Tuesday, 14 November 2023

Farmers and environmentalists alike must be alarmed by the lack of action by State and Federal Governments on fire management but there is still time for urgent action across Northern Australia to prevent further destruction.  As bushfires begin to rage, time is still available to prioritise clearing firebreaks, backburning and banning any firelighting activities, particularly in national parks. 

Recent fires in North Queensland both started at Littleton National park and Lakefield National Park.  In both instances fires spread into neighbouring private properties, burning hundreds of thousands of hectares of grazing land and wildlife habitat. 

It was particularly devastating – and frustrating – for landholders who had contacted Queensland Parks and Wildlife about Littleton in the months prior, asking that after the good season and strong vegetation growth, firebreaks be bulldozed along the park boundaries.  

They say the response was that there was no budget for firebreaks. 

When the landholders advised that private bulldozers suitable for the work were located nearby and ready to be deployed, they say QPWS told them they were only permitted to use government contractors based 500km away but they weren’t available. 

For any state-owned-land manager to not budget for important activities like firebreaks is shocking, and a gross failure of the most basic responsibilities governments are charged with. 

The entirely predictable result of fire escaping the park boundaries resulted in private properties losing calves and thousands of acres of critical livestock feed, feed that would have fed stock into the creeping dry season. 

This is another example of accumulated government action, or in this case inaction, which makes it harder for farmers to get on and farm, growing food for the 99% of us who can’t feed ourselves. 

The fire raced through grass plains, and timbered hills, burning so fast and hot, pushed by October winds that the very fauna and habitat that the national park was designed to protect was also lost. 

It must have brought locals to their knees to have been told that QPWS staff said they could not join them to fight the fires as they were “out of hours”. 

We must and can do better in fire management, but governments are displaying a frightening reluctance to prioritise proper oversight of national parks and they must take responsibility. 

Basic activities such as fuel load management in cooler seasons, budgeting for more firebreaks, early detection technology and properly equipped and staffed Rural Fire Brigades is the very least expected of a competent administration.

But the lack of even this most basic oversight is why we must not establish any new national parks until it is demonstrated we can properly manage the parks we’ve already got.

Starting today, local contractors must be brought in to grade firebreaks to protect fauna, flora, private property and the people who live on it. 

There is not an hour to waste to prevent further losses and I still hold some faint hope that the Palaszczuk and Albanese governments can meet their basic obligations to regional communities.