Prime Minister Scott Morrison says compensation payments tor volunteer firefighters are not about paying them to turn out but to cover income losses so they can keep fighting fires.
Volunteer firefighters battling long-running NSW blazes will receive up to $6000 in financial compensation for putting their lives on the line, he announced on Sunday.
The federal government has bowed to pressure to provide payments to those on the fire ground this bushfire season, which has already cost eight lives in NSW, as many as 1000 homes and millions of hectares of bushland.
The payments of up to $300 per day will be available to Rural Fire Service NSW volunteers who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses.
The payments will be equivalent to 20 days of emergency leave for the eligible volunteers, are capped at $6000 per person, are tax-free and retrospective for the financial year.
"This basically equates to around 20 days of emergency services paid leave for self-employed people and for people working for small and medium-sized employers," Mr Morrison told reporters at Rural Fire Service NSW headquarters in Sydney.
"This is more extensive than any other response we've seen for income loss to any previous natural disaster event. But equally, it's extremely targeted."
The compensation move follows the government's announcement last week that Commonwealth public service volunteers would get at least four weeks of paid leave.
Mr Morrison stressed it wasn't about paying volunteers who have been on the fire ground for at least 10 days, rather it was a safety net for their income loss.
"This is about helping fight the fires," Mr Morrison said.
"This is about resourcing a firefighting effort, to ensure that the commissioner is in the best place possible to be able to do those call-outs."
The Commonwealth will cover the payments to be administered by the NSW government, with an initial $10 million to be handed over next month.
Other states and territories who wish to enter into a similar payment scheme are invited to speak with the federal government which has $50 million set aside.
"This is a nationally applicable approach," Mr Morrison said.
"I respect the premiers, I respect the fire commissioners in every state and territory. Should they wish to enter in this arrangement, if they believe it is appropriate, we will do so."
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the payments would provide comfort to those battling the blazes.
"This will provide a security net to ensure that volunteers are not disadvantaged or going through loss of income as a result of their extraordinary and ongoing commitment," he said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian echoed that the payments were compensation.
"We want to ensure that nobody goes backwards and suffers unnecessary hardship because they are putting their life and property on hold to support others," she said.
NSW's Volunteer Fire Fighters Association president Mick Holton last week said members had racked up expenses, including on petrol spent driving to fire fronts, and been forced to crowd-fund for smoke masks.
Almost 110 fires were burning in NSW on Saturday, including large blazes ringing Sydney at Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle Creek.
Fire conditions are expected to again deteriorate in the coming week amid rising temperatures and dry winds, peaking on New Year's Eve.
Australian Associated Press