Report, Motion to Take Note
Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (3.32 pm): I rise to speak on the Examination of Queensland Audit Office report 5: 2018-19: Follow-up of bushfire prevention and preparedness. This report looks at a 2018 QAO report that examined the progress of recommendations it made in 2014-15 to the QFES about bushfire preparedness. This is a report about a report reporting on a report.
The original report found that we were not as prepared as we should be for bushfire threats and that the focus on response was to the detriment of coordinating effective mitigation programs. Among the recommendations were that work had to be done on coordinating land managers’ efforts to assess and mitigate bushfire risks; formalising roles to manage fuel loads, including reporting planned and conducted hazard reduction burns and effectiveness; and amending mitigation planning to address prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
It is disappointing that, while QFES has made some progress on these recommendations, it has only partially implemented them. The Auditor-General said that QFES ‘has increased its focus on bushfire risk mitigation activities statewide’; however, ‘more work is needed to ensure Queensland communities are not exposed to higher levels of risk than they need to be.’ The Audit Office recognises this is a challenge because it involves multiple parties and often the QFES is ‘reliant on the actions of others’. The report further states—
It is critical that QFES’s efforts to improve its collaboration with key stakeholders continue In particular, it should continue to engage with land managers and local governments to better identify bushfire risks and prioritise mitigation activities.
Among those mitigation measures is managing fuel loads. This parliament has frequently heard that fuel loads are an underlying problem. Over the last 18 months, on two occasions the government has negligently refused to support two inquiries looking into this. In late 2018 it blocked an open and transparent inquiry. Late last year it again blocked an inquiry. The government has been repeatedly warned about managing fuel loads. It was warned when it removed stock grazing permits and when it made back-burning and effective vegetation management more difficult.
Claims that climate change is behind all of our bushfires is a hypocritical distraction. Whenever we try to raise these issues the government muddies the issue, saying we are attacking those who fight fires. It is a cynical, politically motivated accusation that does not match the facts. Arguments about a narrowing window to conduct land management practices are misleading when government will not let landholders responsibly manage their land. The government’s response is to spin, distract and deflect from the underlying causes. It prefers political measures, not practical ones.
Fires need an ignition and something to burn. Bushfire prevention and preparedness means looking at ineffective bushfire management in state controlled lands and a dramatic drop in burns by QFES and government obsession with legislation and regulation. They cannot be ignored. The IGEM report shows that the government has overseen: an 83 per cent reduction in overall fire prevention activities; a 75 per cent reduction in completed hazard reduction burns; an 82 per cent reduction in completed fire breaks; and an 88 per cent reduction in community education activities. It has slashed $13 million from the Rural Fire Service.
Regional and rural landholders continually raise with me their serious concerns about land management practices to control their fuel loads, the management of our national parks, and what they can do to protect their properties. Bureaucratic regulations that impose onerous burdens on farmers, landholders and rural and regional businesses hinder good land management. They make it more difficult to prevent and prepare for bushfires. Irresponsible vegetation and weed management practices in state controlled land pose a risk and create ongoing issues for neighbouring landholders.
This problem has not suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The Rural Fire Brigade Association of Queensland’s general manager, Justin Choveaux, told the Gympie Times that it has built up over the past 10 to 15 years and that parks have been run down over many years. He said that without appropriate land management, rural brigades had to fight ‘prolonged fires on state land where the state has limited or no firefighting capacity due to budget constraints. Many brigades also believe rural fireys and QFES are being used as a source of free labour by some departments to manage their fire risks.’ Simply locking away the land does not prevent and prepare for bushfires. At considerable expense, and at no cost to the state, farmers and landholders can help prevent catastrophic bushfires if they can efficiently manage their land. Responsible and effective bushfire prevention and preparedness means practical and workable measures, not political ones.