviation regulation reform stems from the series of politicians flying through the Minister for Transport’s office”, said Senator Rex Patrick. “It’s busier than the Sydney-Melbourne air route, with Darren Chester being replaced by Barnaby Joyce who in turn has been replaced by Michael McCormack.

“Any ministerial change causes delay. Minister McCormack is still trying to get his wings while the General Aviation that he’s responsible for is headed for a crash landing. An urgent change in flight path is needed."

The health of General Aviation has been in major decline over the past decade. Pilot numbers are falling, as are the number of small aircraft registrations. At the same time CASA’s staff numbers have gone from 621 in 2006/07 to 830 in 2016/17 and their operating budget has gone from $129 million to $180 million.

“Something has to change and quickly,” said Rex. “I am in absolute agreement with Dick Smith on this - we have to have a more pragmatic approach.

”Other jurisdictions provide a safe operating framework whilst having regard to the need for a healthy industry. We can and must do something here to arrest the decline in General Aviation - it’s a critical part of services to the regional areas.

“Right now we have pilots focusing so much on regulation they are distracted from doing what they are supposed to be doing - flying the plane safely.”

The ‘Cost of CASA’ has featured in submissions to a Senate Inquiry into the operation, regulation and funding of air route service delivery to rural, regional and remote communities. The Committee held hearings in Broome, Darwin and Alice Springs last week and in north-west Queensland this week (Longreach on Tuesday, Winton on Wednesday and Cloncurry today). A number of witnesses giving evidence to the Commitee have indicated that a shortage of pilots in regional areas is adding to the cost of regular public transport airfares. The Mayor of Cloncurry provided evidence at today’s hearing that they used to have a charter operator base out of their airport but this is no longer the case.

"General Aviation is the breeding ground for pilots. As General Aviation has been declining, so too have the number of freshly trained pilots entering the system," said Rex.

“Right now CASA seems to be taking a position that the best way to ensure there are no accidents in General Aviation is to make sure the cost of regulatory compliance is so high that planes just don't take off."

Senator Rex Patrick

The BRB has taken an interest in the recent RRAT Estimates Committee with AMSA (Monday, April 1 2019) for many reasons; mostly to gain an appreciation of the Senators ‘mood’.

The transcript (Hansard)  is a fair amount of reading in it; but IMO worth the time taken. The Senators present were impressive, it was a first XI performance by all. Of particular note was the growing confidence and demonstrated abilities of both Brockman and Patrick. They both are valuable assets to a formidable team.

Rex Patrick’s time in the sin-bin is over.

ACTING CHAIR: I understand. I've got the secret weapon—Senator Patrick—up the other end of the table. What he does on FOI is incredible.

Good to see him back on the paddock and match fit.

Toot – toot.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Performance of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee is conducting an inquiry into the performance of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau under Standing Order 25 (2) (a).

Committee Secretariat contact:

Committee Secretary
Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: +61 2 6277 3511
Fax: +61 2 6277 5811

A lighter moment from Sen REX at Senate Estimates... Big Grin



As I walked through the press gallery on the way to the committee room where Senate Estimates hearings take place, a number of journalists told me that a short conversation I had last night with the Secretary of Home Affairs, Mr Pezzullo, was the highlight of an otherwise dull day of hearings.

As such, I thought I had better share the exchange. Before watching, I urge caution - some things can’t be unseen, even if you only see them in your imagination.


Quote:Mr Pezzullo : I have to repeat myself when I am briefing colleagues that 99.7 per cent of people arrive lawfully, undertake their business and act in accordance with their visa. That is not to suggest that they are seeking protection; I can feel the opprobrium that I am about to get from Senator McKim, so I'll anticipate that. There is nothing wrong with claiming asylum having arrived here lawfully. But you don't want to put people in a position where they are incentivised to make payments to criminals. Frankly, the reaction we get is the 'Meg Ryan' reaction: 'We'll have what they're having.'

And the Sic'em'REX reply... Rolleyes

Quote:Senator PATRICK: Are you missing Senator Macdonald, Mr Pezzullo?

Mr Pezzullo : I'll keep that private to myself.

Senator PATRICK: I would like you to correct the evidence in relation to Meg Ryan. I think it was the person behind Meg Ryan that said, 'I'll have what she's having.' If you'd like to do what Meg Ryan did before that, I'd be interested in seeing it!

CHAIR: I do like your appreciation of the details, Senator Patrick!

Big Grin

Ironically this was actually a lead into the Sen REX questions on security screening at regional airports: 


Senator PATRICK:
I put a question to Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities in relation to transport security. The topic relates to the Home Affairs decision to place security requirements at regional airports. Reading from their answer:

The Department of Home Affairs is responsible for setting and managing aviation security requirements and is overseeing the $50.1 million funding allocated at the 2018-19 Budget to assist regional airports in purchasing the required security screening equipment.
There was a controversy in the last parliament, and this was agitated at the RRAT committee into regional airfares, that the government wasn't paying for the ongoing operation of the security equipment, which is quite expensive and has an impact on regional communities, and that they would have to foot the bill. They went on to say:

In light of issues raised, the department will work with the Department of Home Affairs and industry to conduct up to six case studies to assess the financial impact of the enhanced aviation security requirements on regional airports and, where possible, the flow on impact to the local communities. The airports, from across a number of states, will be selected based on varying passenger and flight departure profiles.
I'd like to get an update on the status of those studies that are going on, presumably, between you and others.

Mr Grigson : Yes, we're working with Infrastructure on that issue. They're the lead. They will pick the six or so airports to be studied and we'll work with them on the security element. We've had several conversations with them over the past few months and we're still working on that with them.

Senator PATRICK: So you don't really have any details as to when it's likely to be expected that a decision will be made in relation to any further funding?

Mr Grigson : No.

Senator PATRICK: One of the controversies in relation to this is that at some airports—I'll use Whyalla as an example, because that has been talked about in the media and has both Rex airlines and Qantas flying to the airport—the requirement, as we learnt at the hearing, was something along the lines of: if it's a 40-seat aircraft, security screening is required; if it's less, it is not. Therefore the Rex flights, with the SAAB aircraft that carries 34, won't need to be screened but the Qantas Dash 8 will need to be screened. That creates a problem, in that Rex say they're operating on limited margins, and, noting there's no requirement to have security checks, would then have to pay for the security screening unnecessarily. Qantas on the other hand will say, 'We are being disadvantaged in respect of our particular flight, and we now have to bear all of the cost of the security.' Has the department looked at that aspect of it?

Mr Grigson : Yes. The 40-seat requirement came out of a review done by the Inspector of Transport Security in 2017. We're shifting from a weight-based test to the number of passengers. That follows a risk assessment that was done where the risk moved from being an aircraft being flown into a building, for instance, to a crowded place or a place with a larger number of people. The inspector had to draw the line somewhere, and he drew it at 40 seats.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. But my question goes to: it might be the case that, for example, if it is imposed upon Qantas, and they bear all the cost at Whyalla, they may cease to operate into Whyalla, and Rex will continue to operate there because they don't need that requirement. So it creates a problem. Has the department got the view that, if passengers from one particular airline are being screened, that Rex in that instance should be screened as well?

Mr Grigson : As I said, the tests are done on the basis of a risk assessment. The Inspector of Transport Security recommended 40 seats. There is already a difference that takes place in terms of weight, so not all aircraft flying into an airport will be screened. There is a circumstance already where there is some difference between aircraft that are screened and unscreened. As I said, we're aware of the issue. We've been talking to industry about it. But the 40-seat rule is the rule that we've decided to implement.

Senator PATRICK: Will the study that looks into the effect that this requirement places on communities examine not just the cost to the community but how it affects the airlines that may choose to operate at those airports?
Mr Grigson : The study will consider the flow-on effects of the costs to the various stakeholders at the airport.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. You're saying the lead is the department of industry?

Mr Grigson : It is.

Senator PATRICK: I'll ask them questions—

Mr Grigson : Sorry, you said 'industry'. It's Infrastructure.

Senator PATRICK: I'll ask them separately. I just didn't want to ask them only to be told to come back to you guys.
And then from the Chair of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Sen Stoker:


 I might ask a couple of follow up questions, and that way I suspect we will be finished with transport, subject to anybody at the table telling me otherwise. What are the usual arrangements that are in place between government and airports regarding the costs of operating and maintaining screening equipment?

Mr Grigson : That's an industry responsibility.

CHAIR: Which bit? Operating and maintaining are both industry responsibilities?

Mr Grigson : That's right, with the exception that in the last budget the government decided to provide regional airports with $50.1 million to help with the initial purchase of equipment.

CHAIR: Is that the Regional Airport Security Screening Fund?

Mr Grigson : I don't have the name before me, but I'll ask Ms Holben, who knows these details better than me, to come to the table. There are two funds. One assists with training and one assists with capital purchases.

Ms Holben : You are correct, Senator: that is the correct fund for the regional airports and their upgrade to their screening equipment.

CHAIR: What's the rationale for the increased screening standards being required?

Mr Grigson : There was a report prepared by the Inspector of Transport Security in 2017 following the disrupted plan at Sydney Airport in that year. It made a series of recommendations, including moving to the 40-seat rule for aircraft flying into regional airports. The lessons we have learnt off the back of that disrupted plan and other advice from the intelligence agencies has led to the new regulatory requirements.

CHAIR: What consultation was engaged in with regional airports about getting the balance right on this?

Mr Grigson : We've consulted with regional airports over many months and, as recently as last week, we have continued to talk to airports. There's another consultation forum in the first week or so of November. It's sufficient to say different airports have had different concerns, often around costs but not solely, and we've done what we can to put only the minimum required security in place to meet what we think is a changed risk environment.

CHAIR: How will this funding operate in a practical sense to ensure that regional airports improve their security, and how does that contribute to national security?

Ms Holben : The process is that they apply through the AusIndustry grants hub. It's an application process. The grants hub will assess their application and the $51.1 million will be apportioned to those eligible airports that have applied for funding.

CHAIR: How does that contribute to national security?

Ms Holben : In terms of the Inspector of Transport Security's recommendations, through upgrades of screening equipment we can assure ourselves that the prevention of unlawful interference will endeavour to ensure that we continue our security measures to mitigate those risks.

CHAIR: To cut through the management speak, what's the risk if we don't do this?

Mr Grigson : Senator, let me try and help you. The upgrade will provide more sophisticated technology to identify risks that come through the screening points. We hope that over time people will move through faster. So you may well get a dual benefit here, where the technology will pick up more items than it has previously and the flow of people will be faster.

Seriously the LNP and Nationals Senators need to get a rope on this bollocks impost being enforced by Herr General Dutton on regional airports before regional aviation goes down the gurgler based solely on one of Dutton's Home Affairs power trips - FDS... Dodgy 

MTF...P2  Cool

I dunno, I have a bit of a problem with these so called "Risk Assessments".

One incident generates a "Risk Assessment" that comes to the conclusion that considerable funds must be expended to mitigate a risk which to me seems infinitesimal in the overall scheme of things. How many people have actually been caught by all this security apparatus? Perhaps its just the deterrent affect which to me seems a heavy price to pay if it puts such cost pressures on regional airline operations by driving up the ticket price, to a point where the punters look to their cars as a cheaper option, or drives the airlines into bankruptcy, or to withdrawal of service. Then again there are far more car jackings that high jackings, so I suppose they would, with aviation dead and buried implement screening posts on all the highways.

Maybe it would be better to go back to the simpler Cobb and Co days? Then again the bureaucrats would only terrify us punters with the spectre of bushrangers and besides, how much would it cost to clean up all the horse poop?

A forty ton cement truck packed with explosives, or a bus loaded with fifty passengers plowed into pedestrians in George street at lunchtime would create considerable carnage. Where is the risk assessment for this happening? and infinitely easier exercise to conduct than commandeering an aircraft. Do passengers boarding a bus require screening?
The Manly ferry carries a few hundred passengers, plowed into circular Quay at full speed on a sunny Sunday afternoon I imagine would be designated a mass casualty event, are Ferry passengers required to undergo security screening?

So I ponder why Aviation is always singled out as the most at risk?

Sic'em'Rex and Jacqui have the Govt in their sights for 2020???

While Smoco and his useless, gutless deputy Mick Mack, continue to get a well deserved pizzling all over social and (to a lesser extent) mainstream media, Old Mate Sic'em'Rex is very cleverly kicking the shiny arsed PM and his Govt in the balls... Big Grin

Via Twitter 18 hrs ago:


Rex Patrick

It is abundantly clear the @LiberalAus Govt has wilfully failed to anticipate the drought, the extremely hot and dry weather and the consequent fire risk in the context of the clear and present impacts of climate change. Australia is underprepared on multiple fronts #auspol

[Image: ENVFnohVAAA_uBZ?format=jpg&name=small]


We have no purpose built aerial firefighters in our arsenal because the Govt only contracts short term services from companies that can then only lease capability, rather than purchase it. It’s as if the Govt thinks fire seasons in Australia are rare events #auspol...


Govt seems willing to spend >$1B in taxpayers money to achieve a political priority unnecessarily shifting Collins Class submarine full cycle dockings from SA to WA, but only a pittance on real priorities such as fire resilience and firefighting equipment #auspol

Then lo and behold 2 hours ago out pops this article, via the Oz... Rolleyes

Bushfires: India trip off as Scott Morrison to call on foreign air help



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Melissa and Paul Churchman with Scott Morrison at their destroyed farm in Sarsfield, Victoria, on Friday. Picture: Getty Images

Scott Morrison has cancelled an official visit to India and will try to bolster the nation’s firefighting air power by requesting additional support from overseas.

Mr Morrison had a telephone conversation on Friday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who conveyed his condolences and said he looked forward to welcoming his Australian counterpart to India “at a mutually convenient time later in the year,” the Indian foreign ministry said.

A day after being heckled on the streets of the fire-ravaged NSW town of Cobargo, the Prime Minister called a snap National Security Committee meeting for Saturday and announced financial assistance to fire­fighters in Tasmania and South Australia.

 The NSC meeting comes as the government prepares to ramp up the involvement of the military ahead of another potentially catastrophic day of bushfires in Vic­toria and NSW.

“The role of the Australian Defence Force will become greater and greater in the days ahead, particularly when the things they do — the airlifting, the evacuations, the engineering support, the ­accommodation, the evacuation centres — all of this (will) become more and more required as these fires get larger and larger,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.

Later, in an interview on the Nine Network, he flagged borrowing extra firefighting capacity from overseas. Asked “Have you been working the phones trying to get more resources from overseas?”, the Prime Minister said: “Of course.”

READ MORE:Key trip to India about to go up in smoke

Asked “Can we expect any more planes?”, he said: “Yes.”

On Friday, Mr Morrison insisted the federal government was meeting every request to aid the states in their firefighting efforts, even as former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins lashed him for failing to pick up the phone to foreign powers to obtain more aerial ­assistance in the midst of the dis­astrous bushfire season.

Mr Morrison said the Defence Force and other agencies were not just waiting for requests but trying to pre-empt them.

Compensation for volunteer firefighters in SA and Tasmania — where fire risks are ongoing — will be available after payments of up to $6000 a person were activated; SA has also asked for aircraft.

Mr Morrison said he was not taking his hostile reception in Cobargo personally, and would continue to visit fire-stricken com­munities. “I’m going to keep turning up in places that need our support and our assistance and our encouragement, and I’ll continue to do that each and every day.”

He said he was inclined not to proceed with what was meant to be an important trip to India and Japan to foster closer security and defence ties amid the ongoing bushfire disaster.

Earlier, a “furious” Mr Mullins called on Mr Morrison to get on the phone to his counterparts in France, Portugal, Spain and Canada and ask for their water bombers to help combat the bushfires.

Mr Mullins, who leads a group of 29 former fire and emergency chiefs and has been helping to fight fires on the ground in NSW as recently as New Year’s Eve, said only seven of the 140 aircraft available were major water tankers.

“Our Prime Minister should be on the phone to Justin Trudeau from Canada right now saying ‘Justin, we need 20 or more of your water-scooping purpose-built water bombers that are in mothballs during your winter. Get them down here. Can you get them here in five days?” Mr Mullins told ABC radio.

“Large aircraft don’t put out fires, they can just give the firefighters on the ground an edge.

“But if you had 20 to 30 of these medium-sized aircraft that have rapid turnaround, you could make a material difference.”

Mr Mullins claimed a detailed business case put by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council to the government in 2018 to increase funding for aircraft leases was “languishing in Canberra”.

A government spokesman confirmed the business case had been received and an extra $11m was given to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to allow for extended leases in 2018-19 and in this bushfire season.

“The government is listening directly to the current fire chiefs and experts, and simply saying more and bigger is not the ­answer,” the spokesman said.

Both the NSW and Victoria rural fire commissioners have indicated they are satisfied with current resourcing levels.

NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rodgers said they would be at “surge capacity tomorrow” with more than 3000 ­fireys and 800 aerial and ground support vehicles to be deployed at 18 key regions around the state in anticipation for a Saturday where fire conditions would be “the same, or worse” than New Year’s Eve.

Mr Rodgers said the service was adequately prepared, rejecting Mr Mullins’s call to borrow aerial assistance from overseas.

“No. We have the resources we want. We cannot get, you cannot … there is a limit to how many aircraft can safely operate over fire grounds,” he said.

“It is not all about the big jets flying around, it is all about the local people, first attack, getting there and putting the fires out before they become problems.”

Victorian Country Fire Authority chief fire officer Steve Warrington said he was pleased with the “tremendous” response and amount of resources given to help the fire effort but warned that there were not enough fire trucks to get to every home.

Additional reporting: Mark Schliebs, Emily Ritchie, AFP

Meanwhile back on the Twitterverse Sic'em'Rex is jamming with Jacqui... Shy

Quote:Rex Patrick

There hasn’t been a lot to like about Australian politics lately. Here’s something to (hopefully) generate a smile - me jamming with @JacquiLambie and my daughter, AJ.

Plus 1 hour ago:

Rex Patrick

Just spent a couple of days with @JacquiLambie discussing issues for 2020 : veterans, firefighting, corporate misconduct and tax compliance, etc. Here’s Jacqui walking me through her ‘Ensuring Integrity’ amendments #auspol

[Image: ENY9OsSU0AE7WpA?format=jpg&name=small]

Hmm...get the picture? - "Sic'em'Rex... Big Grin 

MTF...P2  Tongue

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