Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his office's use of taxpayer resources to produce and distribute a social media message about Defence deployments to assist during the bushfire crisis.
In a media conference in Canberra as thousands remain in evacuation zones and communities face ongoing fire threats, Mr Morrison denied the 50-second video was an advertisement.
"It wasn't a Liberal Party-sponsored ad, it was authorised by me - I'm the leader of the Liberal Party - that's the only authorisation I can post on something that is posted on my [Facebook] page," he said.
"The same thing that applies to other politicians in Australia … it is simply complying with requirements of Australian law.
"To infer from that that there was some other purpose in these communications - I reject absolutely - absolutely - and the commentary on that along those lines, I think, is false."
The 50-second video, released on Twitter and Facebook, is set to electronic music as text of the additional assistance appears over vision of the disaster relief efforts, defence craft, and the prime minister's visits to affected communities.
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020
"We're calling out up to 3000 Defence Force Reservists to help in fire-affected areas," the text reads.
"We've also deployed three Australian Navy ships ... that's on top of the $26 million already committed this year."
The video also summarised Australia's response to the fire crisis, which noted the use of 140 aerial firefighting aircraft; payments to volunteer firefighters; the availability of P2 face masks; and emergency payments to those who have lost homes or income as a result of the crisis.
The death toll from the fires, which began in September, now stands at 24 with six people still missing in Victoria.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said "everyone knows" Mr Morrison has an advertising background, but he was stunned by the post.
"It took six weeks for the government to agree to a national response and six minutes for them to put out an authorised Liberal Party ad which can only be seen as being for party-political purposes at a time where it requires national leadership and it requires a non-partisan and non-political approach," he said.
Morrison worked as managing director of Tourism Australia, the agency responsible for marketing the country to international tourists, between 2004 and 2006.
"Yesterday was one of the worst days in what has been an unprecedented, horrendous fire season," Albanese said.
"And on that day what the Prime Minister decided to do was engage in an act of making a party-political advertisement, which was all about his own image."
After the video was released, the Liberal Party's Facebook and Twitter accounts released posts also detailing the additional ADF assistance linking through to an article on the party's website.
The opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) have not released posts on Facebook or Twitter referencing the ADF assistance.
Morrison confirmed the video was produced by his office, but said the cost was negligible.
"It's on Facebook. It's put together by my own office. There are no real, honest expenses that are of any significance that are attached to making a Facebook post," he said.
Colvin to lead bushfire recovery agency
The government today also announced a new national bushfire recovery agency led by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin.
It will be modelled on an organisation set up to coordinate the response to the North Queensland floods and will report to Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud, working closely with the states and territories to rebuild critical infrastructure.
Mr Morrison said it would also provide mental health and income support to bushfire victims over its two-year lifetime.
"Those who have been in some of these areas will know that this fire and the haze and the fear and the quite extreme conditions will have had a profound impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people in these communities," he said.
More information about the agency will be offered tomorrow.