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ALP Media Release: Calls for Government to Buy an Emergency Response Fleet

February 03, 2020 1:12 PM






The bush fire emergency has brought out the best in our community.   

“Volunteer fire fighters, people rescuing and caring for our native wildlife, community groups working together to provide food, shelter and support for those who have lost everything and people throughout Australia making generous donations for the relief and rebuild effort,” said Carol Brown, Labor Senator for Tasmania. 

“The Labor Opposition supports and values the role undertaken by ADF personnel and assets in the rescue, relief and assistance it has provided to many of our fire affected communities. 

“However, the fires have also shown areas of vulnerability in our supply and rescue capability. 

“A number of Australian civilian vessels and crews provided vital rescue and support to communities severely impacted and endangered by the fires,” said Senator Brown. 

  • The Far Saracen alongside the Far Senator and their crews were tasked by the Victorian Government to deliver food, fuel and other relief supplies to people stranded in Mallacoota. 
  • Kangaroo Island ferries assisted with the evacuation from Kangaroo Island, along with transporting supplies and defence equipment and personnel to the Island.
  • The Eden tugs and their crews provided emergency shelter to many seeking refuge on the wharf at Eden, while pilot boats based at Eden provided emergency assistance and protection to other vessels in the harbour.
  • The civilian crew on the MV Sycamore played a vital role when it was tasked to assist with the emergency supply and relief task.

 The Labor Opposition also acknowledges the need to develop a more formal and coordinated civilian capacity to assist our communities in times of emergency. 

The experiences of these crews and civilian maritime operators have prompted a broader debate that canvasses a number of options to develop and permanent civilian capacity to undertake large-scale emergency relief and rescue operations. 

A number of options have been presented to the Opposition, including: 

  • That the Government purchase the Aurora Australis from P & O when it returns from its final voyage to Antarctica.  The vessel would require some modification to make it fit for purpose for the emergency response role, although it does already have a number of facilities that make it suitable to take on this role – including a helipad, desalination plant, dining hall for 150 people and a refuelling station.  Another important capacity of the Aurora Australis is its extensive fuel storage facility. As currently configured the ship can store 1,000 cubic metres of fuel. The estimated costs of purchase and modification supplied to the Opposition currently stand at $10million.
  • That the Government purchase the cargo vessels that are due to be retired by Toll later this year.  These vessels are already equipped to carry mass cargo and will be retired after two decades of plying the Melbourne-Burnie-Melbourne route for two decades.
  • The Government work with the Australian Maritime College and fund the acquisition of a new training vessel for the College that would also be suitable and available for emergency response.

“I have written to the Prime Minister inviting him you to consider these options along with others that will certainly emerge as the events of the last few months are reviewed,” Senator Brown said. “We are keen to ensure that the Government and Opposition work together to develop a non-partisan position on the development of a civilian maritime emergency response capacity.”