SHOTS FIRED: Livingstone Shire mayor Bill Ludwig has called for the government to order the ADF to play a leading role fighting fires originating from Shoalwater Bay Training Area. 
Picture: Contributed
SHOTS FIRED: Livingstone Shire mayor Bill Ludwig has called for the government to order the ADF to play a leading role fighting fires originating from Shoalwater Bay Training Area. Picture: Contributed

Mayor demands government take Shoalwater bushfire action

NOT content to sit around twiddling his thumbs waiting for political action after a lengthy Royal Commission into Australia’s disastrous bushfire season, Livingstone Shire mayor Bill Ludwig is on the warpath demanding the government intervenes now at the Shoalwater Bay Military Training area.

Given that several bushfires started in the training area before going on to menace the surrounding communities (such as the bushfire emergency in Byfield last September), Mr Ludwig believed that the ADF had an obligation to the people of Livingstone Shire to do more.

Encouraged by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent statement that the ADF must play a major role in “wildfire” ­defence, Mr Ludwig told ­Senator Matt Canavan and Michelle Landry on Friday afternoon that he wished to see the establishment of a pilot program to train troops ­alongside experienced firefighters.

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

Fires burning at Shoalwater Bay last year.
Fires burning at Shoalwater Bay last year.

“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 chairman of the Local Disaster Management Group, Mr Ludwig called a meeting with senior ADF officers to officially raise their concerns.

“The blunt response was, under current arrangements, ADF have no directive or obligation to train Army personnel to undertake firefighting at SWBTA, or to support the firefighting efforts of neighbouring volunteer Rural Fire Service brigades,” he said.

“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.

Bungundarra farmers Joycelyn and Robert Sikes show David Littleproud, Michelle Landry, Bill Ludwig and Steve Smith fire damaged mango trees from the Cobraball bushfire.
Bungundarra farmers Joycelyn and Robert Sikes show David Littleproud, Michelle Landry, Bill Ludwig and Steve Smith fire damaged mango trees from the Cobraball bushfire.

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

He said it was standard practice across the country 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,” he said.

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

A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS) live fire demonstration took place at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, as part of the lead up to Talisman Sabre 2019.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS) live fire demonstration took place at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, as part of the lead up to Talisman Sabre 2019.

“Having a dedicated number of regular or reserve ADF troops with firefighting training would also allow those troops to be readily deployed nationwide to support future major firefighting efforts as and where required.”

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.

Senator Canavan and Ms Landry were asked to comment.