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What did we learn? The K’gari Bushfire Review

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In late May, the Inspector-General Emergency Management’s review report and the government’s response to the K’gari (Fraser Island) bushfires were tabled in State Parliament. The government response states that all 38 of the report’s recommendations were supported or supported in principle.

The Inspector-General Emergency Management (IGEM) Alistair Dawson said one of the IGEM’s critical, ongoing roles is to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of disaster management arrangements in Queensland.

During the review, the IGEM engaged with the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, held a forum with the Butchulla people, conducted five community and business forums and considered 78 written submissions. In addition, the review team undertook extensive consultation with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), the Queensland Police Service (QPS), the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) and the Fraser Coast Regional Council.

“The review also highlighted examples of good practice and found opportunities for QFES and QPWS to better engage with relevant stakeholders, the Butchulla people and the community to plan and undertake hazard mitigation activities,” Mr Dawson said.

QFES Acting Commissioner Mike Wassing said work was already underway with partner agencies and stakeholders to ensure recommendations were progressed.

“We are always looking at ways to improve and are working to align action items from the report with work already underway,” Mr Wassing said.

“QFES has seen significant improvements through all phases of bushfire including how we prevent, prepare, respond and recover, and a lot of the recommendations made in this report will build upon learnings and continuous improvement items we conduct year on year. This fire was different to most and extremely challenging, but the work of QFES and QPWS staff and volunteers, partner agencies, local tourism and business operators, and the community was incredible.”

Fire and Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan suggested it was important after any major emergency to evaluate the response, and the IGEM should be commended for this body of work.

“The bushfires last year posed particular challenges given the nature of the terrain and the fact it was on a large sand island with mobile phone and internet blackspots. The fire covered nearly 85,000 hectares – just over half the island – and 30 different water-bombing aircraft dropped more than 13 million litres of water on the fire. Thankfully, there was no loss of human life. While there was no significant structural damage, there was an impact on the world heritage-listed island’s natural habitat and disruption to the local community, the Butchulla People and tourists who visit the island.”

Firefighters, volunteers, government personnel, traditional owners and the local community worked together to battle the blaze that continued to burn for many weeks.

“The 38 recommendations made in this report will help drive improvements for bushfire prevention, preparedness, response and recovery in the future, and I know QFES is already making this work a priority. While there are things we can improve on, the foundation is already there – our emergency services and their partner agencies are world-class. I commend them for their dedication to service and professionalism. Ensuring the safety of communities will continue to be a priority of the Queensland Government as we work to minimise the social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts of disasters in Queensland,” Minister Ryan said.

Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said that it was standard practice to examine the response after every major incident and identify if anything could have been done differently. She added that QPWS would implement the recommendations tasked to it and work with other agencies to implement those where QPWS had a supporting role.

“K’gari is a World Heritage-listed area, and we know how important this beautiful island is to Queenslanders. The report demonstrated the collaborative nature of the response – particularly the engagement with the island’s Traditional Owners, the Butchulla people. More training with a focus on incident command functions will be rolled out as part of our $16 million Enhanced Fire Management Project – and this project was highlighted in the report as part of a ‘good practice’ case study,” Minister Scanlon said.

“QPWS will always strive for continual improvement and will work closely with QFES, the Butchulla People and the island community to implement the recommendations and look for opportunities to improve how we can work together, learn from each other and keep the people on K’gari safe.”

Adapted from Queensland Government Media Statement

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