Nov 7, 2023

Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteer numbers have been allowed to nearly halve in the past two decades, exposing outback Queensland to indefensible risk and undermining the narrative that governments are genuinely concerned by the rate of natural disasters increasing due to “climate change”, Katter’s Australian Party MPs have said.

KAP Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter said “woke” politicians were talking out both sides of their mouths by linking sweeping policy decisions, such as phasing out coal-fired power and locking up land, to climate change while concurrently failing to maintain an adequate volunteer firefighting force.

He said both approaches were contradictory, could not be concurrently justified and therefore exposed the shallow, ideological motivations behind decision-making in modern Queensland and Australian politics.

RFS volunteer numbers have dropped from around 44,000 in 2004, to around 26,000 in 2023.

“At the same time we have seen these shocking declines in volunteer numbers, without any genuine attempt to stem the flow, Labor governments have embarked on a land lock-up spree that has seen National Park size in Queensland increase from around 6.6 million ha in 2002 to more than 7 million ha in 2022,” Mr Katter said.

“This is just part of the broader protected area network that currently sits at around 8.26 per cent of the State – Labor wants this number to be 17 per cent by 2030, in line with United Nations’ targets.

“Then we have the Prime Minister is running around the country saying he will protect 30 per cent of lands, meanwhile what is currently under lock and key are poorly-managed, ecological wastelands that raise the nation’s bushfire risk.

“Ask any landholder, the worst possible neighbour you can have is a National Park or a State Forest.

“We are in a very dry period now and a likely El Nino period so our bushfire threat is high, and governments are scrambling to do the firebreak and back burning work that should have been done months ago.”

Mr Katter said the Blackbraes National Park fire, which has been burning for two weeks north of Hughenden, was an example of the disastrous status quo.

“This fire was likely deliberately lit, but the fuel loads that were allowed to exist leading to this disaster are inexcusable,” he said.

“Private landholders neighbouring Blackbraes, and local volunteers, have had to fight for weeks to prevent their own properties from going up in flames – the ad hoc fire mitigation work done on the state-owned site has proven to be completely inadequate.

“To make matters worse, I’ve received reports of National Parks personnel deployed to the fire being unable or unwilling to loan their equipment to volunteers whilst in turn needing to borrow privately-owned equipment to complete their own fire control activities.

“I don’t blame the firefighters on the ground for this, they get their mandates from Brisbane who are responsible for this mess.”

Mr Katter said he would be personally mailing any firefighting costs accumulated by the Flinders Shire community to Queensland Police, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan and Environment Minister Leanne Linard.

He said he would also raise the need for less bureaucracy, including dropping the need for volunteers to hold Blue Cards, and more financial support for Queensland’s rural fire brigades.

“The Minister either wants people on the ground to manage these disasters or he doesn’t, the ball is in his court,” he said.

KAP Federal MP Bob Katter said it was heartbreaking to see the devastation caused by the fires not just in North Queensland, but around the State.

He said while he acknowledged the varying causes of each fire, the underlying issue was “there is no one looking after the land” in reference to the growing National Parks and diminishing agricultural allotments.

“In European countries, farmers are subsidised to care for the land; they’re willing to live out there and they know the land, not the woke politicians ‘protecting’ it in parliament,” Mr Katter Snr said.

“Our farmers and First Australians understand the conditions, they understand the processes of things like back burning.

“Not to denigrate National Parks rangers, but with their limited resources – we’re seeing the results, and we’ve seen the damage.

“Forty Mile Scrub (south of Mount Garnett) is a prime example; a once iconic jungle, not cared for and now burnt to the ground filled with invasive species.

“On the other side of the road is a pristine nature wonderland, a cattle station – a property cared for by a person on the ground – not some greenie in a city.

“It is heartbreaking to see my land turn from productive enterprises that give us wealth, to a greenie’s wet dream.”