Labor’s smoke and mirrors can’t hide rural fire cuts

Wednesday 9 September, 2020

The LNP has accused the Palaszczuk Labor Government of using smoke and mirrors to hide cuts to Queensland’s rural fire brigades.

Labor yesterday announced that the rural fire budget had been ‘increased’ to $47.1m – but did not provide a breakdown of the funding figure and did not release how much had spent on the brigades in 2019-20.

In 2018/19 total funding for rural fire brigades was $53.5m – $6.4m more than the figure announced yesterday*.

LNP Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Lachlan Millar said the only undisputed fact was that Labor had slashed rural fire funding by $6.4m over the last two years.

“No-one is buying Labor’s spin on fire funding,” Mr Millar said.

“The Rural Fire Brigade Association has already said there’s a good chance that this funding ‘increase’ is not real**.

“The LNP’s fight against rural fire brigade cuts has clearly rattled the Palaszczuk Labor Government – but I won’t stop fighting for our volunteer firefighters.

“It’s time for Labor to come clean on rural fire funding.

“Queenslanders need to see a full Budget so we can see where our taxes have been spent – and how Labor has cut funding.”

Mr Millar said Queensland’s rural firies deserved straight answers from Labor.

“Just a year ago these men and women were on the frontline of a horrific bushfire season, giving their all to protect their communities,” Mr Millar said.

“These cuts mean less money for training, less money for fire trucks and less money for equipment. No wonder volunteers are walking away from our rural brigades.”

In contrast with Labor’s cuts to rural fire brigades, the LNP has announced a10-point bushfire mitigation plan, which includes restoring local control to rural fire brigades as well as establishing a dedicated Rural Fire Board.

“A Deb Frecklington LNP Government will treat rural firies with the respect they deserve and provide them with the equipment they need to keep communities safe,” Mr Millar said.

* Funding is detailed in the response to Question on Notice 1488: www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/tableOffice/questionsAnswers/2019/1488-2019.pdf

** See RFBAQ comment:

https://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/6915857/rural-firies-in-the-dark-on-budget/?cs=4785

The LNP’s 10-point bushfire mitigation plan

One-stop-shop for streamlined approval process: The LNP will establish a single point of contact for all landholders (local, state and federal) to answer and enable bushfire mitigation inquiries, as recommended by the 2018 IGEM report.

Deemed approval after 15 business days under a “right to burn” model: Properly made applications will be automatically approved after 15 business days to give landholders and councils certainty. This will stop permits getting lost in bureaucratic process and restore accountability and bring certainty to landholders and allow government to scale up or down resources to respond to demands for permits.

New KPIs to achieve 98 per cent of hazard reduction activities: There are currently no KPIs holding government departments to account on hazard reduction burns, the creation of firebreaks and community education. Between 2016 and 2019, Only 54% of hazard reduction burns planned have been completed. There’s also been a 30 per cent reduction in completed overall hazard reduction activities.

Indigenous rangers to undertake traditional burning: The LNP will trial a traditional burning program run by indigenous rangers. The program won’t replace Rural Fire Brigades’ role in managing and coordinating hazard reduction burns. It will compliment pre-existing efforts by combining traditional and modern burning practices. Blending cultural and modern burning techniques has proven successful and should be expanded.

Establish a Natural Disaster Cabinet Committee to monitor preparations: The group will be chaired by the Emergency Services Minister and QFES Commissioner. It will monitor the progress of state departments and landholders conducting hazard reduction activities.

Monitored grazing in state forests, some national parks to manage fuel loads: The 2018 IGEM report cited grazing as a measure used in conjunction with a suite of hazardreduction measures. Grazing will be monitored to protect the environment but also managefuel loads.

Establish metropolitan-based Rural Fire Volunteer brigades: Just like in Sydney and Melbourne where brigades exist that are operated by volunteer firefighters that can be called on during extreme bushfire events to surge capacity, a similar model should be investigated in Queensland to make use of the large number of SEQ based volunteers.

Restore local control to Rural Fire brigades: This will restore recent management structure changes that pushed local fire brigades under the reporting authority of regional urban fire groups.

Establish a Rural Fire Board: The Rural Fire Board will be made up of respected rural fire brigade members from across Queensland as well as members appointed by the Government. Future policy direction or matters that affect brigades and volunteers would need to be accepted or made workable by this representative board.

Review of aerial firefighting capability: A review and stock take of aviation fire assets in Queensland to ensure the state’s capacity will accommodate future increased fire risks.

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