Farmer’s tragic tale of fire struggle
THE fierce Cobraball bushfire which tore a path through the Cowie's Bungundarra lychee farm last November didn't leave much behind, but like many resolute Aussies, they planned to rebuild.
Capricorn Coast primary producers Jack and Eddie Cowie lost 1000 lychee trees in the blaze and hope to replant but need a helping hand from the government to get back on their feet.
The Cowies, along with other bushfire affected farmers, had the opportunity to discuss their situations in person with Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and Queensland Senator Matt Canavan during a visit to their property last Friday.
Inspecting the farm allowed the politicians to see first-hand the scale of the destruction.
"One of the things we spoke about was the challenges that each primary producer was going through and how that was going to impact upon their recovery," Eddie Cowie said.
"I heard stories that were an eye-opener for me. Everyone has been affected in a similar way but were really dissimilar in their impacts."
He said they made some suggestions to improve the way they could get back on their feet.
It was a priority for them to be able to quickly access government funding that was being made available.
"Being able to access the $25,000 (Category) C funding is really important and we believe that is now being supported with a $50,000 increase from the Federal Government," he said.
"That's really important for primary producers to be able to access and access quickly so that our recovery of our crops and future income is supported.
"To get that support allows us to look at the future growth and where it is we can move forward and leave this particular disaster behind us and focus on how we're going to rebuild."
Another issue that frequently came up during the farmer's discussions was having the ability to manage the surrounding vegetation through fire break clearing, back burning and cool burning.
"Not every time is it going to be suitable to backburn but I think as long as we understand, when the time is suitable, that we have the ability and the authorisation to backburn, knowing it is safe to do so," he said.
"In some cases, back burning, if it had happened at the right time, with the right authorisation, probably would have made a difference."
"But in our scenario, a back burn wouldn't have made any difference but each scenario is different and there's no easy fix. It's about a commonsense approach at the right time."
Livingstone Shire Council has also been granted $1 million in disaster recovery funding, allocated for local councils under Category C under the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
Ms Landry said the forum confirmed her beliefs that more needed to be done to protect homes and properties.
"We have seen a build-up of fuel loads since Cyclone Marcia hit us in 2015 and not much has happened in clearing all of that dead vegetation to make sure it doesn't pose a threat to homes and properties," Ms Landry said.
She said property owners were apprehensive to conduct back burning out of fear of being prosecuted due to the State Government's vegetation management laws."
"When I was visiting during the bushfires last year, I heard story after story from farmers who were too fearful to conduct hazard reduction burns for fear of being sued," Ms Landry said.
"Even when they applied to back burn, they would lose their window of opportunity due to how long it would take to approve.
"Why does this culture of fear exist?"
Senator Canavan said the overwhelming feedback from farmers in the area was that there were not enough cool burns and too many restrictions on land clearing.
"The question for the State Government is if the fire season is longer and the opportunity to do hazard reductions is a shorter period, what can reasonably be done to take advantage of the shorter time frames?" Senator Canavan said.
"The people here today don't want to hear excuses from the State Government, but they are keen to work with them to decide on a tangible solution for the area.
"We still have time to act, maybe we need to change how these burns are conducted and perhaps there needs to be more people applied in a seasonal framework to do that, but the State government can't stand idly by while the farmers here are ready to work with all levels of government."
Grants of up to $25,000 are now available to farmers in Livingstone Shire adversely affected by November's bushfires.
These grants have been increased to $75,000 for farm, fish and forestry businesses following an injection by the Federal Government as part of an initial $100 million in emergency bushfire funding to be made available in coming days.
This level of funding has been approved for local government areas adversely affected by recent and current bushfires.