Thursday, 10 December 2020
Fraser Island: Bushfires
Representing just a dozen in this place are MPs who are custodians of mangroves, mudflats and great sand islands—the member for Petrie is among them. I'm really shocked by how we have potentially compromised a generation of tourism on Fraser Island, the greatest sand island of them all. There have been 86,000 hectares ferociously burnt since 14 October, and it was almost six weeks before any action was taken to control the fire. There's always a place for low-intensity fires, but what happened on Fraser is a big warning for all the other great sand islands that are prone to bushfire. It is also a warning to the men and women who fight those fires. It's simply unacceptable for it to be left in the hands of fate or chance.
Adding to the almost Keystone Cops experience, the Queensland government—having just six weeks ago celebrated the arrival of a water bomber—hadn't even got the leasing arrangements right and not only was the water bomber not called upon for six weeks but it's lease actually ran out for six days and the plane wasn't even available to fly. These things are part of basic emergency preparedness, and we all know money invested in prevention is far more effective than what we're doing now, which is literally hundreds of firefighters—the numbers have fallen since the recent storm—fighting a fire that's out of control. It's not just out of control but threatening the absolutely pristine World Heritage listed parts of Fraser Island. Only luck has spared them.
I'm calling today on the state government to elevate their level of concern—and the new ministers will be Ministers Scanlon and Crawford—and improve their understanding of the delicate balance on these islands. Let's be completely honest, there are some competing priorities out there. There is the importance of Indigenous land tenure and providing that justice which is being rolled out on Stradbroke Island at the moment. But on Moreton Island we see a slightly more precarious situation where the relationship between National Parks and Indigenous custodians is less defined. So I'm calling on the state government to be very clear about these great sand islands and the arrangements we have for natural disasters, including fire. We need to do that, of course, because you don't always get the time you had on Fraser Island and, even when given time on Fraser, we couldn't get it right.
Australians are proud of the way we fight bushfires and proud of the way we live in areas that are bushfire prone. We want to take every precaution we possibly can. What that requires is published, publicly well-known fire plans developed in consultation with our Indigenous elders long before a bushfire shows up. You can't be knocking on the doors of our traditional leaders hours before you're planning on sending the plane into the air. That's precisely what happened. Indigenous elders need all the information presented to them. They can make perfectly well-informed decisions if given that opportunity. The conversation has to be held in advance about areas of the islands that have significant cultural value, areas where we might manage a non-intensive fire differently to a high-intensity fire. All of these provisions need to be understood not only by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service but also by the firefighters and, in reality, the general public. There are a lot of stakeholders on those islands. It's not just those who live there; it's those who run businesses, those who are dependent on tourism and those who are camping. They all want to know that they can do it safely and the island wants to know that they can safely do it in 10 or 20 years time.
For those reasons, I'll do one final call as we close out this year to make sure that we don't have a repeat of the bushfires we saw 12 months ago. The best way is prevention, and that starts with decent planning on our great sandy islands.