Reserves' fire call out set to end in Feb

The call up of army reservists to help with the bushfire crisis won't end until February 7.
The call up of army reservists to help with the bushfire crisis won't end until February 7.

The Morrison government is gearing up to end the compulsory call-out of thousands of defence force reservists enlisted to help with Australia's bushfire crisis.

Thousands of reservists have spent several weeks on the fire ground helping with recovery efforts.

Their 28-day compulsory service is due to end on February 7.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the numbers of deployed Defence Force members rose from 890 to 6500 in a matter of weeks.

"The compulsory call-out of reservists is a power that should be used sparingly and in a limited fashion and we are treating this call-out in exactly that way," he told reporters in Canberra.

"The power remains to further call-out into the future should that need arise. But it's important that we use it in a very limited way, and that's exactly what we've done."

Defence Force chief Angus Campbell said reservists could continue helping with the recovery effort on a voluntary basis.

"This is in no way either the end of reserve contributions to the ADF's Operation Bushfire Assist or indeed the ADF's continued efforts," he said.

The prime minister and chief of the defence force were unable to say what the call-out has cost, given the reservists will need to be paid.

"We're working to understand those figures," General Campbell told reporters on Thursday.

A report from left-leaning think tank The Australia Institute has described the call-out of reservists as an unnecessary political gimmick.

The research found potential legal problems with the move, questioning whether reservists had authority to direct the public not to use a closed road.

The institute warned the call-out could pave the way for the deployment of reserves in more ambiguous circumstances where the commonwealth considers it has priority over states.

Former defence department official and the institute's head of security affairs Allan Behm said it could set a precedent to use the ADF against animal rights protesters or climate activists.

"The call-out of Army Reserves was entirely unnecessary to start with," he said.

"Dramatic press conferences with military leaders and document signings by the governor-general are political theatre in response to the government's own inaction and poor publicity, not real support for bushfire relief."

Australian Associated Press