Prime Minister Scott Morrison is unwilling to bring forward a meeting of federal, state and territory governments to deal with Australia's bushfire crisis, after Labor intervened on the issue.
The Council of Australian Governments meeting isn't due to be held until March even as the nation stares down the barrel of an extended fire season, a summer marked by the destruction of lives, homes and habitats, particularly in the east, and little prospect of relief from rains until 2020.
Mr Morrison said he was consulting with state premiers and chief ministers and they and the nation's fire chiefs were so far "very comfortable" with the current meeting arrangements.
"Ministers that are responsible for the issues have already been meeting. They met just a couple of weeks ago," the prime minister said in Mudgee, in NSW, on Monday.
"If there is a need to address things urgently and before that time, then there are existing processes to make that happen."
But federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese questioned Mr Morrison's leadership, saying the COAG meeting - to discuss the development of a new national strategy for disaster preparedness and the appropriate funding by governments for emergency services - must be brought forward.
Asked about Labor's call for an earlier meeting, Mr Morrison said "some" people were seeking to make a political point and were not being "very helpful".
"There's no need, I think, for doing anything other than sticking to the plans that have been set out and the preparations that have been made, and making sure that they're implemented."
The prime minister "can do three things immediately, which is to bring forward the COAG meeting, meet the former fire chiefs, and do something now to provide support for those volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for such a long time," Mr Albanese said in Sydney.
This is a national issue that requires some form of national coordination and national leadershipfederal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese
"This is a national issue that requires some form of national coordination and national leadership."
While support, particularly for volunteer firefighters who've been in the fire grounds for months, was mainly a state issue, the federal government should be the coordinating body.
But Mr Morrison rejected this, saying he did not accept the proposition that COAG had to meet for things to get done because options and proposals for improving fire management were already being worked on.
"Our fire services are responding to this fire better than last time, and the next time it will be better still with the resources and the technology and the other things that we can put in place," he said.
"So there's no need for knee-jerk responses."
Asked if the leaders meeting would discuss measures to reduce fuel loads in bushland and encourage more land clearing around structures, Mr Morrison said "everything" was on the table.
... there's no need for knee-jerk responses.Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Mr Albanese also on Monday reiterated a proposal for tax relief, one-off payments, leave payments or other compensation arrangements for firefighting volunteers, as already exists for Defence Force reservists.
But Mr Morrison stalled, saying the government was taking advice before noting that "Australia's system all around the country has always, and will always, depend on having a large volunteer force" to deal flood, fire and other relief efforts.
"I'm taking advice from fire commissioners on what is best needed to continue to support access to that important volunteer force that is out there," he said, noting there had been no state recommendations on compensation for volunteers.
The prime minister also said Australia's need to take action on climate change hadn't changed and the government's focus remained on implementing current policies.
"You run government on fact and you run government on what you need to do to protect our environment and its sustainability for the future," he said.
"And facts when it comes to addressing climate change ... they remain the same."
Mr Morrison also had rebuffed Swedish schoolgirl climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who commented on a lack of action on climate change in a tweet to her 3.7 million alongside videos of the Australian fires.
"We'll do in Australia what we think is right for Australia, and that has always been my guiding principle. I'm not here to try to impress people overseas," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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