A member of the QFES talks with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack at the staging area for emergency services during the November fires on the Capricorn Coast.
A member of the QFES talks with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack at the staging area for emergency services during the November fires on the Capricorn Coast.

Plan to train ADF members to fight fires at major CQ base

UPSKILLING the Australian Defence Force to work hand-in-hand with firefighters in times of disaster could become a reality after Prime Minister Scott Morrison's recent statement that the ADF must play a major role in "wild fire" ­defence.

With the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) situated on a third of the shire's land, Mayor Bill Ludwig said it was the perfect location to launch a pilot program to train troops alongside experienced firefighters.

Mayor Ludwig said he would put the proposition to the Federal Government as chairman of the Local Disaster Management Group (LDMG) in the wake of the horrendous bushfire impacts on Livingstone and other regional areas across Australia.

"The PM's announcement has presented the opportunity to make the SWBTA a national training ground where ADF troops can also be upskilled and trained in firefighting and mitigation," the mayor said.

"Prior to Christmas, I met with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Canberra seeking support for the development of a pilot program for a whole-of-shire plan and a regional approach to bushfire management and mitigation strategies. There is now an opportunity to build on that original proposal.

"In relation to SWBTA, council had previously been advised by the ADF that under current arrangements, having trained Army personnel with the skill sets to either directly undertake firefighting at SWBTA, or support the firefighting efforts of neighbouring rural brigades, is not their role or responsibility."

Mayor Ludwig said this highlighted a critical issue for the community given many fires had started on SWBTA and eventually threatened neighbouring communities such as Byfield, which happened again late last year.

"Having a dedicated number of firefighting-trained defence troops would be a huge leap forward and put the Federal Government on the front foot where they need to be to play a key role in helping to develop and implement strategies to manage wildfires and, importantly, put in place effective mitigation programs both here in our region and nationally," he said.

"Australia-wide the regions' rural fire volunteers undertake firefighting training and work together across boundaries to jointly defend regions when bushfires threaten.

"The ADF has massive resources and should be standing shoulder to shoulder to defend local communities.

"As the largest land owner, occupying one-third of Livingstone Shire, ADF should at the very least already have firefighting-trained troops who can be deployed to assist when SWBTA fires threaten populated areas like Byfield."

"The PM's commitment for ADF to play a boots-on-the-ground role in firefighting must now be put into action and SWBTA is the ideal place make an immediate start."