ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan has warned a new way of sharing firefighters will be needed, if states and territories are forced to compete for scarce resources during future fire seasons.
It comes amid revelations a liaison officer from the National Resource Sharing Centre considered Commissioner Whelan's request for resources "excessive" during the last fire season.
During the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Tuesday, current and ex-fire chiefs were asked to respond to a hypothetical situation where states and territories were forced to choose where to send a limited number of firefighters, if multiple jurisdictions were calling for aid at the same time.
Currently, fire chiefs work collaboratively to share resources as part of the Commissioners and Chief Officers Strategic Committee (CCOSC).
The committee - which sits under the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC) - provides direction to the National Resource Sharing Centre, which actually carries out the task of facilitating the interstate and international sharing of resources by member agencies.
However Commissioner Whelan said the consensus approach of the committee exposed it to a "wicked problem" in situations where authority and accountability was required.
"I'm not sure it has the set-up that is required to support that kind of critical decision-making. What it is, however, is an excellent forum to be providing information to those individuals or organisations that are authorised to be making those critical decisions," Commissioner Whelan said.
This weakness could be exposed if Australia's firefighting resources become more stretched due to more frequent fires and natural disasters, Commissioner Whelan argued.
"The last season in terms of the breadth, the complexity and the rate in which we were all responding to bushfires may have been unprecedented, but, of course ... our scientists, research is telling us is we need to start being prepared for that kind of unprecedented event to potentially increase and be more likely into the future," she said.
"In the past, I think we've been very fortunate that as our seasons start very early in the north and then work their way almost in a clockwise direction around our country, we've been able to almost leapfrog our resources from one state to the other.
"But if we are to even consider that 20 per cent of what we're being told may be what the future we can expect and should be prepared for is, which is far more concurrence, activity and complexity to what we're dealing with, it may come a time when we are not able to flex those resources as successfully as we have, and we may need to make decisions around both firefighting assets and aerial firefighting assets into the future."
Commissioner Whelan said CCOSC was also not designed to make decisions in the national interest.
"I represent the Emergency Services Agency of the ACT and I represent my jurisdiction and I'm going to fight to the death for the resources that my jurisdiction requires, and bid very hard to win those resources," Commissioner Whelan said.
"And as a good citizen and colleague, where I have resources that are available, I'm going to make [the committee] aware of what resources I am willing to make available to deploy interstate.
"But ultimately I'm not authorised to make decisions on whether one jurisdiction is more worthy of a resource than another."
Commissioner Whelan said while the ACT had never been outbid for resources, she was told by a National Resource Sharing Centre liaison officer her request for resources was "excessive".
"We had to have some conversations around what that meant for me as the commissioner, versus [National Resource Sharing Centre] liaison providing their advice or recommendation to my request," Commissioner Whelan said.
There were also some "robust" conversations had over the location of firefighting aircraft.
"We put a very strong bid forward for an aircraft here in the ACT. We had invested heavily in an air base, but it was the view of others that that aircraft would be better served in another state.
"Now, ultimately we were allocated that aircraft, but I think it would have been a very interesting conversation if another decision had've been made at the time. So we've never got to that point, but certainly there was the potential for that to occur."
Commissioner Whelan said CCOSC was not set up to resolve a bidding war like that "to an extent that our political leaders would be comfortable with".
The royal commission continues on Wednesday.