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Posted on: 20 January, 2020

SWBTA wildfire threat should not wait for Royal Commission

Current wildfire management threat at Shoalwater Bay Army Training Area should not need to wait for a Royal Commission before action is taken to protect Livingstone Shire Residents.

Mayor Bill Ludwig said that is the message he gave to Senator Matt Canavan and Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry on Friday afternoon when they came to ask what more the Federal Government could to do in the wake of the recent devastating fires that ravaged the Shire.

“This a critical public safety issue for our community given many of our major wild-fires actually start within the boundaries of SWBTA,” Mayor Ludwig said.

“Far too often SWBTA wildfires are left to burn for weeks uncontained due to the lack of firefighting resources or inadequate management practices which poses a major threat to adjoining properties.

“Last year one such fire resulted in the neighbouring community of Byfield being forced to prepare for evacuation ahead of a blaze which destroyed significant areas of nearby pine plantation forest.

“As Chair of the Local Disaster Management Group (LDMG), I called a meeting with senior ADF Officers to officially raise our concerns.

“The blunt response was, under current arrangements, ADF have no directive or obligation to train Army personnel to undertake fire-fighting at SWBTA, or to support the fire-fighting efforts of neighbouring volunteer Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigades.

“ADF advised it was also not their responsibility to make their paid contractors, whose role it is to contain fires within SWBTA, available to assist volunteer RFS brigades when fires did cross into neighbouring properties.

“This is clearly an untenable situation given ADF is the largest single land-owner occupying almost one-third of the Shire’s total landmass, an footprint that is currently expanding to service training needs of the Singaporean Armed Forces.

“Australia-wide it is standard practice for all agencies and the regions’ RFS volunteer brigades to work together across boundaries when major bushfires threaten.

“This ‘common sense’ and necessary collaborative approach is astoundingly not currently in practice here at SWBTA.

“With PM Scott Morrison’s public acknowledgement that the Federal Government and ADF must play a more pro-active role in ‘wildfire’ defence there is a clear responsibility here to immediately address what is an untenable situation at SWBTA.

“Having a dedicated number of regular or reserve ADF troops with firefighting training would also allow those troops to be readily deployed nation-wide to support future major fire-fighting efforts as and where required,” Mayor Ludwig said.

Letters requesting immediate action will be sent this week to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Minister for Emergency Management and Leader.

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