Defence faces 'long haul' with bushfires

Finbar O'Mallon
HMAS Adelaide has reached the NSW far south coast to help with the bushfire emergency

Australia's defence chief says they're in for the long haul as the defence force rolls out an unprecedented response to the bushfire crisis.

General Angus Campbell says the compulsory call out of 3000 Australian Defence Force reservists to help with national disaster recovery had never happened before.

"We're in for the long haul and also very aware of the immediate need to assist fellow Australians today," Mr Campbell told media in Canberra on Sunday.

"The work of the ADF is and will continue to be in compliment and close coordination with state authorities."

Operation Bushfire Assist will see thousands of service personnel and reservists deployed in bushfire affect areas across the country.

Australia's largest navy ship, HMAS Adelaide, is playing a leading role in the nation's bushfire support effort, stationed off the NSW far south coast.

Acting as a supply vessel and also offering a floating hospital, the Adelaide on Sunday reached waters off Eden where it is expected to be based for several days.

The HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore were returning to Mallacoota, from where they had previously ferried more than 1100 people.

There were 400 troops on the Adelaide, as well as 300 tonnes of emergency supplies.

Defence bases from Brisbane to Adelaide have been opened up for bushfire affected Australians, with Mr Campbell confirming some people had already taken up this offer.

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra the "unprecedented" roll out of defence forces was a statement about the scale of the bushfire crisis.

"That step was taken as a consequence of the sheer scale that has moved beyond what is the reasonable expectation of any agency or state or territory authority," he said.

The prime minister also defended the government's response time in deploying the ADF, pointing to the serving personnel already assisting with the bushfire effort.

The head of the joint bushfire taskforce, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton, said defence had been in contact with counterparts in New Zealand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea to source more support, like helicopters.

Mr Bilton said reservists had already presented for duty before Saturday's call out, including doctors, engineers and vets.

"When it comes to supporting your fellow Australians, I don't have any problems finding volunteers," Mr Bilton said.

Advertisements detailing the compulsory call out of up to 3000 defence reservists would be published in major newspapers on Monday.

Mr Morrison met with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Sunday afternoon to discuss the defence roll out.

Senator Reynolds hosted meetings with defence brass in Canberra on Sunday, with daily public briefings expected to continue.

Earlier on Sunday she defended the prime minister's handling of the ADF announcement after Mr Fitzsimmons said he only became aware of the roll out through media reports.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Senator Reynolds said Mr Morrison had told the leaders of bushfire-affected states before the announcement.

"How states then advise their own bureaucrats is an issue for them," Senator Reynolds said.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the prime minister's office has apologised for failing to notify him.