Defence addresses criticism over Shoalwater Bay bushfires
MULTIPLE bushfires which have originated in Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area before spreading to threaten surrounding communities have prompted calls for the ADF to train its soldiers to join the firefighting effort.
Leading the charge is Livingstone Shire mayor Bill Ludwig who believed the ADF had an obligation to the shire to do more towards limiting and extinguishing the massive fires which were often left to burn for weeks.
After refusing the mayor's suggestion to establish a soldier firefighting pilot program a few weeks ago, an ADF spokesperson has expanded on its reasons why it wasn't feasible.
"The ADF's role is to defend and protect Australia and its national interests. Defence personnel undergo extensive initial and ongoing training in their military speciality," the spokesperson said.
"The maintenance of skills for Defence's military operational roles is a full time, intense, and ongoing activity. Diverting training and resources away from the primary role of Defence personnel will reduce our capability to achieve the mission directed by government.
"Those skills required to achieve our defence missions can also be used to provide civil and humanitarian assistance to communities in Australia and overseas in times of disaster and crises. The skill sets include: disaster recovery assistance, large scale planning and operations management, logistics and movement support, engineering support and health support."
Defence said it took its fire management responsibilities for the training area seriously and had processes and plans in place to ensure the small number of fires resulting from Defence activities were extinguished promptly.
"Defence works closely with local emergency organisations to ensure that fires on the Defence estate are effectively managed when they do occur," they said.
"It should be noted that fires caused by lightning, trespassers, and fires moving onto the training area from elsewhere, are also sources of fires on SWBTA."
During bushfire events, Defence said it worked closely with Queensland Fire and Emergency Service to co-ordinate responses.
"If a fire does threaten to leave the training area due to the effects of adverse weather conditions and inaccessible terrain, Defence seeks to obtain additional resources to bolster firefighting efforts whilst maintaining close liaison with civilian authorities," they said.
"Defence's approach to bushfire management is aligned to the Australian Government's National Bushfire Management: Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands (2012).
"Spotless provides a contracted First and Second Response firefighting capability at SWBTA."
Its First Response capability includes one Cat 7 vehicle (similar to medium sized RFS truck), three Cat 9 vehicles (Adapted LandCruisers), one bulk water carrier (providing water supply) and one slip-on unit (a water tank put on the back of a ute).
Its Second Response capability involved calling in other Spotless trained firefighters from surrounding regions, or with assistance from local Service Delivery Partners, who have adequate experience and understanding of SWBTA risks and complexities.
For the 2018/19 Financial Year, Defence spent a total of $3.2m on land management and day to day operations across the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.
"Fire mitigation activities include primary and secondary control measures," the spokesperson said.
"Primary controls include establishing Asset Protection Zones, maintaining fire breaks and access roads, and retaining fire response capability and assets.
"Secondary mitigation includes hazard reduction burns, mechanical fuel load reduction (such as mulching, grading, removing), and the management of invasive, and often highly flammable, weed species." Before embarking on the highly technical job of hazard reduction burning, a burn plan needed to be developed.
"A best practice Burn Plan involves planning, consultation and integration with external agencies and State and Territory authorities who have shared responsibilities managing bushfire risk across the landscape," the ADF said.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has sought to clarify who was responsible when it came to fighting bushfires and conducting hazard reduction efforts at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.
A QFES spokesperson said the responsibility of conducting hazard mitigation activities rested with the landholder.
"The Department of Defence manages the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area and is responsible for determining what hazard mitigation work is undertaken," the spokesperson said.
"It is not appropriate for QFES to carry out hazard mitigation work within the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area given QFES personnel are not trained to work with the specific characteristics of the land.
"QFES works closely with the Department of Defence to understand its hazard mitigation and bushfire response plans."
It said this understanding helped QFES to plan and prepare for incidents that may impact private land.
"QFES provides substantial support to landholders and partner agencies to manage fuel loads on their land," it said.
"Much of this work happens through Area Fire Management Groups.
AFMGs are made up of representatives of key landholders and managers, including representatives of government-owned land.
This includes the Department of Defence.
"QFES chairs AFMGs with landholders and managers to encourage and co-ordinate bushfire mitigation activity on their land," they said.