Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk addresses a media conference during the bushfire crisis.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk addresses a media conference during the bushfire crisis.

Fire probe: What does Premier have to hide?

WHEN it comes to painful imbecility, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's daft refusal to hold a judicial inquiry into Queensland's recent bushfires is up there with having a public survey - and willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars - on changing the name of a hospital.

Just put aside for a moment that the Palaszczuk Government has used your money to embark on a weird vendetta against Lady Phyllis Cilento (who the Queensland Children's Hospital was named after) but is refusing an inquiry into whether fire management could be better in this state.

Today, and tomorrow and the day after that, Palaszczuk needs to answer why she does not want her Government's controversial vegetation laws, national park management and fire break system put under the microscope by an independent inquiry advocated by farmers, lobby groups, Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

What does she have to hide - or does she really think there is not one thing, not one lesson to be learned?

The most recent fires, that raged across central Queensland, national parks and other parts of the state, have scorched about one million hectares.

The fires roared through national parks, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

Our firefighters showed true heroism, and like so many first responders who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, deserve our gratitude and admiration.

It is a testament to their professionalism that no one directly died from the fires but those infernos will have long and devastating impact on farmers, already doing it tough from the drought.

Queensland bushfires in pictures

Farmers and landholders want answers. They don't want a State Government department to do a pretend probe.

They want a judicial inquiry, just like the people in Brisbane got when flood waters came raging through their backyards. They want to be treated equally and want to be heard.

A petition for a bushfire inquiry set up only a couple of days ago has more than 2300 signatures.

At the weekend, Palaszczuk smacked down the need for people to be heard. She said her Government did a great job at protecting people.

The tone of her defence was indifferent to the frustration many landholders have been feeling for the past few years. It was as if she did not know why the community was not giving her accolades like the one former premier Anna Bligh rightly received when reminding Queenslanders what they are made of in the wake of the devastating 2011 floods.

So let's put her arguments to the test.

Palaszczuk attacked critics for saying vegetation management laws prevented the carrying out of fire breaks.

"Fire breaks are exempt. No permit required,'' she said.

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tours a central Queensland fire zone recently.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tours a central Queensland fire zone recently.

 

The problem with that tricky language is that under Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992, the law clearly states landholders may still need a permit before clearing protected native plants, even for fire management.

"Exemptions MAY apply...if clearing is for fire management,'' the explanatory note of the Bill says.

No one credible is saying her souped-up vegetation management laws caused the fires.

The issue is about whether the laws, and their constant amendments, plus her Government's management of national parks, plus potential delays for fire permits, exacerbated the bushfires or made it more difficult to fight.

The question is also whether these laws and practices are communicated properly.

There is a lot of confusion in rural communities about what they can and cannot do. Palaszczuk cannot blame her opponents for this.

She is the Premier. Responsibility for articulating laws and a clear message is the responsibility of her Government.

But this is a Premier becoming arrogant.

She also said this: "Twenty-six Queensland cities and towns set new records for high temperatures in that week - 17 above 40C. Added to that were high winds and storms.

"That caused the fires: unprecedented weather conditions.

"Where were the critics when we were fighting these fires?"

Where were they, Premier? On the frontline. Your very critics are the landholders who pulled their kids out of school to protect their property from the blazes that have stolen their livelihood.

They are the ones who helped battle the fires while you stayed in an airconditioned control room.

They are the ones who have been saying your "green-inspired" laws go too far and make it confusing and too hard for them to protect their property.

It is true climate change will have an effect on our country. But isn't that another reason to have an inquiry to ensure that the state has the right and appropriate management laws in place?

One of the problems with the Government's vegetation management laws is they were retrospective - that's rarely good.

At the very least it is time for them to be reviewed.

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk looks on as Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katerina Carroll updates the media during the bushfires.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk looks on as Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katerina Carroll updates the media during the bushfires.

 

This is a cut-and-paste from the Government's own explanation of the amendments to the vegetation management laws.

"Stakeholders have not been consulted specifically on the Amendment Bill.

"The aim of the Amendment Bill is to implement the election commitments and reinstate a more sustainable vegetation management framework for Queensland.

"The proposed Bill may adversely affect the following rights retrospectively: the right to clear particular vegetation

within the period between the date of introduction and the date of assent for the legislation; and the right to have certain applications considered or amended.

"Arguably these amendments offend section 4(3)(g) of the Legislative Standards Act 1992 which provides that legislation have sufficient regard to the rights and liberties of

individuals and consequently should not adversely affect rights and liberties, or impose obligations, retrospectively."

The Premier says, "history will judge us as making the right decisions".

That is a ridiculous statement to make and shows a stubborn spirit at a time when today she is being told by so many that she has made the wrong decision.



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