Scott Morrison was right to hesitate over paying volunteer firefighters. It's not a simple issue and the government's decision to pay volunteers for lost income, up to $6000 apiece, is a significant shift. Clearly, volunteers must not be left struggling to pay their own bills because of the hours and weeks they are giving to the fire crisis. But whether the compensation scheme announced on the weekend is the right answer is debatable. You can expect unease or outright opposition from both ends of the political spectrum - from those who argue for self-reliance and "agency" in decision-making, and from the unions (and heavily union-influenced jurisdictions like the ACT) which oppose the threat to professional firefighters' industrial power and conditions. Both sets of concerns have merit. It is axiomatic that healthy lives and healthy communities are built on individual and community autonomy. It is only through the ability to make decisions and influence decisions that any of us create meaning and control in our lives. This is the essence of the small business model that the Coalition champions, and is the reason that networks of community institutions - councils, local schools, yes independent schools and churches, community groups - must be allowed to flourish. It is at this end of community building that calls for less government intervention find their feet. And it is also the reason we should encourage volunteers. The fire crisis that has engulfed NSW and other states - and disrupted the lives of Canberrans over the holiday break - has brought the question of pay for volunteers into sharp relief. READ MORE: ACT govt to seek advice on RFS compensation scheme Morrison spent days after his premature return from holiday in Hawaii brushing away calls for compensation, pointing out that there are 210,000 rural firefighters around the country. He drew a parallel with the volunteer lifesavers who patrol the country's beaches, and the volunteers who deliver meals on wheels. "Australia is a magnificent country because it does have that volunteer spirit. And Australia relies on that volunteer spirit and we celebrate it and we rightly do so," Morrison said a week ago. By the weekend, he was forced to concede, announcing his compensation package for firefighters who spend at least 10 days in the field. He was careful when he did to stress the extraordinary events of this year, which he said had made a call beyond what is typically made on volunteer firefighters and created special circumstances. "This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss. It's targeted," he said. But however he describes it this is a payment to volunteers and there will be enormous pressure now on the other states to make similar deals with the Commonwealth - and it will be enormously difficult to undo next year. Of course, this is not all bad. It will come as an important and welcome payment to those who have lost income while they tackle the appalling and frightening conditions in the hot and dangerous bushlands. But it might have been preferable, perhaps, if some mechanism could have been found to incentivise businesses to support their own staff when they take time off for this volunteer effort. Morrison led the way on this in a move that everyone can support when he announced that federal public servants will be entitled to up to four weeks' paid time a year to volunteer with the fire brigade.