Rural Firies in the dark on budget

Yellow Ribbon Day for rural firefighters marked by budget confusion

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On the day set aside to acknowledge Queensland's rural fire service volunteers, the Rural Fire Brigade Association of Queensland and the state opposition were seeking clarity on a funding announcement made by the state government.

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Members of the Toorbul Rural Fire Brigade and RFBAQ president Ian Pike outside Parliament House with Assistant Commissioner John Bolger and Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford. Pictures supplied.

Members of the Toorbul Rural Fire Brigade and RFBAQ president Ian Pike outside Parliament House with Assistant Commissioner John Bolger and Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford. Pictures supplied.

On the day set aside to acknowledge Queensland's rural fire service volunteers, the Rural Fire Brigade Association of Queensland and the state opposition were seeking clarity on a funding announcement made by the state government.

With the yellow trucks of the Toorbul Rural Fire Brigade acting as a backdrop at Parliament House for the annual Yellow Ribbon Day, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford announced an increase to the RFS budget.

Described as a funding boost of $47.1m, the news came as a complete surprise to RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux.

"We don't get $47m in the first place and no-one seems to know what this is about," he said.

"I asked the Minister's office what the RFS budget was, what it had been increased to, and what any extra money was for, but neither the office nor QFES was able to agree on budget figures.

"If neither the fire department nor the Minister's office can agree on this, there's a good chance it's not real."

According to opposition fire and emergency services spokesman Lachlan Millar, the service's last operating budget was $32m, depreciation added another $8m, and $4.5m was allocated for capital expenditure.

Opposition fire and emergency services minister Lachlan Millar, second right, pictured with Toorbul RFB members and Assistant Commissioner John Bolger, has called on the government to provide budget transparency.

Opposition fire and emergency services minister Lachlan Millar, second right, pictured with Toorbul RFB members and Assistant Commissioner John Bolger, has called on the government to provide budget transparency.

"My feeling is that at best this announcement is an increase of $2.1m on the last budget," he said. "The Minister needs to come out with transparency on how this money is allocated."

He described the government announcement as 'smoke and mirrors' used to hide cuts to rural brigades.

In 2018/19 total funding for rural fire brigades was $53.5m - $6.4m more than the figure announced yesterday.

"The only undisputed fact is that Labor has slashed rural fire funding by $6.4m over the last two years," Mr Millar said.

Mr Choveaux said that he had received a number of calls from brigade members asking what Tuesday's funding announcement would bring them, and he would love to give them an answer.

"I would love the government to say how this news will support the brigades more," he said. "They need this now - bushfire season is here."

Queensland has more than 30,000 RFS volunteers across 1400 rural fire brigades and Yellow Ribbon Day is the time when their contribution is formally recognised.

Mr Crawford said the unwavering dedication of RFS volunteers was paramount to keeping Queensland communities safe.

"Today I'm proudly announcing $47.1 million to support the ongoing work of our RFS," he said.

"The 2019 bushfire season was unlike anything we've seen before, but thanks to our volunteer firies, we made it through even more resilient than before.

"The devastating fires across the state saw our RFS volunteers work tirelessly to protect Queenslanders.

"Not only were they fighting fires in their own communities but were deployed to other parts of Queensland and interstate to combat the wider bushfire threat."

Some $2 million of donations from the general public and commercial businesses is being used by the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland this year to supply nine light attack Landcruisers to brigades that are currently without a truck, and heavy firefighting trucks to Birdsville and Burketown.

Some $2 million of donations from the general public and commercial businesses is being used by the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland this year to supply nine light attack Landcruisers to brigades that are currently without a truck, and heavy firefighting trucks to Birdsville and Burketown.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Greg Leach also acknowledged the tireless work of RFS volunteers.

"From my first day as Commissioner in the midst of the 2019 bushfires, I have seen the amazing contribution that our RFS volunteers provide," Mr Leach said. "Day after day they always showed up, and in some cases never went home, giving up their own time to help others."

Mr Leach said as well as fighting fires, volunteers also conducted some of the state's most crucial bushfire mitigation tasks to prepare Queensland.

"Becoming a volunteer RFS firefighter allows you to gain so many valuable skills, and anyone interested in joining should have a chat to their local brigade," he said.

"It is a great way to meet new people, make new friends and learn new skills through a range of different roles."

Yellow Ribbon Day is an initiative of the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland.

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