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Confusing Back Burning Laws May Have Made 2018 Bushfires Worse

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Image Credit: QFES Newsroom

An independent report has found Queensland's confusing back burning laws may have led to last year's devastating bushfires across Central and North Queensland.  

It provides 23 recommendations, including to develop a single point of contact for all permit and bushfire mitigation inquiries.

The fires, which sparked in November 2018 and continued into December, caused mass evacuations in Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Bundaberg regions.  

About 1.4 million hectares of land was turned black during the ordeal, with 'Catastrophic' warnings issued at times.

The fires came months after the State Labor Government made it more difficult for farmers to clear vegetation on their land.

Paul Schembri from Canegrowers Queensland said farmers are still frustrated by red tape.

"We're not able to do literally anything with some of the vegetation on our land, there are restrictions about what we can do in terms of burning, all of that has built up to that catastrophic situation we saw last year" he said.  

The State government has vowed to continue to improve the way it responds to events like this.  

Mr Schembri however said "there's no point in releasing a report and they don't talk to us on the ground about some meaningful reforms, let's farmers be able to manage the landscape because they know the area well and they know the sort of practices that can manage it".

The LNP was critical, saying the review failed to investigate key disaster prevention concerns.

LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said the review did not look at whether Labor’s mismanagement of fuel loads and fire breaks on state-controlled land worsened the bushfires.

“We know our emergency service workers did an amazing job - that was never in doubt,” Ms Frecklington said.

“The report fails to look at whether Labor prepared the state properly before the fortnight of fires devastated Queensland communities.

“We know there were nearly 1000 less Hazard Reduction Burns conducted and attended by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service in 2018 compared to 2015.

“The report was all about Labor saving face rather than saving communities from bushfires.”

LNP Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Lachlan Millar said it was unacceptable the report failed to make any recommendations despite many submissions on the mismanagement of state-controlled land and issues with getting fire permits approved.

“Rather than taking responsibility for slashing Hazard Reduction Burns, the Palaszczuk Labor Government blamed our farmers for the fuelling the bushfires,” Mr Millar said.

“Blaming farmers for being confused about backburning rights while ignoring Labor’s own mismanagement of state-controlled land and national parks is a new low.

“Queenslanders deserved answers to crucial questions about how the bushfires caused so much damage.

“Landholders have been very open and frank with us and the government over how policy settings should be overhauled.

“Only the LNP is listening and only the LNP will hold government agencies to account on land management practices and fire mitigation activities.”

By Michelle Price