The commander of the state's Australian Defence Force (ADF) deployment has rejected the idea of actively using troops in bushfire prevention, but said personnel could be in the Bega Valley to support relief efforts for at least a couple of months.
Commander of the ADF's NSW Joint Task Force Brigadier Mick Garraway, Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott and Commissioner Mick Fuller visited Bega on Tuesday to learn more about the region's bushfire emergency.
Brigadier Garraway said over 300 personnel were deployed in the Bega Valley, but that number "goes up and down from day to day depending on what their task is" and would travel from Nowra to the Victorian border.
"... Primarily the task group that's here in Bega is to provide immediate relief," he said.
Their jobs included assisting at the Eden chip mill, clearing roads and shifting fodder around the district and he would not put a time on how long they would be in the region as "this is a national emergency".
"I would see military assets being here on the South Coast for the next couple of months, quite frankly," Brigadier Garraway said.
He said the ADF had been involved in supporting state-led efforts against the nation's bushfires since early November, including about 250 people from his own brigade supporting the fire efforts every day.
The call-out for the ADF to support the relief efforts came later, he said, because of the number and sheer scale of fires across the country.
"I would reject any assertion that we weren't here early enough," Brigadier Garraway said.
"... There had been discussions months ago about how we might call out a large number of troops if it was required."
When asked if the defence force should provide an active role in bushfire prevention he said the ADF "would be getting out of [its] lane".
"We're about defending Australia by fighting wars, we're not bushfire fighters," he said.
"But I'd say that we have capabilities that can assist bushfire fighters and emergency services when things get to a level and the extent that they are now."
Mr Elliott said the cost of the ADF deployment "was yet to be completely ascertained", particularly considering the extra costs to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) was well over $100million.
He said there had been days when up to 10,000 combat agency personnel were deployed across the state to assist over 4000 RFS members as well as police and other agencies.
He did not directly respond to a question on whether he was aware of bushfire-related criminal activity on the Far South Coast, saying it was a matter for police.
"I'm very confident that they've been vigilant, I'm very confident that they've been receiving information from the community that has been worthwhile and I'm delighted that they've been able to act so swiftly when they've found examples of looting," Mr Elliott said.
Mr Elliott said the government could not "create false expectations when it comes to the recovery", as while it will be resourced "very, very well" they were not going to be able "make people's houses and communities back to the way that they were overnight" as both building standards and communities needed to be improved to ensure if a fire emergency such as this ever occurred again the loss of life and property was minimised.